Dec
28
Posted on 28-12-2014
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

When we are born we unconsciously make gestures, our whole life goes with gestures at every moment. One day when gestures get frozen, we are off from society. How can we use these gestures that vibrate with the living sensation of human breath? Let’s find new solutions to new initiatives like “Make in India” that I wrote about the last two weeks, that there’s indispensible need to challenge mediocrity, obsolescence and the subservient mindset.

Human gestures have evolved incredibly through the centuries as we learnt to take on challenge after challenge. People’s living styles have radically changed human gestures. These gestures have been changing at every epoch from pre-historic to civilisation,agrarian to monarchical, religious, industrial revolution to mass production to electronics, digi-tech andthe breakthrough scientific world we live in today. From those times when we lit a fire with the friction of two stones, we’ve conquered nature in many ways through inspired gestures that have multiplied, bringing in newer solutions.

Agrarian societies lived in bounded communities with limited number and style of gestures. Monarchies and feudalism created gestures that subjects had to follow. Discovering the compass, the start of oceanic travel, reaching new countries, communicating with gestures established that gesture is another silent universal language. Take the worship of God where every religion created its identity and practice through unique gestures. All believe in God, but each prayer is identified by its own gestures. During the inventive period around 17th century when the Church and Western European Renaissance liberalised the arts, literature, philosophy and science from religious dogma, it created phenomenal challenge. When science challenged nature it was totally translated through revolutionary gestures. Travelling on donkey carts to horseback, boat to train, car to aircraft all made us learn different gestures.

The huge gesture of societal challenge led to the world’s first revolution in France in 1789. A dimension of “liberte” showcased the entirely new gesture of breaking the monarchy. The 20th century’s new ideology of Communism also created revolutionary discipline with new limited gestures, but the power to challenge in capitalistic, democratic society added unlimited gestures. World War I, the first technology war was followed by World War II that brought atomic destruction, both radically moved human gestures. There is tremendous challenge in finding a new solution to old problems that set off conflicts like wars. Conflicts have to be resolved with sensitised gestures of peace that attack the problem both on the surface and at the root.

Western Europe saw the departure of modern art since 1870.  Human gesture is among the great arts in our societies. Breaking the old classic mould, many new art movements have enormously contributed to change the world through paintings, photography, cinema and industrial design. Modern art started with Impressionism where Vincent van Gogh’s bold brush strokes portrayed an oversized Starry Night; through Cubism Pablo Picasso besmirched Nazi bombing in his powerful political statement painting La Guernica; later Expressionism was discovered to have come before Impressionism.  Surrealism challenged human perspective when Salvador Dali depicted melting watches in Persistence of Memory, then there was Abstract art, Dada, Graphic art, Andy Warhol’s repetitive Pop art and Vanishing art where Christo wraps buildings and parks for a short period. These artistic gestures are themselves weapons of challenge. They have impacted and changed society. In my observation, gesture is among the great human expressions of ideation, it can be mild gesture, medium gesture or strong gestures.

Birth of Gesturism: So can’t the varied gestures that challenge mediocrity, obsolescence and subservience to bring in vibrant new solutions to also shock be made into a new movement and ideology? An ideology that challenges to find superior answers to harried problems can take society forward. That ideology can be named Gesturism movement. As it originates in human society, Gesturism has unique gestures full of challenge, possesses spontaneous essence and expresses the vivacity in human behaviour. Gesturism considers both human involvement and human frailty in the face of living in a complex, global environment where speed and information overflow meet us every day. When it’s an art movement, Gesturism art is dynamic and creative, awash with pulsating movement, new and unique, always living, breathing and unprompted.

