Updated: Apr 9, 2019
As a child, I often, heard such questions ” what do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was a child I wanted to be an artist. As I grew up, I realised in the growth-oriented society we live in, one needs to have more tangible ambitions to be upwardly mobile.
Success is primarily measured in a materialistic term. Thus being a doctor or engineer is more fruitful than being an artist.
My first job was in the Apparel industry. Later I started teaching in design school as a guest faculty.
I also worked as an empanelled designer under the ministry of textile to develop crafts cluster as well as empower the marginal artisans, mainly women.
This article is a patchwork of reflections about my work. The ensemble of inquiries my work evokes, such as identity, obsession, power, ego, crisis, soul searching, I tried to sew them together.
Work is a necessary part of human existence, work shapes our adult life, It creates our identity.
As an adult, we all are engaged in some action what we call work. The question is this action of ours is binding us or liberating us? Work without attachment or devoid of reward is the purest kind of work. Work done in harmony, with our inner self, and the universe gives us profound joy and ultimate liberty.
Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward. (Bhgavat Gita)
Is achieving that ultimate liberty, possible in the growth oriented, materialistic life of ours?
In order to achieve more, we work more and get addicted. First, the term workaholism was coined in 1971 by Wayne Oates, who described workaholism as
“the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly” (Oates, 1971).
And then the notion of “work-life balance,” popularised in the 1980s. Work-life balance literally means prioritising between work (career and ambition) on the one hand and life (health, pleasure, leisure, spirituality and family) on the other.
Denmark ( where I presently live) prides itself on having a healthy work-life balance. That is one of the reasons why Denmark is voted the happiest country in the world no. of times.
On the contrary, in India where I am coming from, 'work life balance' is a kind of joke and fatigue is causing serious health and immunity problem of the population.
When I was in India I was juggling with three jobs and I was happy doing so. I was a self-indulgent workaholic!
I actually enjoy my work, I find freedom in it.
Once somebody asked me how do I relax, I told him, “I meditate through my work, this is where I relax and feel liberated. The reason behind these may be, I am not working in the same field and as much, I used to be, and I miss it! The nostalgia about obsessive work life makes the whole experience all the more romantic!
Now, I understand there should be a balance between work and life, but not so much in the past.
I think people from developing countries are bit of achiever and chasing the American dream. Most of the people are working hard to achieve the materialistic life of big house, big car, big fat cheque etc. On the contrary I was never very materialistic, my goal was not chasing the money, but to be busy and pre occupied always.
A lot of time creative people are obsessed with work. There is a very delicate line between pursuing passion and obsession. A degree of creative obsessions is desirable in order to transform an idea into a tangible form. But often obsession leads to workaholism.
Creativity coach Eric Maisel, thinks obsession is a more or less necessary element of creative achievement.
“For an artist, the absence of positive obsessions leads to long periods of blockage,”( Eric Maisel)
Creative practice is more often than not an uncannily quiet, self-centred and self-immersed process. Often creative people works in an obsessive compulsive state. Long hours of devoted work brings a divine satisfaction where all the worldly fatigue gets easily overshadowed.
Most of the creative people have a kind of bipolar working pattern. An intense period of productive phase followed by non-productive phase. Which can be a thinking pause or a period of suffering. And this suffering is also necessary to fuel up for the next venture. The image of the tortured artist is too often, romantic!
Musing melancholia is a common phenomenon amongst, artist, writer, musician or thinkers.
When I was more involved in art, In some instance I also worked in compulsion, obsessively repeating motifs. But It was a personal process where I burned and healed simultaneously, where other people were not directly involved. On the contrary, working in Apparel industry is pure teamwork.
In the Apparel industry in India, I had to work closely with the weavers, dyers, printers, embroiders, pattern master, tailors, and so forth. Where I started with conceiving ideas but it got actualise by the team workers. As a designer, my role was more like a conductor of an Orchestra.
Though there are two main seasons namely the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer but now in the fast fashion, there are 52 micro collections fit in a year to offer new collections every week in the shop windows. The pressure is mounting due to increasing consumerism.
It takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make a collection successful. In the season all fashion, export houses work in a highly volatile, nerve wrecking pace.
Designers are usually quite an obsessive creatures. Our obsession often leads us to be a perfectionist and eventually we become egoist and control freak.
I can admit my obsession with perfection often dragged the artisan to work longer hours. Though the workers got paid extra for the overtime. But what about their work-life balance? Was I thinking about their waiting wife or the children at home?
No, honestly not, my primary focus was to finish the collection in high quality even if it requires longer hours. But luckily my energy level was infectious for my team and these intense periods was short and seasonal. And when a collection was successful everybody ripped the benefit out of it.
But now I would look at it more holistic way. I look at it whether we share a common interest, become mutually empowered and enjoy our work in the process.
In my practice, I usually emphasise on the relationship. I try to create a shared power structure so all team members can take pride in the creation and thus enjoy the inner satisfaction and just not the material benefit of it.
I try to diffuse the hierarchy in the team and try to create a family structure. Where all the pain and pleasure of hard work is shared in the same spirit. It is a way to break the pattern of hierarchy.
Sometimes the artisans (embroiders, weavers) are quite proud people. They are aware of what lies in their DNA . The age old skill learned through generation is no match for just a design school educated designer. So, often there is a bit of power-game and ego clashes. At times it's not easy, one has to find a way! The moment I consider them like a family, work becomes easier.
The basic tenet of relational theory- that growth and development occurs best in a context of connection- these growth fostering interaction is characterised by mutual empathy and mutual empowerment where both party recognise vulnerability as part of human condition, where both parties feels a responsibility to contribute to the growth of other. (Fletcher,J.K.1998)
I was reflecting on Joyce Fletcher's relational Practice. Is it my gender makes me recognise my work system as a broader 'family unit'? Where there is room for all human factors, empathy, compassion, along with disappointment and anger.
Though I was largely popular in my working life within my team but not necessarily amongst other executives. In certain time I got critique, for me, diluting the hierarchy, pampering the workers even accused of manipulating them through my 'niceness'!
True face of fashion
As a designer I mainly worked in the sampling unit where it was more experimental, there was room for trial and error and collaboration. In the sampling unit, each one is the master in their respective work. The group determines to work together without a designated leader but with a strong intention to complete the task rooted in some way to a sense of belonging to a collective endeavour. (Rippin,A.)
But in the production floor work is usually monotonous. The workers have to work long hours of doing the same things(e.g. Collars or cuffs) often in a bad condition. When they are not part of the whole creation, it is difficult to have a sense of pride for what they make.
If we rip off the glamorous mask of the fashion industry, the true face of the garment industries is quite unpleasant. Exploitation of low-wage workers, Suicide amongst cotton farmers, hazardous dyes, effects on rivers, and soil pollution, pesticide contamination, disease, are all present.
Fast fashion is directly linked to consumerism, globalisation, capitalism, structural poverty, and oppression. Major brand manufacturers minimise costs and maximise profits by having companies in the developing countries. (The true cost 2015)
The dark side of fashion is not only present in the lower level of the supply chain but also in the Haute couture which poses a serious question about modern slavery. Exploitation of the models Mental and sexual abuse, alcohol, drugs, are all common features in the fashion industry.
Though I knew what is unfair I didn't took an activist stance to protest.
But now looking at it from far, all the unethical practises gets magnified, and I react towards it.
After a decade, I got really tired of the Apparel industry. My aversion made me question, do I really belong to this faux-glamorous world? I slowed down and distant myself. Instead, I concentrated on things more close to my heart. I got married and decided to have a child. My priority shifted to my child and family, my obsession shifted. My identity and profession shifted too.
I continued as a guest teacher in the design institute and as the project leader of the crafts cluster development programme in whenever I am in India.
When I lived in India, I probably became numb with over exposure of poverty, injustice. Now when I travel back from Denmark, one of most homogeneous and developed country, I look at things in a different perspective. I feel an urgent need to do something for my country, for the talented artisans, and for my own love and passion for the craft.
