India has perhaps never been the “land of design”. For years, ‘jugaad’ has been the way of living for most Indians. Whilst a proper sense of creating products that solve problems has always been lacking in the people here, it can perhaps be tracked back to the fact that an objective and systematic approach towards solving problems has never been incorporated in the minds of the people here. In the early 1900s, India was a land of traditionalism and not too welcoming attitude towards modern technology and production. People perhaps had far more important issues to solve than to think about cultivating an objective approach towards problems. However, it was during these times that Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus school in Germany; Le Corbusier in France; Charles and Ray Eames in the US flourished, thereby indicating the growing aura of design in the world.
Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore, the visionaries of India, did not share the same thoughts for modernity and the upcoming methods, as the majority of the nation. After independence, Nehru of course invited Corbusier to erect his new designs for living on the India landscape. And Nehru was also involved in getting Charles and Ray to India in the mid-1950s, for the first of several visits. Now here is where India, perhaps entered the world of objective creativity. The Eameses engaged most deeply with India.
In India, Charles Eames was famously fascinated by everyday objects like the lota and the matka. It is perhaps academically quite expected that such fascination for an everyday object can be ignored as a weakness of a free-thinker. However, the analysis that Eames produced in context of the lota proved quite objectively as to how unconsciously, India already had a developing sense of design in it. A sculptural object of extreme practicality, the lota is a supremely intended object: Yet, though its purpose cannot be mistaken, it is the product not of any individual “design” intention but of the coalescence of many generations of intention. However, it was not the product, but rather the process of creation behind it, that created a sense of interest in Eames.
Eames was quite convincing in her explanation of the design process being subconsciously followed by the Indian people. Nehru asked the Eameses to recommend a program of training in the area of design which would serve as an aid to the small industries. Today, design has coalesced with fashion and are perceived of by the general public as one and the same. Design is now deployed to define consumer lifestyle, incite consumer need. The ‘India report’, that the Eameses created thereafter, however proposed a view and role of design far more radical then the present preconceptions of it. That was the time when design was expressive of a greater seriousness of purpose. It spoke of a hope to solve ordinary problems of everyday living through efficient, large-scale means that might still retain a certain aesthetic integrity. The ‘India Report’ envisioned ‘an institute, not just of design, but for research and service. Now we would have trained individuals who could bring design out of the clutches of a hard-core research set-up to solving household problems. This institute would pave the pathway for a designer to change from ‘one who would provide his personal insights into problems’ to someone ‘ who catered to help the people solve their own problems’.
The foundation stone for design in India had been laid, and although today design is not where Nehru or Eames would have expected it to be, but decades after laying down the foundation of the concept, we can perhaps see India thinking in the way it should, solving its own problems, and solving it with a systematic objective approach.