An Interview with Saurabh Kumar: Knowledge Pool of Design

An Interview with Saurabh Kumar: Knowledge Pool of Design

Passion and love for passion drives a person. With it, some could reach their desired destination and some could not. And few are there who dare not follow their passion as they are scared of being forfeited by the society if they could not earn. Here is Saurab Kumar, a teacher, a passionate-dreamer and most importantly a designer with us sharing his life and experiences. We are very fortunate to have his interview for our magazine as he discloses what we must concentrate when it comes to ‘DESIGN’. Mr. Kumar, former Professor of Design at INIFD told us what does the word ‘Design’ mean to him and why ‘Design in India’ is a special concern for our country. In Thousand Miles, stuffs like creativity, passion and designing are everything. Mr. Kumar’s interview adds a flavour to what we believe. Take your time and read the interview down below: 


Thousand Miles:
What is the driving force that makes you the person today?

Saurabh Kumar: That is a very tough question to answer because I honestly believe that a person is nothing but a sum total of his/her life experiences. My childhood has strong influences of my father who would speak to me about anything and everything under the sun, to my credit I’ve absorbed like a sponge.I have had my share of success and failures. Well more failures than successes, I entered NIFT totally unprepared for the kind of competition waiting for me and did face a lot of failures initially, but it only made me more determined and resilient. Yet the one strong driving force is the urge to excel, to be the best at your craft, to be better today than what I was yesterday, to be able to look into the eyes of success and say, “I’ve waited for too long, but now it has begun, my time has come.”


Thousand Miles: Do you think ‘The Inner Call’ of a person is real call that one should follow and chase his dream?

Saurabh Kumar: I do absolutely believe that there is this inner voice within all of us that guides us. Most of us are not in jobs that bring us true satisfaction and most of us don’t see our careers going anywhere particularly interesting. The reason is that we don’t believe in our dreams and succumb to the pressure of walking the tried and tested path. Here the important thing is not to get into a profession just because someone else is doing really well in it, but to assess one’s USP and act accordingly. This because we are all different, with our own unique skill set which gives us our unique identity and if we actually do whatever comes to us naturally then we’d definitely excel at it.


Thousand Miles: What had prompted you to go for fashion designing after completing graduation in Commerce and Law?

Saurabh Kumar: When I was growing up, fashion education was practically unheard of in our city, there was just this one NIFT at Delhi and the path to reach it was pretty unclear. So though I did think about going to NIFT and taking up fashion education, I was not sure if I will be able to make the grade. I kept procrastinating it, and to bide my time I did my graduation in Commerce and then post my graduation studied law, but I hated it all the time and with every passing day the idea became more definite till one day I saw in the newspaper that government was starting 5 new Nift centers and was conducting an entrance exam. This was the one opportunity that I grabbed with both my hands.


Thousand Miles: Shahrukh’s Interview highlighting ‘What is education for you’ seems to motivate you? Can you explain?

Saurabh Kumar: Well I am not a huge fan of SRK but I once saw an interview of his in which he talked about education. I totally subscribe to his view and maintain that a completely educated person is the one who can read the complete newspaper page to page and make sense of it. My educational background allows me to read the politics, science and technology, business and commerce and of course the fashion and lifestyle pages and make complete sense of it. This also allows me to answer a lot of questions that the students pose for me.


Thousand Miles: Tell us about your work experience at Mom’s Boutique? What interests you to join this workshop?

Saurabh Kumar: One of the very important influences that I grew up with was my mom’s keen interest in clothing and her boutique. She was probably the first in Nagpur to introduce the concept of boutique. Me and my sister literally grew up amongst clothes of myriad shades that were all around us and the praises that she used to receive for her work. So when it came to deciding a career path, getting into making clothes was an obvious option for me. I did jump into the profession, by learning the skills from her to begin with and along the way did some short term printing and dyeing courses. At the cost of sounding I am modest I would say that my work was appreciated, which motivated me further to become totally involved in her workshop.


Thousand Miles: You also worked at Stagecraft Theatre for almost 8 years? What did you learn there?

