The Indian real estate market, estimated at $180 billion, contributes 6% of our annual GDP, while the bridal market and the furniture market are each valued at around $34 billion. These are impressive numbers which lead to the inevitable question: has there ever been a time in our history when so much has been spent for so little? To put it another way, with so much moolah to splash around, why are we such an aesthetically-challenged country? Why do we have zero awareness of the basic principles of design? The Japanese spend a lifetime in pursuit of shibumi, the sublime, while we gallop in hot pursuit of the depressingly ugly. This conspiracy of hideousness persists across the spectrum, whether one is buying a home, a bridal outfit or a couch. It's almost as if a three word brief, "Make it ugly," has been given to the designer when one is confronted with the squalid, dismal, wedding-cake architecture on offer from Nagawara to HSR Layout.
The names, however, are incredibly imaginative, as my friend Anuvab Pal observed, "Bangalore real estate honchos take a Greek God and add the builder's son's name: Varun Helios or maybe, Diana Mallikarjun. But the best was the tagline for a building called Zeus Infinity: 'We take you to Infinity and beyond.' 'But boss, I said, 'Infinity is infinite, what can be beyond it?' Then I figured it out…Hosur Road."
It says something about us a nation that JJ Valaya is one of our most successful designers: for those unfamiliar with his oeuvre, suffice it to say that he makes Bappi Lahiri appear sober in comparison. Valaya uses opulent embroidery in occasion-wear, supposedly influenced by the grandeur of royal Indian history. (Aurangzeb, you have a lot to answer for). Here is the great man holding forth on his design ethos: "As an Indian designer, I have always felt that our prime responsibility should be to keep the India that was alive within the India that is (or the one that will be)…" Dude, you need to change both your history teacher and your drug dealer.
NID, Ahmedabad, is renowned for a curriculum that places Gandhian ideals of social good at the heart of design. This sounds delightfully pious and oh-so-politically-correct but is symbolic of our dreadfully sloppy thinking that could well have been lifted straight from the Trump Manifesto. Make America Grate Again."Oh, but fashion is often perceived as a frivolous indulgence in a country where poverty levels are still high," sniffed my JNU friend, Nirmala. Yaar, horses for courses, I said, Gandhian ideals worked well in Dandi, but just because you are on a budget doesn't mean you have to dress badly. Put some namak in your outfit. Haven't you heard of favela (slum) architecture in Brazil or affordable fashion, like Ikea?
Speaking of which, things won't be easy for Ikea whose biggest challenge lies in changing the Indian aesthetic while getting the couch potato to assemble the damn couch. Indians prefer heavy, colonial-style sofas on which grandma, children, dog and samosas can co-exist peacefully, not some cutting-edge, contemporary bench designed for a size zero. After three years of research, Ikea is targeting millennials, who move house frequently and are more likely to buy functional furniture. "The home should be yours in terms of comfort and aesthetic, but we would love to help you make it more contemporary and reflective of the times that we live in," says their spokesman, Lundström. Good luck, Lund, is all the Punchkuian Road furniture dealer is likely to say.
Ikea's Patrik Antoni, says, "There is a wonderful feeling of pride when the chair or table is assembled." I got news for you, Patrik. Most Indians are so bad at DIY that the only way sales will boom is when your irate customers take an axe to the components in frustration, while using a four-letter word other than Ikea."Our store will be like Disneyland, offering something for everybody," says Ikea'sSmedberg. Really, that's a scary thought, Smeddy, we already have our own cartoon designers, why would we need to add Mickey Mouse to our existing grotesqueries?
Anarticle in Fortune magazine describes Ikea's founder, Kamprad, "as an informal and frugal man who insists on flying coach, takes the subway to work, drives a 10-year-old Volvo and avoids suits of any kind". Especially legal ones.So ok, he's basically Narayanmurthy, without the suit. Take a look at any Infosys campus and you will see that it is a depressing clone of some Menlo Park complex, replete with steel towers and that ghastly electric-blue glass frontage. Even Mallya has followed the herd with his White House squatting uneasily on his Chrysler Building rip-off, like some repulsive, ghostly turd. Incidentally, the only non-a/c brick building on the Infosys campus is now known as the "Museum." By all means Make in India, but why does it have to be ugly?...