My first exposure to creating products was at home, growing up as a child, when I saw my mother create things with her hands. I would see her spend nights mulling over a blackwork pattern on a tiny sheet of grid paper that she’d borrowed from me. She would spend weeks, months, embroidering intricate patterns on yards and yards of a single fabric.
Back then I was too young to comprehend the skill, the patience and the hard work, but later, I realized that attention to detail and craftsmanship was a very integral part of her work and some fragments of this experience got stored and filed away in my head.
When I moved to Lucknow to study architecture they taught me how to design spaces but, to me, learning about art history was much more interesting. Learning about why people did what they did and how they expressed themselves really excited me.
Understanding the theory of design, the different art and design movements, the various schools of thought has allowed me to create an aesthetic style that is mine, and the origin of which I can rationalize to my own experiences as a designer.
After completing my B.Arch, I took up industrial design and it exposed me to a wide range of materials, something fairly alien to the architect in me. It is here that I learnt the importance of spending hours and hours working with my hands, playing with the material to really understand what the material is capable of and what constraints you have to work around. For the first time in my life I also ‘learnt’ about colours – the science behind them and what each colour really meant to me.
‘Animal Farm’, my most recent work, is a result of these facets of my design personality. There has been a considered attempt to do justice to the craft, and the craftsmanship, bring in a contemporary aesthetic while staying true to the materials and processes, at the same time. It all started with the gradual accumulation of glass bottles in our household. Beer bottles, mason jars, wine bottles, pickles, preserves and sauce bottles, ad nauseum.
Soon it became difficult to ignore and the bottles in the growing pile took on a life of their own. Shapes started to emerge – animals, things, people I’d known and possibly even a cloud or two! From such trivialities ideas were born.
Somewhere in the middle of giving form to these shapes, sketches and models, a casual visit to Channapatna, the craft district located just outside Bangalore, made my heart skip a beat. Here a sizeable community of craftsmen were churning out playful animal toys by the hundreds! Before I knew it, I was collaborating with these craftsmen in a back and forth of ideas, sketches, mock-ups and study models.
The real challenge was to achieve a fusion of attitude and approach between the designer and craftsman, with give and take on both sides. Two worlds collided. From this collision came Animal Farm. It is as much craft as it is art. It is as much chance as it is design. It is as much a finished product as it is a work in progress.
I intend to continue working with the rich craft traditions of India. The craftsman spends years and generations to learn his/her craft and accumulate knowledge, that kind of intimacy with the material and process is impossible for me to replicate over a few months.
Apart from Animal Farm, I have recently finished working on a children’s book. This was a collaborative effort between the writer and me and represents almost a year’s worth of work from both of us. The end result, if I may say so myself, is far more interesting than anything either of us could have dreamed up, in isolation. And that, really, is why it’s so much fun to work with other talented people.