Thinking Indian

Context is a word that I hold dearly to me. Its been  a guideline for me for as long as I can remember. Whether I’m writing, trying to understand a situation, enjoying an experience or designing something – it has always acted like a spine to my process. That’s what I’ve been taught as a designer. But when I sat and thought about it : its been an instinctive approach for humans since time immemorial. Context gives things a soul. It can be geographical, chronological or just a personal perception. But the way a thing fits in its surroundings or means something – is very essential for its value. It can be the reason for both failure and success. To elaborate what I mean, I’ll take the example of a recent advertisement by Lufthansa that’s been airing on TV. Right from the beginning the ad plays winning cards : a cricket team training to play with the Indian Team and trying to adapt to Indian culture in its own ways. Few nations can proudly profess their love for the sport like Indians do.  Also : few countries can pride themselves about their eccentricities and tastes like India can. Be it the way we celebrate; the way we live or the way we communicate – we are a passionate bunch. And in all our diversity and culture-pooling we stand out from the rest of the world. The country is filled with people with all kind of preferences and mannerisms but somehow the overall persona has a flavor that unites each of us. We may listen to ghazals on rainy-evenings with a cup of adhrak-ki-chai (ginger-tea) or wear nine-yard saris and eat on palm leaves. We may identify as a North-Indian and order naans just to prove a point or as a South Indian and lecture the others about how Tamizh is the oldest Indian language – but as soon as there’s a match on TV; a sale in a branded store or the last bus to a place – our true Indian-ness bursts out. The rush, the excitement, the euphoria, the ‘told-you-so’s, the nodding of heads, the self-pleased smiles after we catch the right seat, the joy of landing a good deal, the feeling of belonging to a nation which is home to a most vibrant People – is what makes us truly Indian.

And the ad – through the various steps the team takes to prepare themselves – wins our heart by bringing a smile to our faces. Because only we can wholly appreciate and laugh about our ways of doing things. And because the theme of the advertisement is contextual to us – we can relate to its humor. We know who we are and its funny to see others do what we do. They drive their point through to us – that one can now Fly like an Indian in their flights because they are more Indian than we think.

Being an Indian has given me an edge ,over many, more than a couple of times. But one instance that comes to my mind is when there was a worldwide contest celebrating Rabindranath Tagore’s contribution to Literature. Entries were invited that were inspired by his work and resonated with his ideals or style. Having read his poetry since I was a kid; experiencing his words and understanding his work from a point of view best enjoyed by a person of the same nationality – where his words were not lost in translation , I was able to express myself in a way that would remind one of his work as it was inspired by the tone he writes in. I wrote a poem about missing my Grandmother inspired by a poem of his where he is reminded of his Mother when he sees the flowers she used to pray with. And just then, being an Indian – proud of Tagore’s work and familiar with its nostalgic sensitivity – I was able to bag the title of Outstanding Contribution and my little poem got featured in the anthology they eventually published. Being able to relate to something tends to bond us with it. Not literally but in a sense where a certain depth is rendered to that bond. It can be an idea, a design, a poem, a book, a painting – as long as some context acts as its seed – it holds meaning in its viewer’s mind.

With Indians having proven their potential throughout the world – India’s influence on global trends is pretty visible. There are Little India’s in every country you visit. There are people who are drawn to its diverse culture from around the world. And this influence is only growing. Be it cultural expressions like fashion, dance and music to mindful practices and cuisines – the world is readily absorbing what our country has to offer. As we welcome the changes globalization is bringing to us, others adapt themselves to our preferences. Its a process – and its already underway.

To be relevant is everything in today’s world and that’s what Lufthansa demonstrated in its advertisement making us smile about its Indian-ness and the fact they’ve customized their services to make us feel comfortable. That certainly gives them an edge over the others because who doesn’t want to feel at home while flying?



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