My Ten Top Moments of 2017

Life is about living. A small part of it is of course work, as we strive to enjoy the rest of it through the rewards it brings.  The sweet balance of life and work is yet to be achieved, but here’s looking back at ten moments which highlighted 2017, cherished with the slow pace that choices and Calcutta has brought.

1) TAUGHT DESIGN

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The work part, “You Can Sketch” is alive and kicking. While there are hiccups brought by after effects of demonetization, GST and other government induced disenablers; some moments were very special. In the beginning of the year itself, I was contacted by a young girl for advise on NIFT preparation. Yes, she did finally get through NIFT. Yes, she finally got subject she wanted.

2) DESIGNED A CREATIVITY TEST

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A biggest issue I face is the selection of students for my workshops. Many people who want to learn drawing for the first time are unsure where to start. To overcome this, I designed a tool to check the level and aptitude of various participants.

3) MENTORED ON COURSERA

It had been a while since I mentored last on Coursera, being one of the earliest teams of community teaching assistants on this very innovative concept. So, when I was invited to mentor on “Planet Earth & You” course offered by University of Illinois, I took the opportunity to participate in the new offering.

4) MANAGED AN EVENT

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If managing a group of 200 odd people is challenging, managing an all women group of 200 is even more so. Everything has to be perfect. While I was merely a treasurer of this all women support group, I soon found myself to be the quiz master, photographer and documenter for this monthly meet group. Poila Boisakh, is the New Year celebrated in Bengal, and was our theme reflecting in the backdrop, quiz questions, décor and also the dress code. I think I learned just enough to write a longish article on it by now!

5) HONED MY WRITING SKILLS

2017_07

Jeffry Archer was promoting his new book and T2, the local supplement of the English newspaper, The Telegraph, held a contest. The challenge was to write a story with a beginning, middle & end, in exactly 100 words. Not a word less. Not a word more. Out of 190 entries received, mine was one of the few chosen by their page editor to be featured on their page.

6) APPRECIATED ART

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Art & Calcutta go hand in hand. On one occasion of visiting an art gallery, hoping to pick up some of the famed art, I found myself the subject instead. I found myself observing a painting, on the front page of the daily, instead.

7) RODE A HORSE

How difficult can it be reaching the race course at 5:15 every morning in early spring? Not very. The air is fresh, it’s peaceful and add to that a like minded riding group and you are all set. The breeches were bought, so were the strong leather shoes and a stiff round riding cap. The trotting was not painful and a horse with a very human name, “ Mr Vijay Kumar” was allocated to me. It was a fine majestic horse with a shiny dark brown body and a tall countenance. After a week of getting accustomed to the horse, I decided to call it quits. The reason? The pain. Not to me, but to the horse? Each horse is held with a harness attached on their mouth, all the way to their teeth and to make the horse “obey” you need to pull the muzzle tight or loose as required. I don’t know whether the poor creature felt the pain, but I felt it every time I wanted to make it “obey” me. One day my instructor told me to whip the poor thing. I decided that it was the last day for me.

8) STAR GAZED

The year’s hyped astronomical event was the total solar eclipse seen after a gap of a century in America. In Calcutta we had an episode of a partial lunar eclipse.  I waited till 1 am to see the complete phenomena and tried to record it.

Then another star caught my eye one evening. Dusk had just descended on the quiet hazy evening. It blinked red, then green and appeared to give out flashes of light. Sirius is its name, the brightest star in our constellation. While my hand did shake to capture on manual mode, the colors it gives out are ethereal and almost unreal as if belonging to another dimension.

 9) THE EYE OF A ROYAL BENGAL TIGER

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The Royal Bengal tiger looked directly towards me. He was half hidden behind the leaves camouflaging his stripes. They are known to be man eaters. But I saw him from the safety of a partition wall, in the zoo. Alipore Zoo was built in the late 1800’s. He also shares the zoo with a white tiger. A lion and a leopard are the new occupants. Can sometimes hear them roaring at night. (I stay close to the zoo.)

10) TRIED DIFFERENT CUISINES   

 

Whether it is the bakers, the Mughlai cuisine or the seafood, in abundance you find it all in Calcutta. If I wasn’t online much of the time this year, I was probably eating some Biryani, the Victoria Vada or savouring an English Tea with thin sandwiches.

Looking forward to more feasts on the last year of the Calcutta exploration!

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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.

 

 

 

How we “Make in India”

Nothing Happens unless something Moves.

