Dr. Soumitri Varadarajan
Associate Professor
Industrial Design Program
School of Architecture and Design
RMIT University

410 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne VIC 3001

Fax: +61-3-9925 5342

A day without sunshine is like night.



It was a fleeting time in Vietnam. I have been here for two days – watching the students do their projects. And had one conversation lst night about how we all go off and intervene in the less developed parts of the world. WE do it not for the place and people but for ourselves.

All too short a trip.

But I squeezed in a photo journey and there were some gems in that. For walking into peoples homes and talking to them I was an Indian. Philippa said she wasnt asked in – did it mean that being Indian gives you special status in the heart of the Vietnamese folk?

Research at NID

Happens, and alsso gives a feeling that it doesnt happen. I make the call that there is a lot of amazing stuff going on. And here is a short note about it.RA Projects.doc


I am at the Budget terminal in Singapore – on my way to HCM City/ Saigon and onwards. And miraculously – the Singaporeans really know how to do this kind of stuff – I have fast ethernet access in the Airport. And whats more its pop access too – something even after paying Tata Wifi in Bangalore would not do. So now my laptop is filled with all the mails from my various accounts and I am feeling somehow complete.

A little note I gave Kath and Fiona as I left ABad

Dear Kath and Fiona,

It has been gorgeous spending three days with you. You are good people to spend time with – which I am sure is okay only up to a point – but three days is a good point to end it all at. And now having said that let us go on to more mundane things – for we cant have your heads swell up in the India n summer now- can we?

Dalrymple speaks of the orientalist as the westerner in love with the orient ( which in those days included India) in an abstract sort of way. But that William Fraser went further and became hindoostani ( which iss the old way of saying Indian). It would be quite touching if you went that way became local totally – and for tips check out the City of Djinns by Dalrymple. Magical prose if there was any – and its about Delhi ( could there ever be another city like that – suppose not).

I have had apprehensions about how you would take to India, and to NID. And good Aussies that you are – you came through beautifully. Its not easy or comfortable – but that’s precisely it. Apprehensions that have been with me since May 2006 when all this began. I am totally dreading having the NID students at RMIT – will they complain? And as I leave two of my lot behind I will look back and smile. Proud of you two. And for that – thanks.

The semester plan is in place – and you should be able to navigate and ‘customise’ your time here in an ongoing way. I leave you in the company of Errol, Naik, Praveen, Suresh, GU, Sudarshan, and Dinesh. And with the support of Akhila ( who has been put to the task to be there for you – for everything) and Amitesh (Likewise). They look like two people who have energy, confidence and openness to see you through your tough times. You may go off them – but then you may pick up others on the way. All this – ‘if there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask’ – is a stock phrase. But people actually mean it. And I am going to expect you to put it to the test – again and again and again – as that is one way to show affection. But show affection you must – remember this is India.

So best of luck.


And let me know how things are going – call and chat if you can.

Last mail to FK

I have completed all the scouting for your additional activities and vists in India. The way it looks now – as in the mind map – is that you have 14 weeks in NID, which brings you to the end of September or early October. By this time you are likely to be comfortable with India and with functioning among Indian people. You will also be looking to see a bit more of India.

I have visited Mumbai and Bangalore – assuming I don’t need to do Delhi as I am more familiar with things in Delhi – and have visited places and spoken to people. They have heard from me about the New Endeavour exchange – plus about what the two of you are like (hope they don’t tell you all I said about you two) – and about what wandering Australian design students hope to see and experience in India. First you need to make your choices re people and places on the mindmap. I will then do the introductions over email – and once that is done I would like you to take the lead and interact with the people to fix up your visits. Each of them will be waiting to hear from us about definite dates when you want to go and see them so good to do it while they still remember my visit/chat.

You will see I have extracted the NGOs as a separate category, and listed Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi as cities where you can see more of the mainstream design discourse – and visit a design school ( just to get a contrasting picture to NID so you can appreciate why it is special). The mindmap is cryptic and except for the names of film makers Praveen should be able to help you with explanations and tell you what each of the items are, and what is interesting about the people listed.
FK-open slots 230607.doc

Another long post – LOST!!!!!

I sat from 9.30 and wrote. And it all just went poof. I am going to do it again and post by cutting and pasting from Word. So here goes …

I am sitting in the Departure lounge of Bangalore airport. Its 10.30 PM and I have 45 minutes before the plane is airborne.

