List, sketchbook

Looking back to Januaries past

This is the year, some of us old timers are counting their blog ages. inktales was started by me in May 2006, and in 2007 I moved over from Blogger to WordPress. I often think, that at 17 years of blogging on inktales, it’s one of my longest relationships – second only to the brown boy.

Today I was looking back over Januaries past, and while some Januaries have been super prolific (hello, 2009!) most years I don’t blog in January! Here are some of my favorites when I have roused my fingers out of Delhi’s icy winter to draw and type:

Design for foreign cultures

Here I am being inspired by Dr BV Doshi, who passed away yesterday. My Masters class was doing a project with immigrant children in Malmö at the time, I was finding it so difficult to empathize or get the nuances of their experiences. Language was a factor, since most of the children knew Swedish and their mother tongue, and not English, and my folkshögskola Swedish was nowhere near conversational. And then I read this interview in Blueprint Magazine.

Other favorites from 2009:

Revenge of the hairdresser

La Bella

From a series on food in NID, La Bella, our favorite eatery from NID days

First attempts

My first attempt at storytelling of our life, such innocence and still so true…

And these two lovely ones from 2019, another prolific January

A weekend with Lekha

A new year

Filled with food and love

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gutotales, Life, parenthood, sketchbook

A year of drawing Orin

One of the things of being a parent is that you have to spend time with your kids. Lucky for you if they are entertaining. As in years past, our tornado still takes forever to eat a meal so I use the time to draw. It’s great to have a living breathing human being at close quarters to draw from! Between mouthfuls, we chat.

Sometime in August I was making notes for my DesignUp talk, and thinking about “belonging” when Orin chimed in:

“You belong to your parents, but you live with us!”

“Do you know centipedes lived in the time of dinosaurs?”

“Do you know what a sundial is?”

I don’t know what he thinks of us…

Here they are watching the FIFA World Cup, and the brown boy thinks this is the best drawing of him that I’ve done since 2003. That drawing is actually hanging on my MIL’s fridge I think.

Here we were discussing our best movies/TV shows of 2022. The brown boy chose Better Call Saul, while mine was Dune, and the tornado chose Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

At least one of you drew me!

We’ve created a monster, I say…

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Books, sketchbook

Books of 2022

In 2022 I didn’t read as many but I read widely.

If I had to choose themes –

  • Career & Business – The 7 habits of Highly effective people*, Wolfpack*
  • Design – Design Justice*, Hello World^, The Brand Gap^, Paul Rand Conversations with Students, Drawing on Courage*, Super Normal*
  • Film, Art & Creativity – Art Matters, Creativity, The Creativity Leap, Wes Anderson^
  • Fiction – Pixel^, Tell me How to be, Carrie Soto is Back^, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, The Christie Affair, Bright Lines, অগ্নিসম্ভব and অগ্নিকুসুম*
  • Graphic Novels – Pablo^, Esther’s notebooks, The Best we could do, I was their American dream, The Butchery^
  • History – A little history of the world, Broad Band, The Equivalents, At Home in the World*, Man’s Search for Meaning*
  • PhysicsWhen we cease to understand the world^
  • Poetry – Very close to pleasure there’s a sick cat^, I hope this finds you well
  • Travel – Dark Star Safari
  • Uncategorized Visual Thinking*, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction*, In the Shelter*, The Right to Sex^, The Book of Hope

*These books were life-changing – impacting the way I thought about myself, the world, how I live and work, what I choose to do

^These books were excellent. Some of them I gave as gifts to others, and I would probably re-read later in life.

More Books posts are here

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Books, Comic Strip, sketchbook

Spend time making things for no known reason

A book that has given me immense joy is Making Comics by Lynda Barry. While she herself is a big inspiration, her books are inimitable and exceptional. Ms. Barry teaches drawing and comics to young children and this book is a set of those exercises and her unique insights around drawing, imagining, and teaching. I’ve often done some of the exercises with our little tornado and his friends when they needed to be calmed down, and soon we are all giggling at each other’s drawings.