Albert Einstein.

Last autumn, I got the opportunity to take a “Makers” workshop for a bunch of management students. They considered it as “craft” exercise. The aspect of making was new to some of them.

We started with the material most familiar to them and many people across the world and that is Paper.

For the next Makers Workshop we introduced Plastic and this time the group was clearer with their understanding of how to use a material

The next trimester, we introduced a Hackathon competition and the brief was to use basic material such as ice cream sticks and rubber bands to create something that demonstrates the conversion of potential energy into movement.

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Our group of students was now prepared as they tackled this subject in a limited time within our “Makers Space”. The selected few from these got the chance to explore innovation in a multidisciplinary group at an MIT event at Nasik.

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Design. Lost in translation?

A few days back I visited a blog which had the conscious effort of being “made”. While the intent of the developer was clear, which was to create a design community, one particular fastidious designer had commented below why the blog wasn’t serving its purpose. While the creator of the blog was positive in taking the criticism, I’m sure too many of such comments would not have served as discouragement and criticism. By the way, this blog was Indian and that context is important.

In India, there are many factions of design community.

There are those who practice pure “design”, which means everything that is done, should be evaluated on basis of some ten point agenda that they seem to have worked out in tandem. They live by their rule and methodology; creating something that only this community can understand. It has absolutely no relation with the general mass understanding of design, if there may even be so, in India. I’d had once “shamelessly” called it the “Bauhaus” effect, which somehow felt offensive to the professor who was preaching design to our group. I couldn’t help it. Circle, triangle and simplifications of that nature, are rather alien to the evolved Indian sensibilities. We left using such symbols in the 3000 BC. Identification: they are still arguing “form vs function” debates in classrooms.

The Aesthetic or trend keepers

“It has to be Art deco”, screamed the designer, “That is the trend.”

This designer would read the latest trend reports on twitter through a built in trend identifying sensor, attend the important colour (international) conferences and maybe sleep with a few pantone colour chips under the pillow. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but it would be close to that. This faction of designers (In India) would embrace the international trends (and classics) and try to vigorously add doses of the same into the Indian market. Whether the “little black dress” has any relevance in Indian society would be lost in the translation to rapidly imitate the sensibility of foreign glossies. (I’ve been guilty of this for years too!)

The Realists

Then there is the group of realists or pragmatics. Their only agenda is cost control. Would it be cheaper to produce if the ornamentation would be done away with? Or would it be cheaper to produce if the ornamentation was there? Would it be cheaper to product if we employed a designer? Or would it be cheaper if we did away with the design process? You get what I mean…?

The Eco warrior

Eco warriors represent that class of Indian designers who have been molded to think that to design anything non biodegradable is a waste of their time on earth. Most of us are eco sensitive, but the difference is the manner in which anything that is created is deliberated as being threat to nature. This is a section, we could actually do with some more . Identification: They are generally dressed in khadi from FabIndia and paper is their favorite medium.

The Businessman-Marketeer

Here is the faction which has captivated their audience by offering “design” through a big marketing trick. Just like the over used word “innovation”, they would use “design” or “designer” as a differentiator, non-withstanding the fact that they hardly employ a design sensibility nor a designer, or their pure design methodology that the purists were so proud of.They use the term “design” or “innovation” without understanding or believing in it because it brings good business. Identification: Glossy misleading advertisements claiming design, not corroborating with the product in hand. Widespread.

Next time you buy or use something, try to evaluate what could the designer have in the mind.Then, maybe you can decide if the product you are using has been designed well or it is echoing any of the thoughts above. Maybe some, maybe all. What about the product, which just sits there silently, helping you about without making “statements”? Maybe that is the ultimately made product and kudos to its designer.

On being a World Teaching Assistant

The Wanderer

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Recently I got associated with a new title. It’s called a CTA or a Community Teaching Assistant.

According to Kate, our TA manager at Coursera, an online platform providing massively open online learning or MOOCs,” From October-December 2013, Bhawna volunteered as a Community TA (CTA) for the Coursera online course “Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society.” This course emphasizes basic design processes, and includes design challenges that require students to apply course concepts to solve real problems. As an open online offering, it attracted thousands of student participants from all over the world. “

What do CTAs do? Well, we are teaching volunteers who according to Coursera website “have done exceptionally well on the last run of the course and have been invited back to help with the course.” Our duties include forum moderation and solving student queries regarding the subject and highlighting any issues that may arise to the…

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