Its Saturday – and the whole of Bangalore is very excited and running around to do a bit off shopping, to go out to eat and generally hang out on the streets in traffic. It seemed like the word was out that i was heading for the airport to catch an important flight and so everyone turned out – and lined up in front of me. The taxi took an hour and bit to get me to the airport. What me worried? A bit maybe – but I looked around and everyone else – some may even have been heading for the airport – was sitting in their cars and having a decent time of being relaxed. 8.30 PM, an hour from RMV saw us turning on to MG road – time to get seriously worried – but I just stretched a bit. Mildly cool.

India is beautiful in little ways and quite a full on experience if you want to take the whole thing in. As Indians in the east are fond of starting their sentences – ‘the whole thing is that’ and then follows a pronouncement. For me it was the little ways this time. I was quite happy to avoid the traffic in Mumbai and Bangalore and privilege the conversations. And I poked about asking questions – and received familiar answers – that was comforting. It was also comforting that things hadn’t changed so much.

I order an Americano from Coffee day just to be different – he warns me its just a lot of mild black coffee. I say ‘uh huh’ just what I am looking for – will keep me from nodding as I wait for the flight. I pick up the coffee and as he said it is quite unremarkable – just like I am feeling at that moment. I down the coffee with loads of sugar – wonder why the sugar – just to pep me up I guess. I walk over to the book stall – and browse and chat to the man there. He looks like an erudite sort – to be manning a book stall. I pick up an Amitav Ghosh – and ask if he has a better copy as this one is folded and the pages are badly trimmed, the cover has a bit of ‘flash’ of the laminate – he says no. And adds its Orient Longmans and they used to make text books so no point asking for a better quality product from them. I smile and say I will take it.

I buy a wifi card – 113 Rs with large A4 sized bill. And go looking for a socket – I chose the one next to the garbage bin and sat down on the floor. Then for the next 30 mins I hammered out a blog post – and said publish. The screen went blank and I saw the wifi Tata page. The next ten minutes was me sitting with the chap at the counter trying to figure out what had gone wrong. I deleted history – and then he asked me to delete cookies ( which I did in Firefox – though I was using Safari – but some cookies were gone- hungry lap top now?). And then firefox refused to load up. But suddenly Safari did. So I went back to the admin interface of the blog and tried to find the gorgeous prose I had written. Gone – all gone. No more happy guy! Its 10.30 PM by this time and the lounge is restless – people begin to pace. The lady announces the departure – but please be seated she says. Most are up. Time to packup. Battery charge 75 %. Not enough juice for Singapore. But maybe time to switch to my note cards.

India Day 3

Day three is special – it is when I would normally post an emotional one here. I am in Ahmedabad – and loving it.

I travelled Singapore Airlines and have been doing this since 1994 or so. And suddenly I realised – I may be over it. I love the service – its totally familiar to me – and I like Singapore Airport. But I dont like their onboard entertainment – and didn’t know it. I tarvelled Qantas to Chicago in April and up and down to the US I sat glued watching movies – and much to my chagrin they were hollywood films. I saw ‘The Freedom Writers Diary’ and wept unashamedly sitting between two very stressed our blokes. But that was lovely too – travelling with the Aussie. And moviees on Singapore Air – seriously ouch – even the bollywood music is passable to shockingly bad. And this is unforgivable – I am after all an NRI coming home and should be allowed an enjoyable rentry. So I am changing – to yes, Qantas. But on that subject – Qantas has code share with AI, who have the world’s crappiest planes but the lovliest crew – so something there.

I have brought over Kath and Fiona – after a semester of cruel India – and am working to show them another India. Possibly of the heart (meet my fiends and colleagues from the past – see my ill treat Amitesh) and the mind ( such as the archaic positivist product design project at NID – oooo have never said that before).

I landed at 2230 hrs on Thursday – and it was 36 deg. The NID car was there – chap with this big red board. The streets were full – and even children – many scooters and bikes with children on them. In Melbourne come evening children disappear from the streets – totally. At 2300 hrs the streets look very different. I arrive at the guest house – and I am all this while looking at thingss thru Australian eyes, or trrying to – and so am not yet fully there. I am up early and go for a walk – it feels more like I am connecting with my past – that tree, that corner, that day 23 years ago. I am looking now thru the eyes of a 23 year old – and that iss the way I will always see NID. Then I start noticing the contamination of my memory; the tree in the middle of the lawn – gone of course, the spiral staircase near the aquarium – gone, its not the ssame place at all. It just looks similar. And I will always have the perspective of the grumpy old man – ‘this is rubbish’ – and no one owns my NID. But I must remember not to sound too dismisssive of all the new things – which caan never be as good anyway – that are going on.

