Good Design

The Netflix docu-series Abstract: The Art Of Design has been quite something. One of my favourites there is the one that features the Greek photographer Platon.

Perhaps it is my fledgling interest in photography (that has resolutely stayed fledgling). But, I would like to think that it is more than that. I think, it is at the core, the philosophy of design that that I deeply resonate with.

At the end of it, I asked myself ‘what is good design?’

Here are some sponataneous thoughts that emerged.

Good design goes beyond aesthetics. It is a seamless weave of form and functionality. To get to get to awesome design, you sure need imagination and a certain courage to go beyond immediate feedback.

But at the very core, design to me, is about how much you care.

Design manifests in subtle and obvious ways, when deep empathy and listening beyond what is said is the norm. Good design is often mistaken to be an outcome. It actually is a way of thought. Sure, it looks pretty and feels good. But if you look deeper than that, you would find that the designer ‘cared’!

I liked a couple of lines from the episode with Platon.

“Before a shoot I am not thinking of how can I get a good picture, but what can I learn from this person.”

“Taking a picture is very technical, but 99.9% of it is the connection that allows me to reach someone.  And through that connection, there’s just a chance you’re going to feel something too.”

Great design is about connecting with other people. That is something that I am inspired by and try to practice. Every single client interaction and consequent solution design is about care and empathy. At least, that’s my endeavour.

There is another widely held belief that good design is a function of awesome tools that you have. Sure, tools help. Heres my opinion: design that is purely a function of the tools at hand is a lazy mind at work.

Good design brings out the human in the other. It evokes an emotion. That’s a function of connections. Be it a photograph, a costume, car or a workshop, good design is a function of how much you really care.

That’s why good design is rare.

Wah Taj !

Many call emperor Shah Jahan a mad man. To have built such wonderous a monument like the Taj.  And I would agree.  Not only did he build such a monument of magnificence, for several years he has had families like mine, visiting this place in the dead heat of summer!

And still left shaking their heads with disbelief at the scale, splendour and the sheer magnificence of the place.  The fact that it is still standing after some 380 odd years ( and earrning money for the government and many others, is another aspect altogether). 

His love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal and her death (while bearing his 14th child) brought him to build this monument.  As far as I can recall, my history books didn’t talk of his post Mumtaz marriages. But apparently he did and was still a disappointed man. 

Bollywood, tollywood, kollywood and such other ‘woods’ have woven the mystique of love into countless songs . Poets have sighed over its splendour while crafting wily lines of love, longing and such else.  

Presidents of the world, some of them after signing arms deals with the government, have had photographs of themselves and their companions taken at the Taj. Striking poignant poses , sitting on whats come to be known as ‘Lady Di’s chair’ named after Princess Diana ( sitting alone) !

Our guide told us of Shah Jehans plans to build a replica of the Taj adjacent to the current one, in black marble. He told us as though the Mughal emperor had summoned him to his private chambers and whispered his desire in his ear.   

Going on to narrate a story of Aurangazebs cruelty and Shah Jehan’s forlorn lost last days.  It was happening in real time : melodrama spiking history big time in present continuous tense ! 

I digress. 

The Taj itself is a fantastic monument. We visited in blinding daylight. The moonlit Taj we were told was far more resplendent.  As an afterthought, it was mentioned, the fees for moonlit viewing were different

Obviously it’s a ‘must see’. It’s a place teeming with security and a global melting pot of people. All trudging in to see the’ monument of love’.  

Every visitor has lasting memories of this place. Every visit has left me with a memory or two. This one was when about half a dozen people at varying lengths in time, walked upto me, seeing the camera, the camera bag et al, and asked, ‘how much do you charge for a photograph’.

I seem to have arrived as a photographer. At the Taj ! 🙂

India Gate

Familiarity breeds contempt. In people. And in places too. Often times, it is only when someone new talks in awe about a place that is seen or talked about daily, there is a pause to ponder ! 
India Gate was one such experience for me. 

The streets of India are paved with many thousands of years of history. Worth their weight in gold. ( Perhaps thats one good reason as to why the streets are so often dug up. Ok thats a joke that didnt take of. Please ignore). 

