Five Lessons in Installation Art 101 with Puja Pandal Hopping!

A decade or so back when friends would say: “We are going to Calcutta for the Puja”, the Delhites would wonder what the brouhaha was all about. What was this connection between every Bengali and Durga Puja Pandal?

These temporary Hindu Temples come up for nine days in a year and block many roads all over the city causing traffic snarls and packed streets. One wonders, “What’s the rush about?” avoiding the affected streets. Life comes to a standstill specially in the last 2-3 days and even if you don’t step out, your newspaper stops coming, offices close early and the help turn up late or not at all.

The entire close to a million NRI bangla diaspora, seem to descend on Calcutta at this time, along with surrounding villages, taking the population a few notches more than 15 million at this time.

“You must visit the pandals at least once to see the art of Bengal” urged a young Bengali. I could visualize him pandal hopping on a two wheeler with his friends adding to the traffic and then jostling his way through the crowds in sweaty heat.

Amid the surrounding filth of last night’s disposable plates and soda cups, people waddled through to see a glimpse of the structures. Different thematic installations emerged. Some of the lessons are below from visiting a few:

  1. Recreations: Recreating a building of another city or a temple structure found elsewhere. Calcutta seems to be superb in this. The reverse engineering of temple design.
  2. Recycling: Used tires. Used medicine boxes. The Calcutta dump itself provides raw material for many structures.
  3. Sustainability: Straw, bamboo, & materials resembling straw and bamboo, for an earthen feel.
  4. Sparkle & Shine: Mosaics, Mirrors, Tin, Special effects lighting, colored lights.
  5. Pomp & Hype: World’s Largest… Biggest… Most expensive…. Gold sari of so many Kgs and Gold ornaments.

I recommend visiting these structures as a part of Indian Design education. The variety of themes, elements, material exploration and intricacy in detail is quite inspiring. The hygiene and man management are two issues which if tackled, could make Calcutta Pandal hopping superlative.

 

 

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Lady In The Deluge

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LADY IN THE DELUGE. (Mixed Media: Pen & Pastels)

There is something about Calcutta which brings out the need for creative expression. The rain clouds over the sky for over fours months a year. Many times it rains when the sun is shining. Dull, dreary, this perhaps explains the slow pace of everything including traffic. The last week across the globe has been about floods. Everywhere. Typhoon. Tornado. Bursts of rain in Mumbai yet again, and of-course in Calcutta too.

Who is the “Lady In The Deluge”?

She seems to be an urban lady, dressed for a party. Wearing a cold shoulder dress, tattered at one sleeve. Her oversized umbrella doesn’t help in this rain and a stream of water finds its way down her arm. She makes a futile effort to save her smartphone from the rain, bu doubt if it would be of much use. Same with her garments outlining her silhouette. Doesn’t help. The sound of her shoes clicking on the gravel gets muted. She is perhaps trying to find the way to her car.

Is that her car? The one that is submerged? What are those pieces of paper stuck under the wheel?

In the background a couple of friendly colleagues document their adventure.

An empty soda bottle bobs along silently, trying to find its purpose.

END

Letter to Nikola, written a century later.

SEND: through wireless ether, non-time specific

Calcutta, India

19 Aug. 17

Hi Nikola,

It’s been two years less a century between your autobiography first published in 1919 in the Electrical Experimenter and now that I first read it. I happened to find the copy titled “My Inventions” on the net. It’s a couple of decades short a century since your death too!

However, the feeling of connecting with you was so strong, that I thought, “What the hell!”(It’s a current slang phrase), “Let’s get on with it, maybe some vibration, some energy field or some time-wrap could take this message into the past.”

Everything is after all Energy & Frequency.

You said in your book, quote, “I am prompted to this prediction not so much by thoughts of the commercial and industrial revolution which it will surely bring about, but of the humanitarian consequences of the many achievements it makes possible. Consideration of mere utility weigh little in the balance against the higher benefits of civilization.”

By the way, today the United Nations is celebrating “World Humanitarian Day”. (Are you sniggering?)

You also say quote, “The greatest good will come from technical improvements tending to unification and harmony… (You gave example of your wireless transmitter)”.

News! You have been right. We have this thing called the internet, joined by fiber optics across the sea bed. (Like you professed in your book: a wire buried in the ground, insulated from interference). It has been revolutionary. It has connected like-minded people like never before and reduced the distances between countries. We have smartphones to talk, radios, microwaves to cook food and your discovery of alternating current to provide electricity, is still providing energy to most homes in the world, to power our many devices.