Typeface copied: Astronef Super

Here’s an exercise where she asked us to imagine ourselves as Batman, and draw what we did the day before. I had gone to the Aadhaar Centre nearby, worked from home, and went for a walk with a friend.

Ms. Barry also believes that anyone can draw, and so do I. My drawing wasn’t anywhere near the best in design school, and in the animation studio where I interned, our boss had despaired over my unfit-for animation drawings. He used to challenge me to do 20 iterations of bird flight cycles, or 50 iterations of floating balloons, and I persevered. All by hand, of course.

What happens through repetition and practice is that you get better by training your hand to follow your eye or your mind’s eye, as closely as possible, without any gen loss. The repetition also allows your conscious rational mind and your ego, to quieten, and you’re in flow until there are just the forms on the page…

“There’s the drawing you are trying to make and the drawing that’s actually being made – and you can’t see it until you forget what you were trying to do.”

Lynda Barry, Notes from an accidental professor

If you think you don’t know how to draw, this book is for you. Ms. Barry starts with basic stick figures to help you start envisioning. She also says,

It’s not your job to judge whether your drawing is good or bad, your job is to keep drawing.

Lynda Barry on Design Matters podcast

This insight itself has set me free.

Title from Picture This

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Books, Reflection, sketchbook

A busy, bustling, still repeated dream

What life is, a minute’s pause, a moment’s thought, and I am grateful every day to have this practice of journaling.

Here are some recent pages from my sketchbook, unedited, unpolished, straight from my mind to the paper, drawn in usually less than fifteen minutes.

A skecbook spread. Drawing of me waiting under the sun and reading. At the passport office. Waiting in the crowded room for a long time. Thoughts about efficiency and people, employment in India. And thoughts on the UX of the passport system software.
A visit to the local passport office
A double spread. A boy asking Do you know centipedes lived in the time of dinosaurs?
Daily drawing at dinner
A double spread. Walking and how to use creative imagination in your spiritual practice.
Notes from a podcast

This was the podcast episode I made notes of, though it’s not my favorite episode. And surprisingly, I have been reading more about spirituality all of a sudden, but coming in through poetry, like this wonderful, magical book In the Shelter: Finding Home in the World by poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, who also hosts the podcast Poetry Unbound. In the book, Padraig has an amazing chapter on prayer “Hello to the imagination” which changed my perspective of it as an opaque ritual that was not for me.

You will find meaning
Where you give meaning.

The answer is in a story
and the story isn’t finished.

Pádraig Ó Tuama
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Books, sketchbook

Un Verdor Terrible

A few months ago I finished the book When we cease to understand the world by Benjamín Labatut. It’s an interesting non-fiction novel, the first of its kind that I had read.

Mr. Labatut says, “I love the way that physics deals with fundamental questions. It asks itself certain questions, and it gives concrete answers most of the time, but not all of the time. I’ve always been fascinated by fundamental questions, and science is, to my mind, the only part of human awareness that is still asking those questions.”

The title of the book, literally translated from Spanish, means, “a terrible greening” and was inspired by a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, “The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (The Cure of Folly)“.

I really enjoyed the book, because fiction sometimes gives you the power to go beyond what we know, “the strangeness of everyday physics”, to what we don’t know, an idea I first encountered through the stories of Richard Feynman, who held uncertainty at the center of his intellectual and creative life.

Read the book review here.

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drawing, Life, sketchbook

Notes from a podcast

You may be aware of my constant endeavours toward becoming a more kind and compassionate person. When I was younger I used to dream about a divine collision, later on, Pema’s books have guided me on this quest. These notes are from the On Being podcast Remembering Thich Nhat Hanh, Brother Thay.

