In this article, I discuss one of the thematic design spreads on which we spent a lot of time. Some of the discussions I remember vividly, even after four decades (and withering of the grey cells of someone in her eighth decade of life!).
Selection of the visuals – photographs as well as the tantric art images – for each chapter was as creatively challenging for all the creative professionals concerned; and for me it was a fantastic learning experience. Each of the three persons involved in the implementation of the design concept – Yeshwant Choudhary, Mitter Bedi and Vilas Bhende – was a master of his own art. All of them were years senior to me, professionally as well as chronologically. The fact that they had so much respect for each other made the discussions, the arguments, the banter, even their acerbic comments for each other’s views, so much fun – memories that I treasure to this day.
Each one of them made critical comments and gave suggestions for the evolution of the thematic spread– sometimes leading to a complete abandoning of the original plan. But there was no heartburn, no ego hassles and, most important, no financial disputes about who would bear the costs of what was scrapped! It was a team that anyone would die to work with! Wonder why they took a novice like me under their wing. Although they took my suggestions seriously, sometimes I wondered whether they were just indulging me! Whatever be their reasons, for me, it was a blessing to cut my teeth into the world of book design with those masters.
Each composition of the book’s thematic pages photographs was nothing less than a piece of installation art. The Nanas’ Chowk (Bombay) studio of Vilas became our adda for the eight weeks or so that we took to complete the 10 theme photographs. The actual photography may have taken less than 10 days but collecting all the props, getting the models and setting up the composition took much longer.
For those who use today’s digital tools: software like Adobe’s Creative Cloud (specifically Photoshop) or the more recently introduced series of graphic design software developed by Serif (Affinity Photo) – it would be difficult to even imagine how these spreads were created without access to such tools. Each bit was manually crafted that required immense skills of making cut-outs, masking and superimposing, know-how of photography and dark-room techniques, and eye for detail for faithful reproduction in print. The entire text was photo-typeset and manual artworks were created for the entire document. Something that takes just a few clicks now would require hours or even days of human labour.
One of the chapters in the book was titled “ICICI and the Planning Era”. A head, or the brain, was the faculty to be depicted. That was the easy decision; what was challenging was the composition of the thematic page. We had to get the cast of a head made from plaster of Paris. Vilas and Yeshwant were perfectionists and rejected at least six or seven casts before they were satisfied!
I remember Vilas and Yeshwant discussing the hand that should be shown as working on the circuitry shown inside the head – it had to be a male hand; of someone in his 30s; the nails had to be unevenly cut – Vilas went to the extent of having just the right amount of dirt in the nails to convey that it was genuinely a worker’s hand! And he shot at least a dozen photos to finally select the one which showed the right amount of pressure of the finger on the screwdriver!
Today, in times of microchips, the printed circuit board may appear primitive, as would probably the photograph with women working on calculators. But THAT was the state of electronics industry in India in the late-1970s; it was difficult to even get permissions to shoot photographs of a mainframe computer because only a handful of industries had them.
For me, the most enjoyable and educative hours were those when Yeshwant went through great lengths to explain to me why he had chosen the ‘tantric’ image of the sun for that page and the significance of the number 28. He told me that 28, in Indian mythology, had a special significance. It is considered the perfect number and denotes wealth. Also, he used that number with the image of the sun because the rotation time of the surface of the sun at its equator as viewed from Earth is about 28 days.
The numerals had to be written in Devnagari script, of course, because we were writing about an Indian institution. I must add that, after hours of heated discussions with him, the only change that I could convince him to make was in the drawing of the Man inside that image of the sun. He introduced moustache; originally, the drawing had only the lines on the forehead which could be interpreted as a Brahmanical symbol. My weltanchaung did not permit me to accept that ‘intellect’ and ‘planning’ were the prerogative of the Brahmins!