Monday, August 1, 2022

FAILURE CV: Balaram .S


“People will not see your struggles, they only see your successes” – internet

Definition: Failure is the inability to achieve your goal, set by you or society.


Loss of father, left mother as voiceless widow in a poor farmers joint family, in the tiny village. Aged 4. (Though this was not my failure, it had caused many)


Failed miserably in Maths, with 10% marks. Humiliated punishment: stand up whole day in front of whole class. Higher secondary and multipurpose school (Bobbili Samasthanam high school. I was ridiculed by nickname “Pidathala Balaram” “Pidathala” in Telugu means broken clay vessals, absolutely useless.


Unable to join B.E in Kakinada engineering college as I could not get scholarship and uncle said “No Money”


Failed L.M.E(Diploma/Licenciate in Mechanical Engineering) in “Theory of Machines”. I have to reappear for exam in October. Mummy secretly paid fees.


Most of my stories rejected by Telugu magazines.

No story ever won any competetion


Unemployed for a long time inspite of daily struggle & shame in village as I was very poor in farming


Severely sick at Royal college of Art, London due to vegetarianism, high cost and no one to care for me. Not informed mother as she worries.


Broke up relationship with German girlfriend, Sibyl Gerold.


My dream design project “Bicycle for India”, won 4 patents and made as prototypes; but not manufactured till date.


In spite of being chief co-ordinator of world’s first ever conference on “Design for Development” supported by UNIDO and ICSID; it did not achieve the goal of establishing Design as key elements in industry or as key element in education. “Ahmedbad declaration” signed by 37 country delegates had no effect on government of India.


As chairman of extension programs of NID, established Design cells in Delhi, Hyderbad, Bangalore, Calcutta and Chennai. Inspite of this, there is no impact of design on small & medium sector industries in India.


As I was born in farmer community in village, I wanted to design for agriculture sector. I guided a new bullock-cart design project. Student designer: Mohan chandra But it was rejected by farmers as it didn’t convince them.


With graphic designers Yashwant chaudry, co-founded S.I.D.I(Society of industrial designers of India). I was vice president of SIDI for many years.

After yashwant’s untimely death and logistics problems SIDI died away.


Guided “Harvesting implements” design project. Students: Abir Mullik and Aravind Merchant. Prototypes were made and tested at Mohanbhai parekh’s krishi yantralaya in Bardoli

The new designs were badly criticized by Nobel LAUREATE V.S.Naipal in his book “India: A wounded civilization”. It was big blow to students wanting to work for the Agriculture sector.


Established “Craft design center” as NID-campus 2 in Ahmedabad for young men from craft families all over India.

After one year the project discontinued due to lack of funds. 


With co-designer Nilam Iyer, did field work and documented “Palm product design possibilities” for all India Handicrafts Board.

The documentation was accepted but not acted upon.


Applied for “Fullbright Fellowship” but not got selected.


Second time applied for Fullbright fellowship but not got selected


With wife Padmini textile designer, founded a charitable trust by the name “Varnam” for doing research on natural dyes and Indian culture. Trust got registered. It could not take off due to lack of finances.


Applied for grant to research & documentation on “Burra Katha” a dying Telugu traditional ballod singing once most popular, to “Foundation for traditional arts”,Bangalore.

I failed to get the grant.


Design teacher training is a crying need in India. For this cause, I conducted programmes called “Faculty Development Programmes” (FDP). The programmes remained majorly experimental and not evaluated nor standaerdised for posterity.


As my sabbatic year in Japan, I translated “Farewall to the Gods” by Marathi author D.B.Mokashi, an outstanding novel, into Telugu as “దేవుళ్లకు వీడ్కోలు” (Devullaku veedkollu). An NID film professor N.R.Murthy took the original manuscript and vanished. I kept no copy. Later I got into trouble with the D B Mokashi family as they came to know that the Telugu novel was made as Telugu film & no credits given to Mokashi family nor royalty. I had to profusely apologise to Mokashi family.

I have re-translated the book again but failed to publish it!


As part of 9 experts, authored the UDIP(Universal Design India principles) which will apply specifically to Indias socio-cultural background.

These principles remained only on paper and not implemented.


Conducted a unique “Bad Design” course as an elective for SRISHTI Design school in Bangalore with exciting results.

But the course was neither publicised nor continued.


Established UNIVERSAL DESIGN as a regular mandatory course in the design curriculum at DJAcademy of Design. After I left DJAD in 2018 the UD course was removed.


Organized international conference on UD which resulted in UD declaration for India. At international association of UD, I won grand jury award for best UD education in world yet UD declaration had no effect on the government.


Made a proposal for “Indian Design museum” like the calico museum of textiles, to be established at DJ Academy of design. A very useful and unique educating tool.

The DJAD management was not interested!