But they still haven’t figured how to harness the energy of the sun and direct it to water arid deserts. Or maybe we haven’t heard about it yet. Some countries, though, are working on a large model of the Sun! Interestingly they don’t have large deserts or arid lands.

About the use of electromagnetic frequencies for warfare, there are doubts that this might have already been misused for weather modification and the sorts. You did warn.

Well, they discovered the Van Allen radiation belts swathing around the atmosphere of the earth, in 1958 tells NASA. Maybe the time to build that free floating ring across the equator, enabling fast travel is now, though the supersonic planes have reached over 3000 km/hr by this era, we like experimenting with new ways to be mobile.

Must mention as a passing note that two things are still around, misinformation and your favorite journal, the Scientific American. The latter has a twitter account, which in today’s times means that it is thriving well into this century.

Do you know, they named a car inspired by you? The Tesla? They are however still looking to make such cars cheaper. The fuel used in electric cars is lithium, which is available in China, Australia and Afghanistan. And there is war-like situation on in at least a third of these places. It won’t be long before Electric car technology are competing with the traditional car models, and your Detroit car manufacturer; is threatened by the laws of demand and inventive supply (Twist of destiny, 🙂

There is sudden interest in you again and led me to wonder, why we didn’t ever learn about you in school? Ironically your invention brings the electricity to every working classroom of the world, illuminating the books, where we learn the name of Edison. (He didn’t actually invent the incandescent light bulb, did he?)

You say in your book, “My belief is strong in a law of compensation. The true rewards are ever in proportion to the labor and sacrifices made.”

On the world humanitarian day, here is hoping that with the same spirit/energy with which you tackled science and harnessed it for problem solving for good of the society, may each inventor in this era direct their energy towards higher benefits of the civilization.

END MESSAGE

 

Planet Mirth

In the light of the controversial internal Google memo written by James Damore, here is a story, written strictly for amusement. The concept of gender issues was in my mind for a long time, what if women would behave in the way men do? What if the roles were reversed. Lets take a look at a life of such a man.

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, in galaxy far away, was a planet.

It wasn’t your ordinary planet. It was special. It was special because the dominating race were women.

The name of the planet was Mirth.

Every morning at day break, the men would wake up and make the breakfast and pack tiffin for the family. Then they would dress to leave for work. The kids would be dressed for school by the male member of the family. The patient father would lovingly pack their meals into their bags.

Sometimes their kind wives would leave them to the school & nearest train station in their family owned vehicle. If they got late by any reason, the male member would hire a cab and drop the kids off before reporting himself to his workplace, late.

He dreaded such days. His boss was usually a woman and he had to work in a team of many Alpha women. The last boss had been fired by the company for harassment and striving for a gender diverse workplace, the HR had recommended an Alpha woman to sort the mess created by the very feminine predecessor. His new boss believed in empathy and tolerance, but he knew that his excuse of not reaching to work on time would only be a reflection on his work ethic and perhaps lower his record.

With a sigh of relief to have reached the workplace on time today, he took the first few minutes to re-organise his desk and list out his tasks for the day. Almost covertly, he made a second list in his mind; milk, eggs, fruits…, notebook for daughter…

He glanced into the glass cabin ahead and could view his boss just entered.

He next saw the new receptionist walk into the boss’s room with her coffee and he could see them make a joke.

“Perks of being a woman!” he thought in his mind as he opened his emails for the day, taking his last breath of serene calmness. Left behind were the worries of home, children, fevers and colds; as he engrossed himself in this heavenly environment.

At noon, he spotted some movement in the foyer outside his window. His boss and a couple of sycophantic males from the office had stepped out for a smoke. Between puffs of nicotine, she was shouting at a remote working team member on her phone, hurling the choicest abuses. The phone call ended rather abruptly and the smokers continued their discussion about the cricket game in the evening.

He would have liked to go early and catch up the cricket game too, had it not been for the pending customer response sheets he had to enter into the system.

“Why couldn’t they automate the system?” He thought in his mind, knowing fully well at back of his mind that it would mean his position would be redundant.

His thought process was interrupted by the phone ringing.

“Honey, can you come to my office please?”

It was his boss. That’s strange.

He adjusted his clothes as he got up and proceeded to knock on the glass door.

He entered with a sweet smile into the ceiling-less room. Not even glass.

“We have a new position in the nearby town. We notice that you have been working hard, doing extra hours, even weekend if we need. It’s a management position. A new office that we are opening. Your work will be primarily liaison, a lot of travel.”

She gave a disarming smile as she asked, “Would you like to be recommended?”

