Udaya of the Indian rupee


Dharmalingam Udaya Kumar

SOMEONE OBSESSED with ocean is destined to make waves. Dharmalingam Udaya Kumar did just that by designing a symbol slated to put the Indian rupee in league with Y (yen), $ (dollar), € (euro) and ₤ (pound-sterling).

“When you are from a coastal city (Chennai) and have spent quality time in another (Mumbai), you cannot but fall in love with the ocean,” Udaya Kumar, 31, said from Mumbai. Winning the contest for designing the Rupee symbol made him reschedule his trip to this city; he will now join IIT-Guwahati as an assistant professor in the department of design on Monday (July 19).

IIT-Guwahati’s design department has often caught the eye with innovations such as low-cost, bamboo-and-cane hospital furniture and light-weight, high-speed rickshaws.

Udaya’s oceanic fascination is apparent from Waterworld, his idea of a futuristic floating city on the Arabian seacoast to help ease Mumbai’s urban congestion. The concept fuelled his architectural thesis – he is a Bachelor of Architecture from Anna University besides a Master of Design from Industrial Design Centre (Visual Communication), IIT Bombay.

But for this IITian, the marine world is next to a ‘literary ocean’ called Tamil. “I was into art from an early age, and was particularly fond of the Tamil alphabets. Subsequently, I worked on Tamil manuscripts and typefaces, and what I have done for my mother tongue is a drop in the ocean,” he said.

That drop was Parasakthi, a standard, simple and clean Tamil typeface with uniform stroke thickness. He designed it prior to writing a book on Tamil typography.

The hunt for symbolism in Tamil letters led Udaya to Roman and Devnagiri scripts. That helped him come up with the rupee symbol – with horizontal strokes representing the Tricolour – to represent India’s growing economy and its currency.

The IITian is ecstatic about landing in another ocean – “one of opportunities” – called Northeast India that “offers a world of tribal motifs and other designs” to work on. He is also looking forward to urban architecture around inland water-bodies; Assam has some 3,500 wetlands threatened by urban expansion.

Udaya hopes his stint at IIT-Guwahati would help him make a mark in designing jewellery and accessories from junk material, a pet passion. “Whether or not I succeed, I will always be known as the person behind the rupee symbol,” said Udaya. And a designer who earned a PhD in industrial design, the first doctorate awarded in the discipline in India.

One hopes his design will power the udaya (rise) of the Indian rupee.

(A truncated version of this post appeared in Hindustan Times)

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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