Delhi especially so, oozes history through its pores !  

Having seen India Gate as a standard fixture on TV, whenever any reference to New Delhi was made, it was only natural to approach it as yet another of those ‘fixtures’ to be seen. 

On a Sunday evening, it can be particularly busy. With ice cream vendors competing with trinket peddlers who were arguing with sellers of maps who were attempting to be louder than some other set of people. 

Amidst all this din, the muscular arches of India Gate stood gritty and steady. With enough light and just about some space amidst all the jostle to get a click or two in. 

Heres some history that Wikipedia threw at me. Post the visit. Which I obviously wished I had read up before I went there. In anycase, you can read it here

It commemorates 90,000 Indian soldiers who lost the life fighting for the British Raj in many battles in distant lands during the times of the World War 1. Since independence it has become the Indian Army’s ‘tomb of the unknown soldier’.

Quite obviously, when any famous dignitary, turns up, he or she places wreaths here. Even if they have come in for signing an arms deal. 

The inverted rifle & the soldiers helmet, the three services represented by their flags and the eternal flame thats on, can perhaps be a solemn sight. But on a Sunday night, I wonder significance of such a monument, melts in the frenzy of lapping up one more ice-cream ! 

Right in front of India Gate is a canopy which originally housed King George V’s statue. After independence the statue was suitably accommodated elsewhere and the canopy now lends itself well to the camera. 

First you fight wars. Then splendid monuments are erected to remember those that died in wars. And then on Sunday nights, people come to such monuments and have ice cream. 

How does just going about building monuments and feeding ice cream, without any war, sound to you ? 

R for Rashtrapati

Pre monsoon showers have been lashing against the window sill.  The green tea that was simmering hot has now gone seething cold. I have been lost in thought.  An assortment of odd words on the computer screen is the only other evidence of time that has run away. 

Having just returned from Delhi last week, I began typing about Delhi and its accouterments and my thoughts have strayed. Fantastic architecture, fabulous people, frayed tempers, streets paved with history, the multitude of red beacon lead cars indicating its stature as the Capital of India !  

For purposes of beginning all over again, I choose a topic that has been on all news channels and probably on most of India’s mind as well : Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

Before you rush to think that this is one more commentary on the Presidential Poll or Mulayam Singhs wrestling skills or Pranab Mukherjhee’s success as a Finance Minister or for that matter of his sister, well, let me disappoint you. ( Or give you some ‘relief’, depending on how much TV you’ve been watching) 

This is about a piece of real estate that goes by the name of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

It was Sunday evening. Last Sunday evening. 

When a motley crew of visitors kept moving at the gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Clicking  pictures. Most of them were tourists like us. The babble of different languages from different parts of the country was only matched by the steady solid bearing of metal in the gates and the vapid look on the faces of the gaurds!

For many of the tourists like me, it was the sheer scale of the grandeur of Rashtrapati Bhavan that perhaps brought meaning to the monumental sparring that’s on to get there.  You cant blame us. Used to figuring out a living in 2-BHK / 3-BHK, running to the bank to check the status of EMIs and such else, seeing this opulence is bound to get anybody unsettled. 

“You mean, she lives here. This is her house?  What a luck ‘lady’”.  That was a young man telling his friend in chaste English.  [Disclosure : Suitable modifications have been made to delectable adjectives used ]  And so on. You get the drift don’t you. 

It may be different in reality. Or maybe not. But on that summer evening, it was apparent that the post of the President of the country was best understood through the lens of real estate.   

A quick look up of Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wikipedia will tell you that its got 360 rooms and sprawls over 4000 acres. Over 300 families were evicted in Raisina and Malcha villages between 1911 and 1916 for its construction!  It took some 19 odd years to build and has some Its opulence was so mind blowing that C Rajagopalachari, the first india Governor General chose to live in the ‘Guest Wing’ and subsequent Indian presidents are supposed to have done the same. 

Ofcourse, the opulence will come along with ‘gardens’, ‘horses’ and a vast horde of staff that must serve the President. One look at building will convince anybody that a small economy can run with the expenditure that’s required to finance the day-to-day maintenance of the building.  

