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Dashrath Patel

Dashrath Patel, designer, painter, ceramist, photographer and one of the foremost visual thinkers of our times passed away on December 1. He was associated with the National Institute of Design for close to two decades from its inception. Radhika writes about Tulika's association with him...

I spoke on the phone to Dashrath in Ahmedabad after Why the Sky is Blue was sent to press. Despite sounding very frail, his excitement was palpable – and infectious. ‘We did it!’ he said. I was so touched that he put it like that. He was delighted that it was published in nine languages – English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada – and he proudly showed them off to friends and family.

He first spoke to me nearly 15 years ago about this book he and Chandralekha (iconic dancer and choreographer) had put together after listening to C.V. Raman talk about science at the inauguration of the Community Science Centre in Ahmedabad in the 1960s. He talked animatedly about how inspired they had been and I was inspired just listening to him. I said we would love to publish the book and he agreed immediately. He also talked about other books Chandra and he had put together. And then he showed them to me.

I did see the books later, loved the concepts and the way they had been screen-printed and hand-bound but I was hesitant to bring up the topic of publishing because I knew we couldn’t produce them the way they had. Publishing in nine languages had to be done on a mass scale which meant offset printing in the conventional way. When the books had been conceived and produced by two such creative minds where the form was so integral to the content, it seemed almost blasphemous to suggest anything else!

But in early 2009 when Dashrath was in Chennai to recuperate, I spent a long time with him listening to him talk about photography, working with Henri Cartier-Bresson, some amusing incidents (like Bresson striking a Bharatnatyam pose for Dashrath’s mother to show his gratitude for her delicious meals), his unconventional school days, design, the creativity of the learning process, and so on. He showed me his vast collection of photographs, including those of CV Raman. This time I did say we would like to publish the book and he said, ‘Take it and do it.’ And we did. Why the Sky is Blue was published in August 2010. He also said we could do a book on the Taj Mahal and showed me a slide show of the pictures he had taken. It was truly a way of learning by seeing, guided by a master teacher. That, to my mind, was what the best children’s books could do – give children access to content conceived as words or pictures or photographs or ideas by the best creative minds.

December 16, 2010

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