He asked what the compensation would be.

“It would be pretty much be the same. Many people are looking at this position from the team itself. Many of them are very aggressive women. How interested would you be?”

“Well, can I think it over? As you know, my wife has a good job in this town and kids are also going to higher grade this year.”

“Okay. Is tomorrow morning enough time? Think about it, it would be good for your resume.”

“Sure. Thanks for considering me.”

As he left her cabin, he could feel the pierce of a nagging migraine about to set.

Hearing the door click back into position, Boss picked up the phone and dialled the HR with her well-manicured nails.

“I told the cute boy who sits outside my office about the position. I don’t think he would be interested. A married man. Can we give him some incentive to join?”

She listened on over the line in silence, her eyebrows moving upwards with every passing second.

“I know! I am trying to promote diversity here as well. If you don’t have enough funds, get some young unmarried man from a third world country. I’m giving him time till the morning to respond. He seemed desperate for a more challenging assignment.”

By five, he could see all the women in the office slowly depart one after another.

“To get ready for the game in the evening!” He thought in his mind.

By six, he was almost done with his entries for the day. He quickly wound up while messaging his wife if she could pick him on the way.

First message. Second message. She didn’t answer. Maybe she was driving already.

He quickly wore his overcoat as he stepped into the street outside. Some fog and dust from the cars. No policewoman was on the street today. Strange.

Remembering his errands, he thought, “Should I take the alley to the train station?”

This part of the town was known for its mugging gangs of women. They would move in groups of 5 to 6 in fast moving vans, snatching jewellery of other women, bags and wallets of unsuspecting men.

He wrapped his coat closer around himself and tiptoed into the dark narrow alley shortcut.

The stench was overpowering. In a corner next to the wall, a homeless women was relieving herself.

Looking straight ahead he walked on, faster and faster.

“I just have to reach that light post ahead”. He prayed to God in his mind as he heard someone whistling behind him.

He almost broke into a run and hit someone as he stepped into the connected street.

“Watch it, man!” said the policewoman.

He sighed a sigh of relief.

“What you doing crossing the alley? It was just a five minute walk around the block. You would be safer that way.”

“Sorry. Next time, I’d take that route.”

He quickly stepped down the subway towards the train station. Milk, Eggs, school homework, cooking, cleaning, dishes, discussion with wife about the job offer…

He felt as if his day had just begun.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Re Skill Trap and the pumping balloon.

Stephen Hawking, recently said;

“We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing…”

AI or Artificial Intelligence is said to loom as a threat on human’s race with a million articles on the impact of automation.

Debate over debate seems to rage on which job skills would be redundant.

Recently in the US, McDonalds has replaced some 2500 of its cashiers with automated touch screen kiosks. Elsewhere in India, 43 McDonalds restaurants are closing with estimated job loss of 1700 people.

An interesting tweeter observed that if your job is making and receiving emails and creating ppt/pdf etc, your job will probably be automated.

Elsewhere, the corporate money machines are gamifying the process of entry level jobs, by challenging their candidates to play a brain game to collect as much money as possible by pumping a digital balloon.

Reading a paragraph of the 1940s book ” The Future in Education” by Sir LivingStone, one ascertains that the norm of schooling after 14 yrs of age, was established just last century.

The rationale given that “it is the time when parents are most capable of earning money and children least capable of it.” It is also said to be “the best time for learning new languages, memorizing facts and even enjoying what to an adult is drudgery..”

Adult education on other hand was suggested to be given “to students who desire it, have the mental capacity to receive it and experience of life necessary to value and interpret it”.

Even after 70 yrs of educating and receiving education, most of us realize the rewards not corresponding to the time and effort gone into years of slogging.

He himself noted ” I doubt if any candid person, who has been a teacher or pupil in a secondary school, feels the returns correspond to the labour, time & money spent.”

So what do we do?

We go about to re-skill ourselves. The same employment machinery that requires “credentials” for “qualifying” to certain positions, now realizes that the last 17-18 yrs of the education machinery are mostly a wasted effort. New skills are needed to be “employable”.

We do what now?

We put in those extra hours to learn about something afresh.

And then?

A new technology and we spent the extra hours re-skilling ourselves?

And?

Some one creates a startup and endeavors to become a job creator rather than a seeker.

For the rest, the circle goes on, till their job is eventually automated.

 

 

 

 

The Father of Indian Design Education

” You must visit City Centre in Calcutta” said Prof. Nadkarni.

After a few months he asked if I had visited city center yet.