Anant National university, Ahmedabad offered to publish my 2 seminal writings;

1.      History of Indian Design and 2. Universal Design in India – collection of papers presented by me at international conferences. ANU formed teams working on these publications.

For reasons unknown, these were never published.


Founder dean of DJ Academy of deign where I established an academic culture like that of Indian traditional “Guru Kulam” which is learning family; small, cohesive and informal. Student strength was kept less than 30 and best professional designers were brought to teach as visiting faculty. Quality was paramount. When I left in 2018 the academy changed the whole culture and became commercial.


Prompted and nominated by longtime colleagues such as Dalwadi, applied for “YIDAN PRIZE” for social design & for establishing humanitarian project. I submitted a proposal based on my “Barefoot” Designer Concept to teach & spread design teaching in Indian villages, my life long wish.

I however did not get the prize!


As founder dean established a unique design school called “Aram Center for Arts, Design and Environmental Studies (ACADES) which offered holistic learning, where yoga, meditation; life style changes, food based on “Siddha” principles; etc. were part of learning. Parents became frequent consultants.

Due to fights among trustees and huge legal battles, the whole venture; collapsed. My salary was not paid.

This is not only damaged my reputation but left a deep scar of trauma in me.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Indian NOTION of Beauty


The usual predominantly western notion of “Beauty” is that it is:

1. Superficial

2.  In the eyes of the beholder

3. Sentimental / Subjective

4. Commodity

5. All human beings desire beauty

I unapologetically disagree with each of them and say;

    1. Beauty is the Deepest and Primary human need. History is full of cases where empires were lost; where people killed themselves for beauty. To say beauty is superficial is gross under rating.

    2. Beauty is not “in the eyes of the beholder” because the eye is just an orifice and the perception happens in the mind. Not only that Eyes are not the only organs which make us feel beauty. What about the beauty of music, of fragrance, of aroma, of touch and of taste?

    All senses convey the feeling of beauty

    3. Beauty is essentially objective. It’s general principles are universal. A thing of beauty is joy forever and joy for every one everywhere. Who will say that rose is not a beautiful flower? It is existence of variations and some people’s preference for certain variation, depending on their individual socio-cultural conditioning. That does not mean that it is purely subjective.

    4. Beauty is not a commodity:

    No one doubts that beauty enlightens the soul. Most religions believe god is in the soul. Thus commercial commodification of beauty amounts to commodification of god. This is real absurdity.

    5. Beauty is basic need:

    All human beings hunger for beauty. It is innate nature of not only humans but all beings. Therefore, like hunger, it is the primary need of the body and a primary need of the soul.

    Human beings are sustained by beauty hence they deserve beauty and not just desire beauty.



Friday, July 23, 2021

The Dignity


      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

Friday, July 2, 2021

In Praise of: Wasting Time, Working Less, Being Slow and Fooling Around


Any one you talk to today will say that he/she is very busy and packed with work. Let us leave aside those who say it as fashion or as a result of inner insecurity or work holism. It is a fact that all of us rush breathlessly from one task to another, often multi-tasking and constantly under pressure. We feel ashamed to say “I am doing nothing”, which is work-shaming. We also constantly feel sorry that we have not achieved much.

Is it really necessary?!

What is achievement? Is it worth burning yourself up fast?

If you do one thing at a time and if you do it slowly, you can enjoy it. Life is not a running marathon. When you eat your food slowly; not distracted by TV or cell phone or any other thing, concentrating on the taste, noticing the colour and texture of the food, the aroma and the warmth/cold, you will relish it. Gobbling up hurriedly is just filling stomach without any pleasure.

If one gobbles up an ice cream in a hurry or drinks wine in one gulp, there is no joy of eating or drinking. The real pleasure is in having them in small sips/bites, leisurely; taking as much time as you can.

In the act of love making, the longer you make it last, more you delay the climax, better the (orgasmic) pleasure. A soft, gentle speaking will appeal to the heart better than a fast blast.

If you do few things; calmly, chances are that you will do them well.

Zen way is doing work slowly. The world famous Tea ceremony of Japan is to prepare tea very very leisurely which gives the practitioners spiritual benefit.

From slowness to few things and from few things to nothing. You must have a break from the “busyness”. That break should not be having vacation travel or booze party or taking drugs. That is nothing but another kind of busy life and another kind of tension leading to addiction.  That break should be doing absolutely nothing. Not even thinking.

Some may call it meditation. You may call it whatever you like but it should be totally different. No talk, no work, no thought. Don’t be afraid of “Doing nothing” or just sleeping or just eating. Work shaming is as bad as body shaming. Is meditation waste of time?

Faster breathing or faster doing leads to shorter life span. Recent research states that stress is one of the main causes for decreasing your immunity and making your body susceptible to all forms of virus. Yoga practice always calls for slow and deep breathing which improves health and longevity.

