Life, sketchbook

From The Garden of Life

Whoever buys a book and opens it fifteen years later…and finds it an absolute gem? The Garden of Life is one such discovery I made a few weeks ago.

It’s beautifully illustrated with original miniature paintings made specially for the book.

The page on hibiscus reminded me of the hair oil, Jabakusum, my mother would apply on our hair as children. Though effective, it was pungent, and we hated going to school with such smelly hair…

Looking back now, I don’t know if Jabakusum is still sold, but the packaging was very memorable, with quite an aspirational illustration, you might agree…

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art, Books, sketchbook

‘If you’re lonely, this one’s for you’

If there was ever a book for the pandemic, it was this one for me – Olivia Laing’s Lonely City – Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Though written in 2016 I could not believe it was not written about the early days of the pandemic, our first experiences of living through a lockdown, and a disease for which, at the time, there was no cure…

Simply put I just loved this book. I read it first on Kindle, then bought a paperback and read chapters multiple times. Olivia Laing is a genius and a master of art and language. She skillfully weaves her experiences of being lonely in Manhattan, through the stories of these artists in Manhattan who had used their loneliness to create, and derives the most definitive insights about loneliness and art.

As always I keep drawing as I read.

Andy Warhol

“If everybody’s not a beauty, then nobody is.”

Andy Warhol
David Wojnarowicz

“Art was a way to bear witness; to reveal things I’d always felt pressured to keep hidden.”

David Wojnarowicz

One parallel to our present time was of course the loneliness that people felt as they stayed shut up in their houses. We often overlook the smallest social interactions we have in shops, with neighbours and so on. It’s even more pronounced if you live by yourself and then these small interactions are also missing. There is a universal human need for connection, for reaching out, for just being seen. I remember my first few weeks in Sweden when I didn’t know anyone. Swedes are wonderful, gentle people, but terribly shy, and they really respect each others’ personal space as well. For most, it means not even making eye contact. So you can imagine, even a smile from a shop assistant was a special day for me. For the first time in weeks, I felt seen.

The other parallel was the onset of the AIDS crisis in the States, and how the gay community were shunned and excluded. India’s Covid Relief has by default excluded multiple marginalized communities. (If you want to help, take a look at #DesignUpForACause)

Despite, or maybe because of all the pain, I found the book so uplifting and inspiring. I would read a few pages every night, these moving accounts of the pain and suffering that gave birth to so much art, and how they created what they did, and feel inspired and grateful.

Looking at Strange Fruit by Zoe Leonard

There are so many things art can’t do…but it does have some…odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and…of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly…

Olivia Laing, Lonely City
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Books, sketchbook

Books of 2020

Like everyone else, I probably broke my all time record for reading in 2020, so this is going to be the first of a series of book posts over the months.

Spring 2020 – Grapefruit by Yoko Ono, Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, Michael Rosen’s Book of Play and Keep Going by Austin Kleon.

Grapefruit was an experience – I found that it was an “early example of conceptual art“. I go back to The Book of Play and Keep Going again and again, both are inspirational and great for sparking ideas.

I don’t remember much about Daily Rituals, though, except that it gathered the routines of a large and diverse set of people, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, or whether you get up at 5 am like Medium articles recommend! Here are some of the sketches I had made while reading it – about Patricia Highsmith and Frederico Fellini.

Some other book posts from 2020: Sputnik Sweetheart (So many vaccine puns :P), a bit from Ruined by Design in The Difference between Friday and a Fried Egg (mustread for designers today) and Letters from Tove in Fjords & Islands

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Life, Reflection, sketchbook

Learning to practise Maitri

As I realised that day, I felt in dire need of growing some kindness. Maybe it was due to the daily bustle of everyday life, or continuously missing the opportunities to practise, my kindness diminished and receded until some strangers’ kindness took me by such surprise!

As always I turned to Pema in my search for growing kind:

She talks about Maitri, the Budhist concept of loving-kindness. It starts with being honest, loving and compassionate towards oneself. It’s unconditional, she says.

Aspire to be happy. Find the tenderness of feeling love, or the vulnerability of feeling lonely inside yourself.