Crafts heritage, serendipity
India is known for its rich traditional art, craft, and heritage. But the competitive market, globalisation, and fast fashion are deteriorating the socio-economic condition of master craftsmen/artisan. These skills are not being pursued by the young generation. Recognising this problem Govt. of India undertook many projects to revive the art and craft sectors which are the backbone of small and cottage industry. The goal of the cluster development is to empower artisans residing below the poverty line and simultaneously revive the craft to bring sustainability.
Doing it through the Govt. initiative is not enough. Though the projects are implemented with good intention, but often the hand of corruption is so dirty, it's difficult to operate within the system.
I often toy around with the idea of my own craft collective. I never pushed myself enough to give my dream a shape.
But then life is full of serendipity! Recently I meet one of my favourite student after a decade. I invited her for my presentation in the design school, where amongst other things I was talking about appreciation of crafts and the celebration of 'Head, Heart and Hand,'. She is back after 10 years of Apparel industry, to pursue her dream of starting her own crafts collective.
Recently, I heard one of her presentation, she was talking about 'Head, Heart and Hand' and effective storytelling. Listening to that, my eyes got moist. I think it's the greatest achievement for me as a teacher when my student conveys the same philosophy of my life with utter conviction and take it a step forward towards realisation.
It is by being a teacher I learn to became humble, I start to let go of my ego.
Power and Ego
Once in a group discussion of a webinar 'power and critical theory', one of the participants talked about the issues of power and ego. In his point power always evokes ego. In my opinion, it is situational, e.g. teachers, doctors, nurses can not have an ego in order to serve. Though there is a hierarchy, if the ego comes in between then the nobility of the profession diminishes.
When I am saying the ego is situational I am not denying the existence of power. In my above-mentioned professions the visibility of power is different and how that power is perceived from the participatory is also differs.
In the industry, the hierarchies of power are extremely visible. Moreover, the voice of the less powerful is grossly not heard upon. Thus the suppressed aggression often vented out as protest, strikes and eventual violence.
When I work with the marginal(BPL) artisans, even if I try to diffuse the hierarchy I noticed, it often evokes dilemma amongst them. Is it good for them or some hidden agenda is there?
The roots of suppression are usually so long that the marginal people don't believe that somebody can really care about them. Sometimes they can't even handle the new found power as the voice of the oppressed was long been numbed.
The situation raises a host of inquiries me as well. Whether my main concern is the craft or empowerment of the craftsmen? Are these artisans are really my concern?
Honestly, In the beginning, it was the love for the craft, but the moment I was in the field I realised it's not a separate thing. These crafts are essential stories of the craftsmen's life.
I often invite them as a co-designers, it is a beneficial way to grasp local expertise and diffuse the power dynamism.
While teaching, though there is an obvious power structure of knowledge. But it can be easily diluted the moment I allow myself to let go my ego.
I realised, in retrospection, no matter how much I love the colours, texture, and smell of textile, I probably won't go back to the industry.
Which leads to an identity crisis and thus a soul searching.
'Who am I? What is the real self? What is the purpose of my life?'
We are all karma yogis bound by the law of karmas, looking for that ultimate moksha.
This identity of mine what is so precious to me is my ego-identity. My self-identity is far beyond my ego and this 'Self' needs to be connected to a higher consciousness.
It is obvious in my previous working life I was in an orange and green state of consciousness.
In Achievement-Orange, effectiveness and success are the yardsticks by which decisions are made. In Pluralistic-Green, matters are judged by the criteria of belonging and harmony.
Now, probably, I am waiting for the 'Evolutionary Teal' happens to me.
The Teal paradigm refers to the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness. The shift in consciousness or evolutionary teal happens when we are at the tipping point and look at the world from there, dis-identify from our own ego.(Laloux.F,)
At this point of my life, I am standing in a void, I can look at my ego from a distance and let it go. Where I can learn not to be insecure or control freak anymore. Where I can embrace the life with all its abundance and feel free. Listen to my inner self and feel connected to take part in the cosmic dance with the rest of the universe. Question is, am I really ready to take the leap?
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