Photo by P M Dalwade
It was about five decades ago.
I came to Ahmedabad and NID.
I met Giraben, the then executive director.
I found her formidable.
It wasn't because she was a minimalist talker.
She was very simple.
Short and frail.
Nothing to indicate that she was a great lady.
That she was an architect who worked under the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright.
That she belongs to India's giant textile industry family.
That she played a key role in establishing NID.
That she was the founder of the world's finest textile museum.
Ignorance on my part.
Quiet dignity on her part.
Two factors made me carry highest respect for her.
One is the Calico museum.
The meticulous care and detailing where no one can equal her.
The other is the following incident.
Narrated to me by Dasharath Patel. Here it is in my words.
In the late sixties, NID undertook a historic 'Nehru exhibition ' project.
The prime minister's direct interest.
World's well known designer Charles Eames was brought to NID to lead.
The whole project team worked in one spacious hall.
It was an open office system.
Every morning Eames used to go to each member to check the work.
That particular day he went to a new recruit draftsman.
The young fellow could not follow what was said to him.
Eames explained again and again but no avail.
Finally Eames lost his cool and scolded him.
Rather harshly and loudly.
The young fellow was in tears as it was a public humiliation.
Eames left the hall in a huff.
The news reached Giraben who was resting at home.
Her health was often delicate.
She phoned Eames and asked if the news was true.
When it was confirmed, she asked him to apologize.
She knew Eames' stature as the world’s greatest designer.
He was prime minister's guest.
The young draftsman on the other hand was insignificant.
But, is that the point?
The point is dignity.
"If not..." she continued softly, politely but firmly.
"We thank you for your kind service so far. Now, I am afraid, we may have to do the exhibition ourselves, poorly perhaps. Your accounts will be settled immediately and your return passage to U.S.A. will be arranged. My due respects. So long."
That afternoon when the project studio opened, it was a touching scene.
Charles Eames entered the studio with a bouquet of flowers.
He went straight to the young draftsman whom he scolded earlier.
"I am sorry for my misbehaviour in the morning.
Will you please accept these flowers as a mark of friendship and forgiveness?"
The young fellow was in tears. For a different reason now!
Giraben passed away few days ago.
But our reverence for her lives on.
S Balaram 20.7.2021