Just to illustrate, as soon as the sun goes down every day, or in a dark room, different gestures were involved in ancient times or even in villages today that use candlelight or mashal lights. You had to be careful not to burn yourself with fire, and worry about how long the fire will last. Electric light brings in a totally different set of gestures. To use a gramophone you had to change the needle, pump the turntable, put the record on it, control the speed, open the locking system to move the record, put the sound box on the record, turn the horn’s direction to where you want the sound. From there to the electrophone, record changer, tape recorder, CD player and now MP3, just imagine the revolution of gestures brought about in a century. Even in the last two decades, the mobile phone gesture has become a trend. The stationary phone was a live messaging instrument, isn’t the mobile phone now a theatrical human expression? At every moment individuals across the world are creating their own gestures with the phone.  From birth to death, uncountable gestures grow regularly, and accompany us all the way.

The spontaneity and momentum of Gesturism establish that challenge is our most important missile to bring the new into the world. As Gesturism cannot be static, its ideology can become a new movement deployed in art, product design, photography, cinema and architecture. Gesturism provokes you to take on challenges, find new solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, and implement the shock of new ideas to make an impact which can sustain.Emanating from the symbols and psychedelic waves that gesticulate our passion to take on life’s challenges, let’s ring in New Year 2015 and “Make in India” by experiencing Gesturism, the always alive, pure and endless movement.

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Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Dec
21
Posted on 21-12-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

That scientific, logical and creative challenge is essential for “Make in India” to take wing is what many of you, my valued readers, have written to agree with me on (http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/from-the-discomfort-zone-challenge-to-exit-mediocrity/99/#comments). What’s hindering us to confidently take on challenges is subservience to the “guru” in every field who always takes on a superior, higher order space. It’s unthinkable in our society to challenge the guru’s training.  Disciples have to respect and obey the ideas or orders of the guru who generally never likes to be challenged.

I remember our art college professors in Kolkata were extremely strict. Students had to learn painting or drawing technicalities exactly in the teacher’s artistic style. There were 2 kinds of professors, those who only taught, others who had created a big reputation in the art market. The latter became gurus whose hardcore disciples considered themselves a cut above us because their guru professor is a famous artist. From their paintings in later life, you can easily identify which guru professor such painters were disciples of. This guru-disciple trend was suffocating me. Hailing from an inferior refugee colony, I was a low profile student who didn’t have the swagger of my slick city-bred colleagues to become a guru professor’s disciple. More stifling and disheartening was seeing my senior colleagues take up clerical jobs, giving up hope of an artistic future. Suddenly after my 3rd year, I had to break this path. I eloped to France. I don’t know if I subconsciously challenged myself or took a risk.

After a tough entrance test, I enrolled in Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-arts in Paris, the prestigious 1648 art academy that trained painters like Degas, Delacroix, Monet, Renoir among others. From my livelihood savings I also studied graphic design in Academie Julian founded in 1868. Initially I felt extremely dispirited, no professor would come to my drawing board to take my pencil or brush to teach me. Was I again sans a guru?  Then I noticed that whoever wanted the professor’s help would either take the drawing to the professor or call the professor to see the work. That’s when I understood these professors were masters, not gurus. To coach students, they gave references of other painters, photographers, cinematographers, or controversial figures in domains outside art.  They never displayed their own artistic competence, nor obliged students to follow them.

My typography professor in Academie Julian was Paul Gabor of Hungarian origin. From him I learnt and have mastered the typography foundation of 4 schools, Gothic, Roman, Antique and Elzevir. He trained us with such passion that typography felt like an art form. Much later when I entered the branding profession, what I discovered about him took my breath away. My professor is the world-renowned creator of a different typography font named Gabor after him. Training from such masters made me shed my guru culture baggage. Masters don’t impose their personal style, instead listen to individualistic ideas of students, discuss different angles to help them develop. One of my Ecole des Beaux-arts professors often commented on my drawings saying there’s gesture in them, that I should never lose this gesture style in my art. Consciously or unconsciously, the way forward in my artistic domain was a challenging mindset. I’ve later created a movement called Gesturism art .