She encourages us to become aware of when we’re closing down and erecting barriers, and to always have a clear aspiration for happiness:

“May I and others enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”

Maitri essentially starts with locating in yourself an honest feeling of goodwill, and then encouraging it to expand…

The anteater as always, being helpful: “Without someone to irritate you, you’ll never get a chance to practise.”

Anyway…I’m still on that quest. Drawing about being kind doesn’t really make it happen – I have to actually find the opportunities to practise it in my life.

Related: A divine collision (2011) and My year of spirituality (2015)

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Books, sketchbook

Reading Sharp

Last year I read Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion and it was immensely inspiring. The women in the book whose lives and work are chronicled are Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. In fact after this book, I went on to read another book by Janet Malcolm which made me read another book and another, and so on.

Anyway in a nutshell what really inspired me was the incredible resilience all these women had, in the face of terrible partners, abandonment, difficult motherhood, creative and psychological rejection, financial troubles — apart from the usual baggage women subject themselves to — but they still kept at it! Some with a smile and poise, and some with just dogged determination. Great motivation for our ordinary, easy lives.

“I wanted to be cute. That’s the terrible thing. I should have had more sense.”

Dorothy Parker

” The critic shouldn’t need to tear a work apart to demonstrate that he knows how it was put together. The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made.”

Pauline Kael
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Books, Design, Life, sketchbook

Reading “White” by Kenya Hara

Like I posted earlier, I read White last year and loved it. Here’s a drawing I made during that time.

white

[WHITE
Every morning I sit and drink my coffee and read a few pages of White in silence and calm, and it’s a beautiful meditative experience reading this book. I feel thankful for life and everything that is still left in this world for me to wonder at.]

Read it for the experience as well as for the content.

From the sketchbook called Captivity (Feb 2017).

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sketchbook

Angry Soo

I don’t often get angry anymore, and in my middle age it’s mellowed to almost non-existence (though Orin thinks otherwise). In the last few years I’ve found that drawing my anger out is a more constructive way to deal with it. letters home 04

“Pema you have to help me get rid of this black ball of anger. On a good day like today.”

At the time I was reading The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron at the time, sent by my friend Indira. It was amazing for me and I would recommend it if you’re looking for something to help you deal with emotional turbulence.

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Life, sketchbook

38 weeks/2015

Those nine months were of course transformational, and not just in body. Slowly I got used to the idea of giving up some control over myself. Here are some pages from the sketchbook at 8 weeks and 12 weeks. But as personal growth, I called it my year of spirituality.

These are some pages at 38 weeks, when I took out some time to document what I was thinking:

P006

Things that I will miss: People being nice.

“Are people being nice because they are, or because I’m pregnant?”

And that was practically the only thing I could think of! Here we are sitting in a Starbucks, only because they have decaf.

P000

P001

“Did not think these days would ever come! The last few empty days of our lives…so much has changed, not least my waddling walk!”

P002

“But how did I keep my sanity through change? Being the sort of person who always fights against it, making transitions much harder than they have to be.”

“Well, I’m not proud of it…”

P003

“Well, mainly it was the demanding project that kept me super occupied. The Vedanta podcasts were the most calming element of these turbulent times. And also Kindle in it’s many formats.”

P004

“Of course there were surprises.

This amazing miraculous human body. Really I could bow down to the phenomena of it; if only I could bend.”

P005

What really helped: Friends and family. Even the most misogynist of people, i.e. me, who would avoid human contact if she could, had to concede to this. Prashant, Indira, the brown boy, my sister and my nephew, and family friends 2π and Snehasis.

P007

[Aside: I was reading Enchanted Objects by David Rose and thinking, we need new shapes for tangible technology. I really cannot keep drawing these “flat rectangular slabs of glass”.  A fabulous and inspiring book if you’re interested in technology and design.]

In retrospect:

Soo: “Even my (drawing) style is the same…you would think this transformation…”

The brown boy: “Hahaha…you have to work harder than that!”

And by the way, I went into labour less than 48 hours after drawing these pages!

Letters Home Part 1 | Letters Home Part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Books, Life, sketchbook

Reading Crucial Conversations

A couple of years ago someone recommended the book Crucial Conversations. It lay unread in my Kindle for a good long two years until the other day. It suffices to say that I won’t be reading it a second time – so I made some notes and here they are for your viewing pleasure.

Crucial Conversations

There. Now armed with these insights, you can have all the crucial conversations you want.

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