Mandar Rane's
"Visual Appetite"

'African Beach Boys' by Nainita Desai & Soundology

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Many things have changed after I left commercial work and started my career as a teacher, when I was inspired by Prof. Kirti Trivedi towards teaching Graphic Design and referred me to Department of Design, IIT Guwahati, Assam, India with aim to focus towards teaching design in India addressing Indian context and its communication needs. I have yet to learn a lot and I am finding my perspectives towards the discipline changing drastically after graduating from IDC, IIT Bombay.

I see my future as a graphic design educator adhering to the manifesto, "First things First" originally written in 1964 by British graphic Designer Ken Garland, which I still believe is a fresh call to arm graphic designers to use their talents for more useful and lasting form of communications, and primarily for me, in the Indian context.

The manifesto.

"In common with an increasing number of the general public, we have reached a saturation point at which the high pitched scream of consumer selling is no more than sheer noise. We think that there are other things more worth of using our skill and experience on. There are signs for streets and buildings, books and periodicals, catalogues and instruction manuals... and all the other media through which we promote our trade, our education, our culture and our greater awareness of the world" (First things First, Ken Garland 1964)

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Visual Appetite
[a recent work]

Every name has its own inherent strength to express itself. With this, strength the name tries to encapsulate its meaning and picture in the viewer's mind. It often happens that we know someone by his name, but actually have never met him. Unless, we meet him in-person, we keep on trying to visualize/guess his personality, which sometimes meets our expectations or leaves us surprised. This is quite applicable to anything, be it, a place, person or a thing. One normally encounters oneself with similar situations when he/she visits restaurants and is greeted with a Menu card. It seemed necessary to investigate, when the names on the Menu cards in Indian restaurants were found to be handicapped in expressing themselves, emitting a scent "alien" from their true form. The idea is of envisaging a device, which will provide an interactive preview of the food and inform the diner about a country's cuisine and culture.


above: opening page of the presentation


Cultural Journeys talks about diversity of the culinary art that exists across the various states in India & the traditional way of serving food in a thali - a metal plate or banana leaf in which lunch or dinner is served in India.
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Manacles of Language begins with an analogy to explain how difficult it is to visualize a delicacy in a restaurant before it is ordered. An information graphic complements the thought.
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Delayed Reality explains the current scenario about the linear process of ordering food in an Indian restaurant. The illustration analyses the gap that exists between, anticipation of the food by the diner and the final reality.
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Information Flowering introduces the envisaged idea of a device, which can provide an interactive preview of a 'thali'. It mentions about creating interesting associations, and accentuating dishes or delicacies beyond the gamut of Menu cards.
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Fragrance for the future, talks about the application of idea in various contexts, without missing to mention the balance of the two scents (traditions and technology), considered as the most important to create a fragrance in the near future.
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Detailed text about the JPGs with headings

Visual Appetite: 'Cultural journeys'

The culinary art in India is spread across 28 different states, each having an identity of its own, enriching the great Indian cuisine. Diversity of Indian cuisine is not just unique to a particular state, but also inherent in a single meal. It is these complexities of regional food in India, which makes it very fascinating.

The example quoted here is of a 'thali'- (a circular metal plate or banana leaf in which lunch and dinner is served in India) which consists of small bowls, each containing different delicacies harmoniously clubbed together to form a single meal. Having lunch or dinner from a thali in an Indian restaurant could be a more meaningful experience, if designers consider the ramifications of Indian cuisines, which can lead through cultural journeys, much and more beyond, than just serving one's appetite.

Dinning can be made a more engaging experience, if we are able to sense and feel the traditional scents of Indian cuisine, which are currently void in the restaurant menu cards. Eating from a thali is quite common in most parts of India and usually, name of the state always precedes the word thali, for it to be identified from that particular state. For e.g., a thali from 'Assam' (a state in northeastern part of India), will be termed as 'Assamese thali'. To elaborate on the design scent, I would cite here an example of 'Assamese thali' versus the Menu cards.

The idea is of finding a way into the Indian cuisine and culture, through a thali.

'Manacles of Language'

Every name has its own inherent strength to express itself. With this strength the name tries to encapsulate its meaning and picture in the viewer's mind. It often happens that we know someone by his name, but actually have never met him. Unless, we meet him in-person, we keep on trying to visualize/guess his personality, which sometimes meets our expectations or leaves us surprised. This is quite applicable to anything, be it, a place, person or a thing.

One normally encounters a similar situation when one visits restaurants and is greeted with Menu cards. It seemed necessary to investigate, when the names in the Menu cards of Indian restaurants were found to be handicapped in expressing themselves, emitting a scent 'alien' from their true form.

