THIS ISN’T a case of sour grapes.
I am no IIT-an, never pursued studies beyond graduation. But if a friend you interact with often happens to be a JJ School of Art (Mumbai) product, you do occasionally think design.
Thinking doesn’t mean firsthand sketching, spray-painting, doodling or graphic designing, with fingers or with the mouse. Your friend is always there to do it for you.
I am in no way undermining Dip Kakati’s capability of coming up with nice designs despite commanding in Guwahati one-twentieth of what he would have made per logo or print campaign in Mumbai. His heart is large enough to tweak his designs if non-designer I happen to suggest a stroke here and there.
Blame it on the typical Northeast Indian lethargy, Dip – this happens to people who live in another world – did not notice the Ministry of Finance’s ad on the ‘Symbol for Rupee Design’ competition in February 2010.
I did, but not as an input for my inbuilt memory chip. It wasn’t until I logged on to the MinFin site two months later to seek reportage-related information that I read about the contest thoroughly. I thought of Dip immediately, but it was already April 10.
Mid-April is Rongali or Bohag Bihu time in Assam, and Dip was rushing through a massive festive campaign. “You think, I’ll translate into design,” he said. “There’s always a first time for everything,” he added, pre-empting a protest.
I thought hard for the next 48 hours minus sleeping time. The contest guideline – The symbol should represent the historical and cultural ethos of the country as widely accepted – kept coming at me like Brett Lee’s bouncers.
On April 12, we got cracking. The way to go is developing on the oft-used, easy-to-blend Roman R and Devnagiri Ra, Dip said. Let’s not follow the $ (dollar), € (euro) and ₤ (pound-sterling) and do something different from the vertical or horizontal lines slashing the symbolic letters, we agreed.
The first design was thus born. It was based on ‘Om’ or ‘Aum’, a strong Indian symbol of spiritual, physical and mental fortitude. We blended ‘R’ with the Devnagiri Ra and embellished it with the Assamese/Bengali ‘Oo’ matra (for the Roo effect in the Hindi Rupaiya) to make the top half resemble ‘Om’ (as in the Assamese/Bengali script).
If the Hindi Ru represented mainland India, the Assamese ‘Om’ represented the country’s fringe and the Roman ‘R’ imparted the symbol a global touch.
Also, Om symbolizes sarvashakti or universal strength, and we wanted our Rupee to be a major universal player. The symbol is considered to possess a cosmic frequency that is indestructible, encompassing three sounds that go to make up the entire universe of words.
The second design was based on ‘Swastika’, which we thought was more than a Hindu religious symbol. It is spiritual, considered auspicious and popular across India. Besides carrying the Indian historical and cultural ethos, it also has a global appeal though Adolf Hitler’s Nazis gave it a bad name.
The four wings of the Swastika cross point towards the four directions – North, East, South and West connoting stability, firmness and strength. It is used as the symbol of Sun, the source of earth’s energy.
Moreover, the Swastika-influenced design gave our Rupee symbol the look of a running human, as if racing to catch up with the Dollar, Euro and Pound-Sterling. And if you note, the figure is headed left (a bit of Leftism can do cash-chasing no harm).
Both designs, we felt, were visually strong and easily recognizable in India and beyond. And, as a software-developer friend agreed, could be blended with alphabets of various keyboard-friendly languages.
We raced against time to courier the designs along with the requisite draft on April 13. With the Bihu holidays having already set in, we were skeptical about it reaching MinFin’s Department of Economic Affairs on time.
The designs either did not reach before the deadline – 1300 hours on April 15 – or they were trashed.
We forgot about the contest as fast we had rushed to participate in it. “Even if the designs aren’t acceptable, we tried at least and spent only a day and Rs 700 for the draft, printing and couriering,” said Dip.
Ironically, Hindustan Times asked me to interview Dharmalingam Udaya Kumar after his Rupee symbol design was declared the winner. Why? Because he was to join IIT-Guwahati as an assistant professor in the department of design on the day the news broke.
Call it karma or plain fluke, ‘non-mainstream’ Guwahati eventually had a hand in giving India its global monetary pehchaan.
But why reminisce three months after Udaya Kumar’s victory? Blame it again on the typical Northeast Indian lethargy.