Building Blocks #1 | A design student revisits her campus during the pandemic through her collection of photographs
I joined the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad as an undergraduate student in July, 2019. All was well, until the hiatus which began with the pandemic in March 2020. When it finally gave way to ‘voluntary and staggered access to institute facilities’ in April 2021, I realised that things weren’t quite the same anymore. In this photo-essay, I reminisce about my campus life and my innate need to capture quirks and memories, introducing myself and the small place I inhabit in the world at the moment. Positioned at the crossroads of film, design and visual communication, I will be writing regularly in this space about the world of design. Driven by my wish to chronicle the zeitgeist, I also discuss contemporary subjects and issues in this column.
“Bro, the day that vine reaches the cement line of the second floor is the day I’ll get my life together.” Everyday, on the way back from breakfast, we watched the climber on its way up the girls hostel wall, and urged it to inch its way faster towards my imminent productivity peak. It never got there. We found it one day awkwardly clinging to the bricks, snipped stem and wilted leaves.
Dear Campus, when I say I miss you, I mean the hours spent poring over the massive collection in the library. I mean the lectures, the group assignments done in studios, imploring the Kakas to let us work for just “fifteen more minutes.” But I also mean the laughter that rang out when my friend and I found out what the universe had to say about my plans for progress. I mean the way we chortled at the drying, dismembered vine every time we walked past it.
When I miss you, I miss the quirky habits and inside jokes that punctuated our student-life routine. Today, I scroll through my photo gallery, chancing upon visual reminders of tangible artefacts of the times that were. What I love more than these ill-composed, out-of-focus, scrubby images is the fact that we feel the need to click these images. The need to record. For me, this partly stemmed from my early childhood. With my father serving in the Indian Air Force, we moved cities every few years, pulling out our roots, taking only memories along. To my pleasant surprise, so many people I met at NID seemed to share this need, each for their own reasons.
Another inside joke: In our hostel room Roommate #1 is chiding Roommate #2 about something. Roommate #2 has had enough. She screeches, “I can do what I want, okay? Meri… janma hai.” [She does not speak Hindi.] “Bro, what is life?” she asks me in the same breath, as Roommate #1 proceeds to laugh hysterically. What is life, indeed. Irrevocably altered since the pandemic struck.
While painting the basketball court (the hub of social activities in an otherwise work-heavy atmosphere) I made a giant speech bubble on the legendary words.
This picture is an ode to the intensive Basic Materials course we had in Foundation, our first year. Anyone who has laboured in the workshops with clay, wood, metal, bamboo or coconut shell would catch the subtle humour in this cracked terracotta model.
The two batches after us did this course on Google Meet.
The joy of campus is being able to kneel or squat in the middle of any road if something caught one’s fancy. No one around you bats an eyelid. Here, an oil film on a rainwater puddle, there, foaming swirls of mud as water gushed into the garden from the water hose.
I miss chronicling mundane moments like these; puppies begging us for belly rubs, langurs on the mess windowsill or finding posters for the newest events stuck on all the pillars (sometimes mocked for having errors fixed with whiteners). Just another day at NID.
“Don’t fix errors in post.”
Some things have changed. Permission forms, gate hours, hostel rules and protocols. In the post-pandemic staggered-access era, everything seems different. My innate need to document doesn’t. The urge to collect, to record, to preserve has only grown stronger: the two waves have proved beyond doubt the ephemerality of everything we consider normal. Every time I notice a new quirk, I file it away, lest it disappear. And the best part is, there is no dearth of quirks at a design college.
When I say I miss you, I mean that it has barely been three weeks since I left but I miss the little peculiarities that I only found in you. I hope to see you again soon.
Jayasri Sridhar is a Film Design student at NID Ahmedabad with a passion for research, poetry, Hindustani music and deep conversations. When she’s not doing riyaaz, she’s found either around a bookshelf or journalling away about how she loves too many things for her own good.
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