To illustrate the prescriptive process of the oral transfer of craftsmanship from a guru, let’s look at the traditional guru-shishya parampara in Indian music. There is an element of worship of the specific knowledge that a disciple gains from a learned guru who personally teaches Indian music. This worship often gets exemplified into unfettered guru devotion irrespective of other non-becoming characteristics the guru may have. Today, young people across the country mostly want to play the guitar, piano, drums or keyboard. Rarely do they express interest in the sitar, sarangi, tabla or shehnai unless parents or grandparents urge them. Urban areas have more stores that sell Western rather than Indian musical instruments. Perhaps that’s because you cannot excel in oral musical traditions without gurus and there are not enough interested disciples. After all such music was an elitist art form and gurus never always impart all their secrets. This prevents disciples to easily blossom into new gurus. So when most gurus pass on, so do their art and the techniques they excelled in.

On the other hand, Western musical system documents everything, allowing students to learn from bygone masters. It even encourages them to challenge masters to become better than masters in future. Take the works of 18th century Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. His 42 operas, 29 oratorios, 16 organ concerti and over 120 musical compositions are performed exactly the same way even today. Another prolific 18th century Classical era composer was Wolfgang Mozart in whose honour an annual music festival is held in his birthplace Salzburg, Austria. That he was a great master is evident as he inspired many composers to become masters too. The most famous among them are Ludwig van Beethovan, Fernando Sor, Mikhail Glinka, Frederic Chopin, Max Roger and Tchaikovsky who wrote memorable musical tributes to Mozart that are played and available to everyone today. There are many interpretations and reinterpretations of how people have played any master’s original compositions, but every later version is documented so nobodt becomes dependent on a guru.

I’m making this guru vs. master point to demonstrate the importance of a mindset of challenge when our country invites global capitalistic competitive manufacturers to come “Make in India.” The guru-shishya system may have success in certain domains, but it prevents you from becoming a challenger. Here you require the master to make the learner better than the master. In business, people with the guru mentality look up to their bosses, giving them guru status. This practically kills all initiative, making them mentally and physically dependent at work. Unless we break this guru kowtowing attitude, great ideas like “Make in India” will remain a dream waiting for the guru’s wand to materialize it.

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Dec
14
Posted on 14-12-2014
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Taking scientific, logical challenge with passion at the individual, collective and country levels makes a country innovative. Many Western business associates ask me whether “Make in India” is a marketing gimmick or a real drive from India’s Government. Their doubt seems to stem from past slogans like “Incredible India.” My response is always positive because in this column earlier, as well as in my books, I have advocated that India should have a strong, high skill driven manufacturing base, that our millions be trained to develop skills in different areas to both advance their livelihood and better our economy in the global field.

“Make in India” is the start of solving our country’s major problems. It will drastically shorten the poverty line, increase lower income people’s wages, equip them for better jobs through skill development, open entrepreneurial export opportunities making the country self-dependant and invite the world to make India their high value manufacturing hub. To overcome our biggest lacuna of not having the challenge-taking mindset, let’s look at those who have taken scientific, logical challenges.

Cisco CEO John Chambers started his address in Jacksonville, USA by inviting the thousand-strong crowd to challenge him. At this global digital technology conference I participated in, Chambers said he won’t be an isolated spectacle on stage. Unless challenged, he said, it would mean his subject or delivery was so banal it impacted nobody, and nobody would register his words. The audience felt really easy throwing bold questions at this multi-billion dollar Cisco founder who responded with scientific and logical aplomb, opening a healthy debate in the memorably vibrant session.

Challenge by inventors: People with self-initiative challenge the world in new dimensions. Did you know Thomas Edison with over 1000 patents is a school dropout? Just his voice recorder changed the world, subsequently creating a huge entertainment industry and several adaptable innovations.  Neither did “flying machine” inventors, Wilber and Orville Wright, who flew the first airplane, pass school. The American attitude of going to the garage with the mentality to invent is a total challenge to society. Although the US has large, sophisticated, scientific laboratory establishments, many important American inventions after 1880 came from the unconventional garage “self-laboratory.” The top 6 famous garage start-ups are Amazon.com by Jeff Bezos, Apple by college-dropout Steve Jobs, Disney by Walt and Roy Disney, Google by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Harley Davidson by William Harley and Arthur Davidson, HP by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. With scarce means, minimalistic way of living, little physical comfort, these garage inventors spectacularly challenged the world to exit mediocrity while inventing something out-of-the-box. Their individual power, motivation and passion were so strong that without taking any establishment support, their challenge resulted in greenfield inventions.