Modern Science proved the strong influence mind has on body. Extreme fear causes sweating, sexual thoughts cause erection; and sight or thought of your favourite food causes mouth-watering. The well known placebo effect cures incurable diseases. According to famous psychologist Carl Jung; “thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge”. If only you resist the urge to judge, you can be calm enough to think.

Modern medicine says that sleep is the food for the mind and increasing insomnia (sleeplessness) is the cause of many illnesses. Natural sleep is essential for recharging our brain cells.

It is natural to smile when one is happy because of a real live event or recollection or anticipation of a happy event. Modern behavioural science states that the reverse phenomenon also happens. Mind follows body too. A smile even forced, will create pleasant sensations in the person. Laughing clubs are based on this principle and their popularity proves this fact. Great British Economist E.F.Schumaker said: small is beautiful. I say smile is beautiful.

Creativity thrives on fooling around playfully and tinkering with things. Life is not worth living if you do not smile, laugh and not fool around playfully.

To sum up: I want you to be happy and mentally sober. I ask you to be slow, work less, waste time, say hell with achievement and fool around.

I am dead serious about it. By constantly thinking of past or fearing the future, we contaminate the present. For many, past is a pest of bad memories and future is a torture of fears. If you think of happy memories only of past, imagine a hopeful future and treat present as present from god; try to change what you can and accept gracefully what you can’t; we will have no mental tension at all.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Golden Eyes and Silver Feet


Balaram was born in a farmer’s family in a small village Gunnathota Valasa near Bobbili town in Andhra Pradesh.

 The first son, in fact the first child in the family, he was named Balarama for the plough-bearing older brother of Lord Krishna. The second child, also a son was named Krishna and the third, a daughter, was inevitably Subhadra. The day when his mother went into labor and Subhadra was born, his father collapsed in the fields and was brought home dead. Later, the village elders pronounced that it was the impudence of naming the children after the divine siblings which brought about the father’s end.

As it was a custom in the south, the first  delivery child, Balarama was born in the maternal grand parents’ home in Jakkuva, another village. As a baby, he was fair and attractive and the entire village wanted to carry him and play with him.  It was summer, the month when the village worshiped their village goddess Daadi Thalli. In this nine-week festival, the goddess, in the form of a garlanded brass pot, is carried round the village in a procession every night and every household makes offerings of rice, sweets and fruit. Women compete for the honour of carrying the goddess on head; babies are laid on the procession’s path to receive the goddess’s blessing as the women walk over them. Balarama, beautiful child that he was, enjoyed being carried round the festivities and fed sweets and fruit. 

One evening during the procession and celebrations, moving from one villager’s shoulders to the other, the baby suddenly balled his fists, drew rigid and had a seizure. The villager’s rushed him home and everything was tried to revive the baby in vain. The body grew cold. Someone suggested that branding the baby would revive him. So this was done and a hot iron was placed on his wrists and knees and forehead. Still, no life. The women began wailing. It was past mid-night, the goddess had been returned to her shrine outside the village. 

The village Brahmin, and the village considered itself lucky to have at least one, was slightly knowledgeable in herbs. Hearing of the wailing and the death of the child, he arrived. After an examination of the body, he pronounced that there was still some flicker of life which perhaps could be rekindled with a kashayam of three wild root herbs; Verri, Veysari and Kaaru samba. Immediately, the villagers dispersed into the surrounding area with hurricane lanterns. An hour later they were back without being able to find the herbs. It was pitch dark and these were wild shrubs. By now, everyone had given up and the body was moved outside the home, to be buried in the morning. 

Balarama’s grandmother could not give up. How could she? This was her daughter’s firstborn and a male child in the family after years. She called a farmhand and rushed herself to the Daadithalli shrine outside the village, braving the snakes and wolves. 

Prostrating herself before the goddess, the old woman wept, swearing that if this baby was saved, she would lay him at the feet of the Goddess during the procession and offer her golden eyes and silver feet. She wiped her tears and turned back. The farmhand shone the lantern so the despondent old woman could walk the uneven path home. Then, in the light, in the enclosure within which the shrine lay, the astonished farmhand sighted the first of the three herbs. Then, a few steps away the second. And nearby, just ahead, the third. These three herbs, never sighted together, were found right there near the goddess. They both rushed home, the kashayam was made, the baby’s rigid jaws forced upon and the mixture poured down the throat. And Balarama (now Balaram) lived to tell this story. 

In the next day’s procession he was laid in the goddess’s path to receive her blessings. Balaram even today has the brand marks, a deep scar in the middle of his forehead and stains on his wrists and knees. And in his maternal grandmother’s village, Daadi Thalli has shining golden eyes and silver feet.

(I am grateful to Suchitra Balasubramaniyam who wrote this piece impromptu when I casually mentioned this fact of my life.)