Oh. Economy & finance did I say? 

New Toy!

Returning to the blog world after a clear month. It was an intended vacation. Yes. So, I can claim.

Life has been happening in fast frenzy in the March 2012, that it hasnt marched but rather galloped.

If you are reading this and ask, what have I got to show for all the month of intemperance, about a brand new Canon 60 D ! That hopefully means I will have more topics to blog on, for it is always the stories in the snaps that have brought alive words on the keyboard.

The innocent child. The child in the mothers eyes. The discarded auto. The swanky flat. The old palace. The splendour of the true blue sky and the dark patches in the human spirit ! All have come alive on the blog through pictures !

For a couple of months now, the good old camera has been down and the hunt for a new camera went on with some reading research and awesome conversations. Finally leading me upto a Canon 60D. A friend, overcome with generosity laden stupour has lent me his 18-55 lens and I have become functional ! (The world spins on it axis because of such friends I say!)

Frankly, a camera of this order means nothing by itself. Those blokes in fancy cars and sloppy driving skills dot the roads of every city.

For the last couple of days, I have experimented with the camera. Which means, opening the manual and playing with the keys and shooting the twin flowers that I have on my study’s windowsill ! Not to forget a fascinating conversation with a friend who has passion for photography!

So, I have experimented. My experiments could fit the ilk of a new driver testing out a brand new car, with his wife seated next to him! Especially, if has bought the car on EMIs!

Here are some early shots!

The possibilities and options that this camera holds are way too varied and compulsively confusing for me to comprehend in two days. So, I have been experimenting. So much so that post purchase dissonance has been knocking on the door!

But, passive intemperance is out. Active blogging is in. (I resolved to declare that you see). Ok. Whatever !

Thank you for your patience !

clicking shiking !

This is a picture Iclicked. O a falling rain drop, saying hello to streaming rain water running away from a tiled roof. This snap has very little connection to this post.

He crossed his hands and tilted his head, barely concealing a smirk. I had just replied “OF COURSE’ in a tone that could be mildly described as ‘violently affirmative’, to his question. Which was, ‘Are the pictures that you upload on Facebook, your own or do you have download them from somewhere ?’

How dare, I thought.

Within moments however, I quickly broke into a smile within myself while maintaining a stiff exterior. The thought that he, and his well ordained intelligence entertained the possibility that someone better would have clicked them, was a compliment aterall. I gloated with ‘orgasmic ecstasy’.

I trust you will indulge in my confessions on photography !

My dabbling with photography, started a few years back, when I first dabbled with blogging. In the first year of blogging I thought it quite a natural God given right to use any of the images that Google threw up in searches. Like how an average Indian male thinks of the whole of India fit to down the zipper or loosen his drawstrings of a striped underwear to empty his bladder. Naturally !

Life was good. Nobody read the blog, save myself. Or so I thought. I wrote for writing’s sake. Added a picture or depending on the whim of the moment, and shut the system down and reached out for a hot cup of filter kaapi ! I did this for what seemed like two centuries.

Until one day, someone wrote in. Asking a question, which I read in a rather polite tone. The question was simple : Should I not have the decency to check with the ‘owner’ of the snap, before using it? Or something to that effect.

My first reaction was of sheer delight! Someone was afterall reading the blog. I thought.

After a couple of nights of insane partying to celebrate the fact that the blog had indeed caught someones eye, deep remorse filled my heart and I went without food for three days. Ofcourse, I exaggerate. On both counts.

Truth be told, one of those days after receiving that mail, sitting in a hotel and diving into something tasty I wondered if I should click every picture that would get to the blog. Every picture that will get to the blog will be OWNED by me!

As a matter of propriety, I must confess here I also thought this ‘owner’ship of such pictures were perhaps one of the few ownership decisions that I could afford without a loan and an Equated Monthly Installment.

Before you could say, ‘in a flash of a few months’, I had migrated. From writing a post and clicking a picture to suit the post (which took a long time. Even Vajpayee spoke faster), to the exact opposite. Keep clicking pictures and writing blog posts on the photographs that catch my fancy.