Money is big in NID conversation these days. And so should we say the soul of the place is different – the old soul is lost, and lives with me.

I meet Praveen in the morning – and as always it feels like we met only yesterday. This is the list to help K/F – jog memory.
1. Bfast in the canteen/ mess – noisiest fans in the world. Dhokla, tea and toast
2. Tea in the Faculty lounge; Errol, SKK, Sethu, Ranjan
3. Meeting with ED
4. Lunch at Praveen’s
5. We go inspect the hostel room for K/F
6. Meet Research Group at 3
7. Dinner at Silver Leaf with the Koshys; dhansak, fish liver, steamed fish
8. Woken up at 0130: we go to the airport
9. Flt is late – they arrive at 3 something. I put out my hand in greeting – and they dont want to shake hands – should there have been more enthusiasm? Nope didn’t feel like doing hugs.
10. Cant sleep – so read Ranjan’s papers.
11. We do breakfast – omlettes, samosa, chai
12. We look at the room
13 Go to 10 acres mall and have coffee at Coffee Day.
14. No Fab India at 10 Acres. 10 Acres empty.
15. We go to Fan India at Bodakdev
16. Lunch at Bhagwati Grand
17. Back to Campus and move stuff to the room, settling in.
18. Recharge in the AC room.
19. Big congregation at BMW. Meet Amitessh, Harish, Ranjan, Aditi
20. Din Dins house at 5. Meet Akhila there.
21. Back to NID, Early night.
22. Sunday – Mess at 9.00.
23. Go pick up K/F and we chat to PD AEP in the mess.
24. Walk thru institute – I show the furniture projects
25. 1030 Amitesh shows the film.
26. To main gate for chai, meet benu
27. Then to Workshop to see the Car models
28. Back top mess for lunch
29. Girls in guest house for AC recharge. I walkabout.
30. To Praveen at 3 – to plan semester
31. To AC at 5
32. Back to Campus- freshen up.
33. Dinner with Amitesh
34. Play with cats, chat with Akhila
35. To bed

Constructing Research and Keeping it contained!!

I keep having this common problem with my research projects. It often gets difficult to put it all back into the box, or research grows and widens almost unhindered. Which lead me to google if others were having this problem and it seems it is a common enough phenomenon.

As one site said about fuzzy applications for grants – “Common problems with applications include: proposed research projects that are too broad and overly ambitious, objectives defined too loosely, and the methods stated too vaguely”.

In my case I have a host of things I want to do – and another lot which sits in the category of can do. If this were just me things would be simple – but what seems to complicate the situation is a rule I have of being ‘open’. So these projects then are open to suggestion of small topics or exploration. Though I try time and again to emphasize the goal – it is easier if it were just myself and just things in my head. But in collaborative situations things do tend to meander – and new things keep cropping up.

THREE THINGS. So in effect I have pulled in everything I do into three categories:
1. My interest in China and Chinese Industry: Mediated by a collaboration with Scott and Steve for a Linkage project.
2. My interest in design in Chine, Australia and India as a collaborative writing project: Which is a ‘hold-all’ category for everything I have done in the past, and am doing to bring these worlds together or into the same place. This is Corporation Game – this is CMS.
3. My interest in Direct Action in the realm of sustainability: Which is the renounce network and the project to slow down the circulation of money.

Have looked at this – Designing and Managing a Research Project: A Business Student’s Guide By Dr Michael Jay Polonsky, David Scott Waller – and not sure if it applies to our way of going about doing research – which is project first, definition later.

Dealing with Indians and Indian students

I find I have been harsh. And even in dealings with agencies in India – taking things for granted. Talk about instances, and stories …..

Whats going on? I will unpack this slowly.

China and India

Why am I interested in C & I?

How am I going about this interest?

1. Great Civ

2. Adjunct prof, Res fellow

3. UMAP/ New End

4. Bringing waste workers over

5. Taking Diabetes to C&I

6. Supervision of C&I PhD candidates

7. C&I as topics in the UG program

8. Book development ‘Great Civ’

Base in India?

Transnational practice …

Text to be written up ….

Too Far

Every so often you get a feeling that you have pushed a student too far. The first indication of this is when the student turns around and says I dont want you as my teacher.This happened to me recently – and I am devastated. I will write more on this – soon.