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ADITYA DEV SOOD
TURTLE NECK

Aditya Dev Sood runs the innovation consulting firm Center for Knowledge Societies (www.cks.in). He can be reached at adityadevsood@gmail.

Gandhi’s design vision is testament to his creative soul

Mahatma Gandhi with his spinning wheel

nce you say it, of course, it becomes blindingly obvious. He has been called a great soul, a spiritual leader, a social reformer and a political genius. He was the guiding light of the Indian nationalist movement, and in martyrdom became the father of the Indian nation. But another way to consider his life and his truth is that at heart, Gandhi was a designer.

Let's consider the evidence. Gandhi talked at length about the healing and restorative powers of working the home spinning wheel, or charkha. It allowed the 'cunning of hands' to be expressed, it allowed the mind to unravel and come to rest. It could even bring about silent community, when several people worked on their respective wheels together. On account of that quiet, meditative penance, something of value was created, almost as an excrescence, a process as natural as spiders spinning or plants flowering. Before a long voyage to the west, Gandhi was worried that he wouldn't be able to take his usual workstation around with him, and so he designed a portable charkha for himself, which folded into two little wooden briefcases that locked into one another.

Gandhi was constantly preoccupied with different stratagems for managing his body, through experiments with diet and other cures, including face- and body-packs and enemas. Scholarly treatments of Gandhi's thought routinely overlook or proactively excise these elements of his life as 'eccentricities,' but this is surely a mistake. The idea and possibility of bodily health, as a necessary means for the attunement of the self in its relationship to the world of people, places, animals and things, drove Gandhi to articulate a total lifestyle, attitude, and philosophy of life, all of which was expressed through the concept of khadi. The term translates into something like nourishing, nutrient-filled, fertilizing, giving-of-life. Gandhi was himself the greatest brand ambassador for this line of products, wearing plain white robes folded around his person with timeless simplicity. And it is the holism of Gandhi's approach that has allowed the Khadi brand, still nurtured by the Government of India, to be more widely applied to such diverse goods as fabric, clothing, soap, honey, jam, and juice.

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If Gandhi’s experiments and creative search can be illuminated by the category of design, it also follows that Gandhi’s life can tell us something more about what it truly means to be a designer

f Gandhi's experiments and creative search can be illuminated by the category of design, it also follows that Gandhi's life can tell us something more about what it truly means to be a designer. We note, first of all, his imperviousness to conventional wisdom and public opinion. Then, there is his inquiry into and critical appreciation for the underlying meaning of things based on their societal and moral effects, not merely their visual effects or their commercial play in the market. He made attempts to reconfigure the relations between different elements of the value chain, so as to increase equity, participation, and overall value in the socioeconomic system. There is his ability to see and recognize whatever comes out of that newly designed system as something good and true, and then his power to enable others around him to see things in that way as well.

The best designers and design thinkers share all these attributes and abilities with Gandhi. As for the rest of the lot, well, they are willful, petulant and narcissistically preoccupied with their diet, health and body. So they too resemble Gandhi!

 
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