Challenge from devastated countries: I can never support Germany or Japan’s Axis military force of World War II, but hugely admire their challenge to rise above defeat. The Allied Army devastated Germany, of course to wipe out their devilish Nazi regime. Trounced Germany bounced back bravely to take on entrepreneurial challenges, and continues to be best in high quality precision manufacturing and innovation. Engineering workmanship accuracy and invincible quality of German SMEs have made the country robust enough to overcome global recessionary periods to become Europe’s most stable economy. Japan’s rebound from atomic bomb devastation was to challenge sophisticated Western developed countries by producing the world’s best quality in every domain. Upto 1970s, Japan suffered the poor quality reputation. Even I remember small, cute bad quality Japanese products in my childhood. We’d always heard that German pianos are the best due to superior acoustic engineering. Taking the piano platform as a global challenge, Japan is mesmerizing the world today by perfecting their skill-set for the delicate exactitude that piano-making requires.  You see more Yamaha pianos in classical music or rock concerts than any other country’s piano.  Destruction from war made them challenge their victimization to win in diverse industrial spheres.

Creative industry challenge: Conquering the Wild West is pride and nostalgia for all Americans. Macho actors like John Wayne, who shot into fame in John Ford’s 1939 directed “Stagecoach,” symbolized the American cowboy. Several gun-happy Westerns were made in the US which distinguished them as typically American cowboy films.

Italy, another War ravaged Axis power, had started Neo-Realism films to forget being devastated. When such films started declining in 1950s, Director Sergio Leone cheekily challenged big-time Hollywood studios. Just imagine, from traditional European culture, he dared to portray American cowboys in A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) that became global box office hits. These lower-budget films were shot in Italy and Spain, hence nicknamed Spaghetti Westerns. In this creative challenge, Spaghetti Westerns have overtaken American-made Westerns in popularity. Americans sitting in the US prefer imported Westerns, while globally, Sergio Leone, rather than John Ford, is recalled as the symbol of cowboy movies. Don’t forget, Sergio Leone’s challenge was so gigantic that even Bollywood’s highest grossing $50 million blockbuster Sholay was inspired to imitate his most famous Once upon a time in the West 1968 film.

Among many scientific, logical and creative challenges that changed mediocrity, can “Make in India” be one? The Government says many administrative areas will be facilitated, which must be happening. But how will Government help to raise people’s skill-set? Overall, several skill-set gaps need plugging in manufacturing, such as lack of hygienic and civic sense, lack of entrepreneurial challenge and innovative mindset, poor learning curve, non-conducive value of time, low capability. Only private industry, from MSMEs to middle and big enterprises and the self-employed can bring the change if they imbibe logical, scientific and passionate challenge to kill mediocrity in their work culture like Germany, Japan and now Korea have done. I can only refer you to the terrific words of American President John Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

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Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

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Dec
07
Posted on 07-12-2014
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

When I was working with a European company that made different types of home cleaning products like sponge, cleaning duster, mop with stick and the like, I remember an accusation the brand got of being disrespectful to women. With the client we had devised a special mopping innovation where the handle’s manoeuvrability enabled easy cleaning and washing of the mop to reduce effort while increasing the comfort of home cleaning. It provided great consumer advantage. The advertising storyline used the tango dance. The stick represented the man, the mop the woman. The product achieved huge sales success within six months. Then one day, the client got a notice from the court that women were being abused as servants thereby degrading them. The ad had to be stopped within 48 hours. Even the product concept was questioned because in the tango dance, the woman, the mop here, does all the dirty work as a slave through complex dance steps, while the man, the stick, largely only provides the balance. However, the client could save the concept and the product while kicking out the advertisement. The big lesson we learnt was to be super-sensitive to not tamper on people’s sentiments and women’s dignity. The attack of women being insulted was not from activists, but the consumer forum. Just imagine the superior power consumers have in developed countries that the industry cannot do things any way they want.

