Sujata Keshavan, renowned graphic designer and co- founder of Ray & Keshavan India, raised a very important question: "Is there such a thing as an Indian identity?".
The main problem in answering that question is the sheer diversity of India, she acknowledged, and the question of whether there can be a common identity. If so, how does it manifest itself, she wondered aloud.
To answer all of these questions, Keshavan used the responses of a colleague to images she had shown him, asking him to differentiate the Indian from the non-Indian. The responses prove that we as Indians intuitively and instinctively determine what is Indian and what is not, simply because of the symbols and motifs of Indianess that we have been brought up on. This is through the motifs and symbols which have become popular because of the varied craft and architectural traditions of the country.
Keshavan traced the history of India vis a vis urbanisation and development to highlight how the whole concept of an 'Indian' design sensibility could have emerged. Starting from the pre-independent era, when 'to be Indian was to be more like the British', to the nationalist era where Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru rejected colonial policies and introduced Indian symbols in the mainstream to invoke a sense of Indianness, she says, "For them, to be Indian was not to be British".
The third era that she pointed out was the post-liberalization in 1991. With the entry of global brands in the Indian markets, Indian manufacturers were forced to improve the quality and design of their own product to ensure that they managed to retain their customer base. This brought about a revolution in the way Indian designed their products. This era also saw the business environments mimic the corporate abroad. The example she used to highlight this point was the new architecture which was becoming popular with the corporate. The design was quite different from the Indian designs till date and most of it ranged from "undistinguishable ordinary to ugly". So, engineering and modern technology came to India and took over. The reason which she quotes for this phenomenon is that Indian identity was suppressed with the telecom revolution. "It should have happened earlier to give us time to acclimatise the changes," she commented.
Keshavan points out that India's strength lies in innovation and process design. Speaking on Indian advertising, she commented that with the advent of technology and global brands, the production quality of campaigns has improved; more and more people are being reached but through local languages.
Speaking about the prospects of design in India, she affirmed prospects are growing, however slowly, but in too fragmented a manner to be a movement yet. "The economic and political power of the west is declining and it is looking towards India with greater respect," she said, "which is making 'us' less awestruck. " She underlined the fact that Indians need to build up on our strengths, which are an array of infinitely varied and vast crafts traditions: the bedrock of Indian design. Only then will design in India be Indian design, she concluded.