So I clicked whenever I was in the mood. Or wasn’t. For that matter. From the photographs, came alive many stories. I ‘invested’ in a Canon S5 IS ! Which is the only camera that I have. A camera that I Iearnt to use by trials and errors suitably grabbing guidance from online well-wishers who now have heaps of karma in their account with the old man up there.

So I clicked whenever I was in the mood. Wrote whatever I chose. Getting filled to the brim with a deep sense of gratitude whenever people wrote in, appreciating the post.

On the same keel I was engulfed in guilt when people appreciated the photograph. And my protruding paunch ached with laughter whenever good friends asked sincere questions about something called ‘aperture’ or ‘focal length’ , ‘shutter speed’ and such else.

It was simple. I don’t know a goats horn about such stuff but for some bare essentials. There are well meaning colleagues who discuss their outstanding photographs through a set of numbers! ‘105 X 37 ?’ they would ask when I showed them a snap that took me some time to click. Or something to that effect. All numbers seem the same to me.

To my ‘picture seeking – story telling mind’, the moment they do that, they morph from being insanely articulate to inanely accurate. That’s precisely when I peer at cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling.

Call me hare brained, but let me confess to you and get it out my chest. To me, photography is about story telling. It is about inclusion and exclusion. To include in a frame and to exclude! That includes light and shade.

If an image, at the spur of the moment feels like it is a prospective story, the finger fiddles with the few buttons and bingo, there is an image. Ofcourse, I over simplify. But by and large, that’s the idea. Some of the outputs occupy the space that Zuckerberg chap created. A few come to the blog here with an appropriate post.

Some snaps swell my chest. Like the one that you see here. When rain water streaming away from the roof, said hello to a rain drop.

I told all of this to a well respected friend who listened to my meandering rant with an inebriated silence. After soaking it all in with several rounds of chicken tikka laced drinks he spoke at length.

The sum and substance was this. In his own dismissive way he has asked me to put an end all this ‘dramabaji’, stop this ‘clicking shiking’, buy a real camera and ‘go learn photography’. With another minute of silence and one more stiff drink in his system, said, ‘Your snaps. They are good’.

Since then, I have looked up real cameras and such else. Looking at their prices, I have now commenced looking for a venture capitalist with a kind heart.

First there are stories. Then ofcourse, there are stories of stories.

All stories.

Poovar in pictures

River commerce

The closest I had come to this word was an ‘actuary’. The actuaries that I knew were brilliant folks working on subjects which only they and their ilk could comprehend. I mean, I didn’t understand much of what they did and consequently was perpetually perplexed at the big bucks that they were rumoured to take home at the end of every month.

But this was called an ‘Estuary’. An estuary, I learnt, is an area where there is inflow of both river and sea water. In Poovar, the river Neyyar flows freely. Beyond which is a strip of beach. Beyond which is the mighty Arabian sea !

It was sight to savour. Ofcourse, it is not so often that the only avenue of commute to a place that I stay in, is by boat ! Nor do I come across such verdant green interspersed with fervent blue of a quiet river bordered by clean yellow sand holding a restive sea at bay !

Floating cottages on a river. Do you see the wisp of a beach afar ?

‘Floating cottages’ that are moored to land, that get mildly rocked by ripples from every passing boat. A mild sort of a rocking, that could make you think of a giant rocking chair !

Ripples in the river

faraway fishermen, pulling their net from the Arabian sea, while their shadows dance in the river

The scene and surrounding gives many an opportunity for picture postcards clicks. These obviously aren’t the best of pictures. The professionals were at it. These were the best I could manage.

boat jetty

Of the several places that were there, the boat jetty was the picturesque. In my humble opinion. Regular readers perhaps notice that for some odd reason I find these transitory places very attractive. Railway stations. Airports. Bus stands. Now, boat jetties. Perhaps its got something to hop on and hop off.

This place is, as a colleague put it, “is ‘infested’ with honey mooners!” I recall a couple which kept staring at me. They would, wouldn’t they. Who wouldn’t. If they see a madcap photographing the bench at the boat jetty for half an hour!