Zapping the TV remote yesterday, I stumbled upon an edible oil advertisement on a regional Indian channel. The prospective bridegroom’s family was choosing the bride based on her cooking ability. Doubtful, scrutinising faces were shown to light up brightly when one by one they tasted her cooking. Great cooking quality was only happening due to the oil brand. The prospective bride’s family was shown surreptitiously paying thankful reverence to the oil brand for achieving this success. Isn’t it shocking how we socially ill treat our women to sell branded products? That the girl’s performance is judged as though a cook is being hired is bad enough. Add to this our unjust social system that debases the honour of women by accepting such a bride selection-elimination process. To top it all, here was this TV commercial blatantly demeaning the woman’s cooking competence while showing a heroic brand overcoming her shortcoming to make her a winner. The ad’s tone and manner may purport to be fun, but isn’t it a below-the-belt punch on women’s dignity? How can arranged marriages use women as merchandise to be selected on abilities that will provide comfort to the family choosing her?

I remember when I was about 10 years old, I was among my maternal uncle’s family who had gone to select a bride for him. The girl was very beautiful. I was the only child there, she was very attentive to me in another room. I quickly became fond of her and felt happy she would be my aunt. She was called to walk around and serve us all delicious food and sweets. I was looking forward to the marriage date, but after sometime I heard the marriage was not to be. I was very disappointed, but could not understand why. Much later, after I’d gone to France and was on a holiday trip home, while having some nostalgic conversation, I was shocked to discover the reason why she was rejected. When they had asked her to walk, it seems she took big bold steps which displayed her character to be very independent-minded. So it was assumed that she would not be a subservient daughter-in-law. You can’t imagine how ashamed I felt that my family could inflict such insult on women.

People in our country lack the courage to challenge scientific logic. They either fight, not debate or keep quiet. I squirm to see fairness cream advertising in India that disgracefully slurs women’s honour. Being the world’s most heterogeneous society with strong geographical change across the south, east, north and west, every Indian’s morphology and pigmentation obviously cannot be the same. Yet culturally, in every region, fairness is coveted. The ads emphasise how fair skin increases a girl’s confidence, lands her plum jobs and raises her marital fortunes. Skin lightening cosmetics have, year after year, played on the insecurities of people about their skin colour and created a R3,000-crore industry by 2014. As film stars are used to advertise these products, the film industry is largely responsible for propagating such social non-acceptance fears because of dark skin. How many heroines have you seen who are dark? Does it mean the role model for women in our country is fair heroines?

The earliest commercial fairness cream in India was made in 1919. In 1975, came an MNC whitening product that’s ruled monopolistically for several years to become a R1,000-crore brand. It seems 30% of fairness creams are secretly used by men, so from 2005, a special whitening product for self-doubting men promising them better prospects with lighter skin was successfully launched. Today many international cosmetics companies have joined the fray to entice women to become white. Millions of our people are below the poverty line or don’t have the money to take care of their skin through nutrition. Instead, they fall victim to such products for their skin troubles. Don’t whiteness promising companies realise how insulting their proposition is to women’s natural beauty? The Centre for Science and Environment says health is at stake, too, because about 44% of fairness creams marketed in India contain high toxic mercury levels that can eventually affect the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. By quoting this NGO, I am, of course, not raising any issue of creams protecting skin from the sun’s ultra-violet rays.

Frankly, we don’t require activists to rebel against such disgraceful money-making activities. The consumer forum can stop such products that feed on people’s unsure sense of worth and horribly humiliate women. There are so many different angles that women in our country have to face disgraceful insults from. It’s a shame.

Download a FREE PDF copy of the article.

Source : The Indian Express / The Financial Express

 

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