“Look into the heart of your anger and see where it comes from…the seeds of compassion in the mind need to be watered. When you have compassion you suffer much less. Look at fellow human beings with compassion in your heart.”

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Books, Life, sketchbook

I knew their joys, none of their sorrows

Let me be honest, I don’t read Bengali literature frequently, so it was with a lot of trepidation that I started reading অগ্নিসম্ভব (Ognisombhov/ Inflammable ) earlier this year. It’s a novel set in the second half of the twentieth century in Kolkata. Written by my aunt Reeta Basu, it’s loosely based on the lives of my grandparents and their family.

For me, this book was a revelation into these two generations: the generation of my grandparents, who came over from the eastern part of Bengal (that is now Bangladesh) before the Partition of India; and that of my mother and aunts, who grew up in the late sixties/early seventies in Kolkata. It is illuminating how much society, and our outlook has changed within these fifty-odd years, especially in its expectations and attitudes towards women.

The second part of the narrative, called অগ্নিকুসুম (Ognikusum / The spark), is set in the past decade and the main character is drawn from our generation.

When I was growing up, the Bengali books I mostly read were the Feluda books by Satyajit Ray and the historical fiction by Sunil Gangopadhyay. Though I’ve also read a smattering of other Bengali fiction and our bleak literature canon in school, and apart from Pratham Pratisruti, I hadn’t come across a strong feminist perspective or many well-crafted female characters in the Bengali literature in my youth. So what stood out for me here was the specifically Bengali female gaze of the narrative, carried through by the inner monologues of the main characters, and the empathetic and compassionate depiction of all the characters.

For me, reading these two books was a very special experience.

Even though it was fiction, the characters that were based on my grandparents (my mother’s parents) were very lovingly drawn, right down to their inner lives and the little details of their day-to-day rituals. The history unfolding around them influenced their generous natures and community-driven values. Getting to know them through this book, learning about their challenges, the integrity of their choices, and how little they asked from life, was a proud and humbling experience. They have always been revered and cherished by us, and they are even more of an inspiration now. I felt lucky to get such a rare and deep connection to our family history.

The narrative arc illuminated how rapidly lifestyles have changed for middle-class women of that milieu – from being mainly confined to housework and child-rearing in their homes, to having the opportunity to be employed and financially independent in the seventies. Even then, it was no cakewalk – without a supportive husband, who didn’t see it as a detriment to his male ego, and an acceptable profession – it was fairly impossible. The academic profession, teaching in colleges or schools, was acceptable, but most other professions were deemed unsuitable. In these middle-class circles at the time, society and the norms it imposed were rarely questioned. In the second book, the daughters of the current generation make their own non-conformist career choices, and that creates great unrest among the parents – first for choosing an “unsuitable” profession, and then, the realization that their daughters were independent and empowered, and that their resistance was futile.

Another theme that was insightful for me was the rise of individualism in the second book. In অগ্নিসম্ভব, the sisters were good, dutiful daughters, who accepted their father’s decisions as final. On the rare occasions they had a different opinion, they did not dream of expressing themselves, and always accepted their father’s choices as the righteous ones. On the other hand, we saw ourselves reflected in অগ্নিকুসুম, where the main character doesn’t hold back in expressing herself through her behavior and life choices.

While reading this book, I finally understood the discord that had defined much of my adolescence and early twenties – my expectations and those of my parents were clearly at odds. Around me, I saw cousins being highly individualistic and took my cues from them, but what I didn’t realize was that the rules were still different for girls and boys! My parents were not prepared for this either and their tolerance (or the lack thereof) was the cause of some radical life choices.

Wise men have said if you don’t know your past, you don’t know where you are going in the future, and these books really serve that need – for us to know the world of women and their history, through their own voices.

There’s a lot more to read and discover in these books, so don’t hesitate! In Bengali and available online from Joydhak Publishersঅগ্নিসম্ভব and অগ্নিকুসুম.

Title from a poem in this book

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