For all you may care, they wouldn’t have noticed me nor the boat jetty nor the river beyond, the Arabian sea or whatever. For they were absorbed in each other. Rightfully so. I think.

All that is besides the point. If you need some peace and quiet, well, head to Poovar. Its a small coastal place close to Thiruvananthapuram. If not for anything else, you’ll learn a new word : estuary !

I promise you, the word does not convey a fraction of the beauty the place holds.

Earlier post on this trip is here

K for…

Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera. This moment was one such.

Kalarippayattu. That’s an ancient martial art form of the south. Kerala to be specific. It’s a fetching sight to see these fighters with bodies of gymnasts move with such agility and panache. With just a dash of imagination and a sprinkling of a story, any onlooker could well imagine how revered and soakingly absorbing a duel would have been just a few hundred years ago.

Oh, not to say a modern duel isn’t a sight to stop, hold your breath and stare in semi open mouthed awe, long enough for a few large mosquitoes to conduct a few sorties down the alimentary canal. More often than not, such goose bump causing art forms remain in the obscure confines of the past.

A trip to Kerala and a stay in a hotel at ‘attractive prices per night’ (which would be equivalent to what your father would have paid to buy the entire property, when he was your age), usually throw in a cultural performance or two.

Even better when the Company that pays your salary also pays for the trip and the room, in the name of a conference, harbouring extravagant hopes that such investments will pay off. In such cases, a hotel gladly throwing in ‘exposure to culture’ performances is de rigueur.

Kalari quite a popular performance. There are jumps. Fights with bare hands. Sticks. Fire. And several else. These are new techniques for the coporate types who are used to used to one martial art form called ‘Powerpoint’. Which ofcourse comes loaded with ‘bullet’ points! If the bullets don’t get you, boredom will.

In such Kalari performances though, young men spar on stage. Synchronised movement, overflowing with synergy. With swords, shields, some kind of a flexible sword, sticks, daggers and such else, with seamless movement. Like in the snap above, a fire bush at the end of the a rope fastened to the chest is used as weapon. Artfully swinging and moving about.

The corporate types usually look half in awe. Cheer in slightly inebriated delusion. Bite into the chicken with new found gusto and take a few more swigs of whatever drink their hands reach out to.

The really skilled photographers amongst them find the perfect spot to click. Additionaly, the morose ones aim their cameras from different corners snaps, click vapid snaps and write blogposts beginning ‘Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera..’

Ofcourse there is the mandatory crowd of American tourists. Their skin standing out amongst the crowd and their hair standing out on their skin. Staring. If I were them, I would wonder what all this fuss with Kalarippayattu and sparring with swords and building bodies and muscles was about. When all it took was a walk down the store and buy a .32 magnum and blow the brains off every living form in the locality.

Incase you are yet to look up Kalari, here is the link.

Incase you still haven’t, it is a martial art form that’s been around for ages.It was banned by the British. At one point in history, it was as common as ‘reading and writing’ and everybody in society was proficient in it.

Incase you are still wondering, what brings this post up now, I am back from another trip to a place that I have been in love with for ages : Kerala. Ofcourse, more posts & pictures follow.

But, boy, am I pleased with this snap!

Rants & pictures !

They don’t call it Gods own country for no reason. It provided some wonderful opportunities for playing with light and the camera. Here are some snaps from a Kerela trip that happened some time back.

Just as the snaps load up on your screen : My MTNL internet connection is woeful at home choosing to go on strike on a whim. I am hastily pushing through this post, when it has chosen to show me that it ideed can work at top speed and this months bill will include charges for internet !

To compliment that, to blog on such esoteric topics from the workplace, well, err, is not allowed. So, please people, put up with my silence.

In the meantime, I continue to shout out into the world through the twitter accounts and I don’t have a modicum of memory of what all I have shouted out to the world. The chief twitter account I use is @KavisMusings . Well, that’s a subject for another time.

For now, here are the pictures.

Silhouettes have fascinated me since the time I knew they were called ‘silhouettes’. I used to hate the spelling but quite liked the way the word is pronounced. With a twang that has almost an Italian connection !