This itself channelized the thought of providing justice to the lexicons of Indian cuisines, demonstrating the design scent of transforming meals into a quality experience for the diner. It aims at respecting the complexities of regional foods, rituals, customs and practices, as well as sharing them across countries and cultures, releasing the diner from the manacles of language.

'Delayed Reality'

Typographically menu cards might have adorned themselves to make food more appealing, but they are still not able to transcend the barriers of language. With 18 official languages and varied menu offered in each of the states, it becomes difficult for (almost) the first language English, to translate meanings into realities.

The current scenario of having a meal in Indian restaurants, follows a linear process and transfers an anticipated preview of the food to the diner, with the help of English and the regional language trying to represent the meaning in the diner's mind. Words (names of the dishes) are supported with adjectives like special or traditional trying to emphasize on uniqueness of each dish with the help of a Menu Card.

The design scent here is to question the potential of the words, alone, to represent themselves in the diner's mind in comparison with the delayed reality (relating to the interval between ordering and serving of food). It tries to explore the boundaries of meanings, beyond words, for a diner to savor his taste of the culture and cuisine.

'Information Flowering'

The idea is of envisaging a device, which will provide an interactive preview of the food, for the diner. The diner will be able to navigate through dishes and understand the essence of a thali. This preview will act as a visual expression of the meal, informing about each delicacy, on a tangible gesture, upon the interactive surface, by the diner.

If a certain dish evokes the diner's curiosity, he will be able to opt for a video preview of the same. The diner can also explore the palette of aromatic Indian spices, which are not only known for their medicinal properties, but also play a major role in imparting flavor and taste to the Indian food from centuries. The 'thali' will be able to create interesting associations and accentuate a dish, to the extent of sharing its relationship in history, e.g. the 'Mattiboro Dali' (a kind of cereal in Assam), with rice and eggs was used as a mixture to substitute cement in the 17th century marvel 'Talatal Ghar', which still attracts lots of tourists to Assam. In this world of globalization, such a device would help create deeper understanding of cross-cultural issues, For example: In the west food is consumed with fork and spoons, where as the Japanese rely on chopsticks and Indians eat their food with their own hands. Every festival in India calls in for an array of delicacies which are special to those occasions, e.g.
Bihu (harvest festival) is celebrated in Assam with the preparation of 'Pitha', a sweet dish made out of rice), stuffed with sesame and coconut, very unique to this festival. Special dishes made on special occasions can have their share in displaying and adorning themselves for the knowledge of the diner.

The diner will be able to explore the multifaceted nature of Indian cuisine by opting for food from various states of India, since the food and language are peculiar to each state. It can offer him a wide range of options, where he can visually decide his choice rather than relying on his intuition. The concept here is to give an experience of the food item before it is ordered and (also about the ritual in terms of which it should be consumed, in every culture). It aims at rediscovering dining and guide the diner into an experience of a country's cuisine.

As per Indian tradition one should not waste food and should eat a complete meal without any leftovers. In an interactive mode the diner will be able to predetermine the amount of food (which is likely to be variable in various restaurants), taking into consideration his likes and dislikes, primarily for natives, who are familiar with the menu. An interactive preview would also serve as a true representation for a traveller, who is unaware of the Indian cuisine and its delicacies.

Design of such an experience could do justice to the unspoken information, hidden inside a country's cuisine, which either would have gone unnoticed. The homogenous nature of the concept does not limit it to just restaurants, but can be compared to the cuisines of other countries, who are rich in their cultures.

The theme can be adopted in various contexts; where people from different cultures come together or where choices are to be made, e.g. (interactive food service in an airplane, where minimum interaction is possible due to constraints of space, or dining desks of restaurants in relation to the tourism industries, where a meal could create an experience to be carried back).

All this may not sound untrue with the upcoming flexible polymer film based LCD screens, which are paper-thin. Ideas may branch out commercially to find their place in tourism industry or service industry, but the main aim is to strike a balance between both, to find solutions without killing the legacies of the past (our traditions) and the coming future (technology).

The picture towards the right (please refer the picture above) is the newer version of a thali, I accidentally came across at a restaurant in Assam, affected by the winds of commercialization. Before the traditional scents get lost under the perfumes of modernization, we need to nurture these invisible scents, revisit them, in order to preserve their aesthetic sense and beauty. Efforts should be made towards, involving audiences in an inviting experience, while eating a 'thali' in India, by maturing ourselves to get sensitive to these traditional scents. We should take care that these traditions don't fade off under the strong scents of growing technology, but move towards, creating a balance of both. They could be thought of as the most important factors in creating a fragrance for the future.

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Mandar S. Rane
Assistant Professor ~ Communication Design
Department of Design
Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati
North Guwahati -781039
Assam, INDIA

e-mail : mandarr@iitg.ernet.in
wwweb: http://www.mrane.com