Talk by Prof. Vikas Satvalekar at “An evening with Prof. H Kumar Vyas”, at felicitation ceremony held in Pune.
22 March 2011
It was the summer of 1963. A typical hot afternoon in Ahmedabad inside the Corbousier designed Sanskar Kendra, or Museum as it was called.
Dashrath had invited me to visit the National Institute of Design as enticement to a potential recruit. Inside a fairly air-conditioned cabin with a clear glass partition, I was mesmerized by a young, clean-shaven, handsome individual engrossed in the wholly English ritual of meticulously poring himself a cup of light tea from a straight handled, shining metallic tea pot. My first sight of Kumar Vyas.
I later learnt from Dashrath that the tea set and silver cutlery on the table were designed by the duo for the Indian restaurant at the New York World Expo of 1964. Dashrath introduced me to Kumar, and gracious as always, he spent time explaining the various products he had designed. I still have vivid memories of my first encounter with Kumar and his amazing tablet dispenser!
A year later, on graduation from Xavier’s and armed with a degree in English, I joined NID as a PG student in Visual Communication.
I have known Kumar for over 45 years – as a student, as a faculty colleague, as a boss, a fellow traveler on a UNDP funded mission visiting design schools and studios in 4 continents and as a professional designer on projects we did together. A rather long time, part of which he tolerated my boisterous laugh reverberating through the thin partition wall between our cabins on the 2nd floor at NID, even apologizing for it when some cheeky Exhibition Design students stuck a post-it on my door to cut back noise, and Kumar was convinced it was meant for him!!!… In all these years I do not recall a single occasion, irrespective of provocation, when Kumar was out of sync with his quiet, courteous manner in his dealings with students, colleagues or strangers. His meticulousness in everything he did, including pouring tea, symbolized his essential persona – a gentleman to the core.
Most of what is written or talked about Kumar focuses primarily on his undoubtedly seminal contribution to design education in India. But I know Kumar also practiced what he preached – learning by doing. I recall a young Ratan Tata with a Nelco transistor radio under his arm going up the Museum stairs to meet Kumar who was then designing the Nelco product. Then Kumar as key member of the concept design team of Agri Expo 77, the Energy Exhibit, the Minerals and Mining Museum Concept Design which he headed with classic Kumar equanimity, considering he had Anant Raje and me on his team! And of course, his baby, the Design in India Exhibit in London. This is not by any means an exhaustive list, but to me, his being a practitioner too sets him apart.
It is fitting that on the 100th birthday of Sir Misha Black, Kumar is the recipient of the prestigious Sir Misha Black medal for distinguished service to Design Education. It is also appropriate that Kumar gets international recognition in the year that NID completes 50 years, surpassing atleast in Tags
longevity if nothing else, both Bauhaus and Ulm and a place where Kumar started and fine-tuned his Design Education mission, influencing atleast two generations of designers and educators. It is significant that Kumar receives this medal in the very period when there is debate and action within the Indian design community about the processes by which new institutions of design are set up for tomorrow at the initiative of the State. Kumar has the unique distinction of straddling both scenarios – state as well as private sector. It must be a matter of immense pride and satisfaction to Kumar that the key movers in the Vision First Initiative, are all his students. And the fact that a large number of people gathered here today have had the privilege of calling their teacher or mentor. A great teacher does not explain or demonstrate, he inspires and Kumar without question, continuous to do so in his quiet and unassuming manner.
I am privileged to be present on this occasion to felicitate a wonderful human being.