By Malini Aikat
I’m the writer in a sea of designers. I watch, observe, am present at beginnings and enjoy culminations. What begins as a head cocked to one side punctuating the birth of an idea ends as a finished wallpaper hanging from the railings. In between has been much research, engagements, study, discussions, initial sketches, crumpled up paper tossed into bins, more sketches, approvals and a slow and steady progress to a finished state.
I love the forays we make into India’s artistic traditions. A lot of people are doing the same thing and I am glad for it – this active, committed effort to unearthing our rich artistic ore. And then using this as a first step, a foundation for a new imagining.
Since our inception we have been able to go deep into the world of Kalamkari and Thoda art – both the result of research of post graduates working on projects with us. Kalamkari is not unheard of – its beautiful fluid form appears on sarees and material. But it is a treat to learn of its origins – itinerant storytellers who went from village to village relating the tales of the Mahabharat with quick, expert sketches on bolts of fabric bringing the stories alive to a captive audience. From a rather cold museum exhibit the art form regains its joyous pulse and its meaning. The wall covering designs that emerged from it – the pulsating energy that the decorative elements brought to the pattern – had so much more meaning for us. We were, it seemed, telling new stories.
We also delved deep into the lives of the Thoda tribe of the Nilgiris. While we have not used any of the experimentations that emerged from it, it was great to encounter a parallel universe where inhabitants are still so in sync with nature and live lives where every activity has meaning. Firmly bound to our city bubbles, sealed like blister packs, we are cut off from other ways of living. This reminded me of how learning about the Amish community in America made me pause. I remember being struck by their indifference to what we consider progress. They do not brush aside everything wholesale but are discriminating. Every new invention is thoroughly examined and some of the questions asked are: does it harm the environment, how does it affect our behaviour, do we need it or is it just a frill? Spectacles were adopted by the Amish. It was considered, quite simply, good. Encountering this sort of difference in our structured, impositional world is exciting and brings to the forefront the idea of possibilities.