All these snaps were taken at places somewhere around Kottayam. ‘Panchali Medu‘ is one such. I don’t raise an eyebrow everytime we go far off, deep inside Maharashtra or down into Kerela where there is folklore around the exiled Pandava brothers with Draupadi in tow having lived there for a while. Panchali as Draupadi is better known in the south, has this hill named after her.

She is supposed to have taken bath in the local pond etc etc, details which I omit writing on, and leaving your imagination to do its work.

The modern day ‘medu’ (RTT : raised plateau) has 14 crosses. I wont tell you why. For I don’t know myself. I only know that the place has an extravagance of ‘awesome’. There is an endless breeze, a feast of green for the eye. The clouds rolling over your head and tease you to reach and touch them if you can.

Off Kuttikanum is another green zone : Wagamon. Sometimes spelt with a ‘V’ instead of a W. Whatever, it is , It doesn’t alter green beauty. Green as in GREEN. Meadows. Plateaus. Hills. Throw in some mist. Some people who are ever willing to help. Water bodies that tempt. Well, in sometime, you could have romance brewing in the air.

Value for money romance. For the place is relatively unexplored ! Some unconfirmed news has it that Wagamon is called the ‘Scotland of Asia’. I haven’t seen Scotland. But I can go as far as I can and tell you, Wagamon is a lovely place to go to.

If any of those didn’t get you excited enough to pack your bags and include Kerela a big mindshare for your next travel, here is something that will do the trick. I ooze confidence in stating this.

Chips. Slices of a particular type of plantains. “Plantains” was to give the humble ‘banana’ a twang of fancy. Nevertheless, slices, deep fried in authentic coconut oil. You just cant stop with one or two for that matter. Two minutes on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. For sure.

But those two minutes they are on the lips, they give you a lifetime of yearning for the next time you will head to Kerela !

Earliers posts on the same trip are here, here, here and here !

Kerala calling !

Just back from a trip to Kerala. For reasons that fall somewhere in the vicinity of ‘personal work’. For those of you that think of that as a well qualified oxymoron, well, it is very much in use. Just run a random sampling of reasons employees give their managers, when the need to take a few days off! Thats that.

Kerala is a place that one always looks forward to. Green. Clean. And ever so offering something new to be seen.

Wavy mountains, pristine plains, wonderous waterways, and always : awesome people. Cochin was where the aircraft touched down. A proud Kerelite calls it Ernakulam and the moment you say, ‘Cochin’, well, they dont give you a dirty look. But, my friend, life is slightly uphill for you after that!

Ernakulam, the metropolis it is seeking to become seems to seamlessly bridge the gap between the past, the present and the future. Its not as though I am new to this place. Some eight years ago, work used to take me every month to Kerela ! It was almost home.

This time around several things were new. Time had worked its magic. Villas and property advertisements jostled for space amongst the ubiquitous ones for jewellery. Roads were wider. At a couple of places where the mind clearly remembers a ‘dead end’ the road seems to have had a fresh lease of life, dutifully coloured by teeming traffic.

And then, there was this tender coconut vendor I used to frequent. Who was still there, vending his tender coconuts. At the exact spot where I had last seen him several years ago. It was surreal. Almost like a group of children playing ‘Statue’ and freezing a part of town. But I only had to look up, to realise how close I thought I was to ‘Statue’, yet how far I was from the truth.

For right above his head, was a new giant hoarding selling ‘3 BHK, 4BHK villas’ with a picture of a ever so happy family clinging together. Pandering to the great Indian dream of owning a house, even if it meant, paying an arm and a leg as EMI !

All the while the tender coconut vendor had been climbing up those slender coconut trees and bringing down those coconuts for the parched throat, ‘development’ had seem to have gone above his head, and completely missed him. For better or worse ? The jury is out on that one !

In other news..

Inbetween all the work that we had to complete, the greedy traveler and big city dweller that I am, took the time to soak in the clean air, fill up a few GB worth of photographs, take a peep into life in an estate etc etc ! Not to mention, soaking into the hospitality of friends and family. ( Which actually reads ‘eating like a shameless glutton.’ )

Posts and pictures follow.

Watch this space.