Not much of a shopper, buying even the vegetables online, traveling 40 minutes away from home to a shopping mall was not enticing for me for the first year of living in Calcutta.

Last week, I received a message from Prof about a book that had been published,

The Design Journey of Prof. Sudhakar Nadkarni“.

One could feel his excitement as a little kid for candy. But, then, he is always like that. His infectious enthusiasm and humorous wit transforms any issue.

The next week, we did indeed visit City Centre at Salt Lake.

Designed by late Architect Charles Correa, and signage designed by Prof Nadkarni, it was everything you expect from a mall, but seldom get. The architecture lines were square and minimal. The entire mall followed an atypical pattern allowing exploration and movement. Even the friday food carnival stalls were designed with the environmental feel. A tram and horse, along with tram lines, added the touch of Calcutta’s history, placed in the “kund”.

You’ll find pictures of City Centre in this link, but below are some memorable pictures with Prof. Nadkarni.

 

 

 

This is the post that got me over one million likes……

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Some people become coal miners. Others are born aristocrats with a silver spoon dangling so from their mouth, if it falls, is replaceable.

Look at the world. We have divided ourselves into nation states. Nation states whose boundaries are formed by the blood of other men, whose territories were annexed or our own which we fight to defend. Others, still are in the midst of fighting, fuelled by the generous doses of capitalist dreams. And finally some …… some still seeking their historic identities.

Do we really like to fight? What do we defend?

Humanity it appears, is on the edge.

Are we living how we intended to live?

With overloads of information and overdoses of media’s sensorial enrapture?

Sense, is a simple word. Sense may mean our human sensory organs. Sense may also mean our understanding in spite of them. Our Sensibility.

Animals also have sensory organs and instincts. We have sensory organs, but also sensibility.

Funny it is, we are slaves to our senses, not to our sensibility.

Each time we see that notification, a “like” we get, or a generous reply, it lifts us with enough dopamine for the minute. The minute over, we again check our status on our various sensory (social) media sites.

At the traffic signal, we take the time to answer our various communications, many of which can wait and many of which are not worthy of our time, but our giving it time, makes it worthy of us. At the same traffic signal, a teenager would pass nonchalantly with eyes fixed on a smart screen and ears tuned to the radio waves emitted by the sound signal on their smart device. Sometimes meeting with an accident mid road. Can we sense our worth now?

We take pictures not to keep memories by as a visual record keeping of our every minute of the lives. Sometimes we pose, and while posing dangerously, many also die. (selfie deaths)Then we exhibit these so called pictures on our sensory media sites and await the feeling of dopamine rush.

We wait. We wait.

The first like and we breathe a sigh of relief!

10 likes and some comments, we feel socially included.

100 likes, we feel socially honored.

1000 likes or more, we feel socially elevated. We revel in our sensory social position like demi – gods.

What have we become? A race of disconnected individuals? Our connection far greater to our devices than even to ourselves.

What does your sensibility say to you?

“Don’t do this…”

Doesn’t it?

That is proof enough of our being highest in the living hierarchy.

But, if it isn’t what you hear in your mind, I have no words left to describe you.

I shall not pose further questions to you, but continue my monologue.

The question itself is the crux. It’s the source of our identity. We base our identities on geographical areas, age, gender, profession, occupation or social and financial position. Our acceptance in those categories are crucial to our existence. Or so, it would seem.

Some time back, we were told that every human on earth has a unique set of fingerprints. Only suspected criminals were tested for fingerprints. Then our monitoring grew and we now have full biometric identities. India is trying to make the largest database of biometric identities of humans on this planet along with also very successfully increasing its real population to the largest in the world. I can’t own a phone connection (communicate) or a bank account (transact my savings for subsistence), if I haven’t shared these details with our nation state governance. Nor can I use an ISP to self-publish this article. (Share ideas)

What every marketer trying to sell us a frozen packaged preservative cocktail or a sugar laden drink, both of which our sensibility tells us isn’t right; revolves around our grouped identities called a “target set” or our forced grouping formed through these sensory inputs.

I go ahead and guzzle litres of fizzy carbonated drinks, thawing the chemical soups packaged for my “convenience” for the rush of mood elevating hormones released and which the “pretty” girl (usually) on TV alluded would make me a socially elevated demi god and a super mom.

We fail as humans and succumb to our senses.

Digital media wins. Over distance. Time. Social space. And us, the Humans.

Then we often make a mistake and offer the excuse,

“I, after all…… am human!”

 

PS: As you can see, I did not get any likes for this post. That was to engage you as an audience.