July 14, 2015

putting my FOOT down!

Being an enthusiastic traveller, I was very excited to be travelling again. At the airport, I saw old ladies carrying small foldable stools in their bags. Why? I wondered. Why would anyone make their bags unnecessarily heavy? Do they want to be able to access the overhead bin themselves, or are the food counters really high? Why? Could not get an answer! I boarded the plane and settled in to begin my month-long vacation. After so many months of exhaustive work, I deserved it. The chair was comfortable enough, and I dozed off. After about half an hour, I found my feet dangling in the air, struggling for comfort and a place to sit on.  I woke up to realize that there is no footrest below the seat in front! The feeling of being trapped in an enclosed space with this discomfort for the next 15 hours, made me slightly claustrophobic.

Foot stools or Ottomans have been around since the Ottoman Empire. They were designed to provide a soft cushioned surface to rest the feet after a day of hardships. Over time, these evolved to take various forms from simplistic wooden rails to adjustable mechanical foot pads. However, despite a luxurious past, these footrests haven’t been able to find their way in the realm of prolific public use. While ergonomic scientists argue that footrests ensure proper blood circulation to the feet, why is it still considered a luxury? Why has it not found a place in the design language of mass-produced chairs installed in public spaces?

The memory of the simple rubber-padded top almost equal to the width of the seat, supported on a metal framework hinged on top to enable height adjustment, lingered in my mind. The foot pad is usually installed below the seat in the front and engraved with some pattern to provide appropriate friction between the feet and the pad. It seemed that the airline simply did not care for the comfort of its users and mechanics of this sedentary activity were too much to get into.

I struggled through the flight, with my handbag serving as the footrest. Exhausted, I made way to the train station to get to my brother’s house. Words cannot explain how liberating it was to see chairs with footrest in that Amtrak train. I almost felt like keeping one of those with me forever. It occurred to me why those ladies were carrying small portable stools in their bags. They suddenly seemed so much smarter now.

July 4, 2015

faith in the MAKING

Idols have always been an essential part of religious expression in Indian culture. Archaeologists have uncovered seals from the Indus Valley Civilization with images of Lord Shiva engraved on them. They have been a way to communicate with God, the 'supreme' being. Growing up in a similar religious setting, I have found myself instinctively joining hands at every sight of a God or Goddess, venerating silently and asking the divine to bless me; without giving much thought to what’s behind the image.

One fine Sunday morning, I was sitting with the newspaper in my balcony, when I noticed these people making idols in an open complex nearby. I wondered what the festival was, for which they were preparing these idols. Being an amateur photographer, my first instinct was to capture this process of ‘Faith in the making’. So I set out with my camera to put a frame to my imaginative expression. On close observation of the unfinished idols, I could not help but question the contrast between faith and fact. I realized that all the idols go through a set process of production (fact) to become the final product that 1 billion people look up to (faith). Faith, which in my opinion is an incomplete understanding of the ‘supreme’; a belief in the mind that restricts it to worship the image. How many people really think beyond it? Does anyone put their mind to the fact that it is essentially an object made of a framework of wood, layered with wet clay and hay and finished with paints? It is a standard process similar to the one used to make varying things from thatched roof which last for a long time to piggy banks which are very temporary.

The difference here is that an artisan put his day and night into it for months, because he believes he is serving the Lord. He put his art into each of the constituent elements:
  • Head – beautiful face with the crown to elicit respect
  • Arms – several arms holding various objects illustrating power
  • Body – with perfect curves to illustrate feminism yet draped completely to display humility
  • Feet – interacting with ground yet not so much so that people can come forward and touch them as a mark of respect.

It is astonishing that something so materialistic and ephemeral, which is brought to life by a simple artisan, defines the identity of so many people. And, no one seems to recognize that after all, it is just another mass-produced object.