Saurabh Kumar: Well I was working in INIFD and was itching to do something creative when I got a call from Mr. Vikash Khurana who was working on an adaptation of a play called Mid Summer Night’s Dream, as a school project. I met him up and instantly took a liking to him. We have been friends ever since. I did work with him on a number of projects back to back, the most memorable being Romeo and Juliet, which was again a period drama, and the challenge was to create costume of the era which wouldn’t look awkward on the stage and which the actors can feel comfortable in. The result was a huge success. I wish I could do some more work with him, but the time constraints didn’t allow me. It was a huge learning curve for me working with Vikash Ji, the nuances of doing theater costume, the effect of light and background on the costumes, understanding characterization and doing a suitable clothing accordingly.


Thousand Miles: What was your reaction when you were not given the subject of your choice to teach at J.D. Institute?

Saurabh Kumar: After coming back from Hyderabad I was working with my mom in her workshop and had never thought about teaching as a profession. I got this call from the Director of JD Institute of Fashion which had a branch at Coffee House square in Dharampeth, their regular faculty had left midways and they needed another Niftian to fill in his boots. However the subject that was offered to me for teaching was Textile Science and not Pattern making, which I thought I could be good at. Anyway I decided to take up the challenge. But Textile was never my favourite even at Nift, so every day after my class got over I would go to the Government Polytechnic library,refer various textile books and make notes to teach in the class next day. I am not sure how good my classes were, but it did give me immense confidence in my teaching abilities.


Thousand Miles: Do you think the word ‘Design’ has very less significance in India? What is your advice in that?

Saurabh Kumar: Design as an activity in India is as old as its culture. Much of its cultural identity comes from its craft tradition. Another fact is that India’s design culture is that of anonymity. The names of architects and designers of masterpieces such as Taj Mahal and Red Fort are not known.

Even though as early as in 1957, Pandit Nehru invited American designer couple Charles and Ray Eameson whose recommendation National Institute of Design was set up at Ahmedabad, design, it can be said, has not had long to thrive in India.  It was only in 1991 that the country liberalised its economy had opened up to global imports. During this period, known as “the licence permit quota raj”, manufacturing was in the hands of a select few who operated as monopolies. So design was not considered an important ingredient under such conditions. This hang up continued even after 1991, as the designers then started making designs that were heavily influenced from the west, because the products couldn’t look Indian as these were associated with poor quality. However one thing I am sure of is that India is likely to have a significant impact on design in the 21st century. We need to identify our own style of design because for one thing, this vast market of over billion people is being courted by western businesses whose own economies are contracting. But India is not just out to consume western products and lifestyles – it is looking to design as a force for change.


Thousand Miles: How did you build your own design class from a class of 3 students to 70 students in just few years?

Saurabh Kumar: It all started when a friend of mine who was taking design entrance classes with KIDS decided to quit and migrated to Indonesia. While leaving he requested me to complete his unfinished teaching assignment. I decided to take it up as a challenge, since I had not done such stuff for a long time. Luckily the first batch did well and we got quite a few selections at NID and NIFT. The very next year, KIDS closed down and Mr. Kunal Gupta who was the director of the institute gave me an option of taking the few existing students and some fresh inquiries, and start the design classes as my own venture. So I started with some 3 odd students on the dining table of my home, as good results started to happen the student strength increased gradually. The turning point came when we we achieved a 100% selection at NIFT, with a few of them cracking in top 20 All India rankings. The good word spread, the dining table couldn’t accommodate the increasing numbers and so we moved into a full fledged classroom at a new premises.


Thousand Miles: Your 15 years experience at INIFD has taught you several lessons. Could you share with us some?

Saurabh Kumar: When I joined INIFD in 2003, I was still very raw and still learning the ropes. The Wardhaman Nagar branch of INIFD too had opened in the same year, this gave me an opportunity to see the setting up of a branded institute from very close quarters. The annual training sessions were very helpful in understanding the finer points of teaching and adding to my knowledge bank. Very soon I became the Center Head of the institute and was in charge of the day to day running of the place. I learnt through my experiences at INIFD how to communicate effectively with the students, the most important lesson however was the understanding the parameters of satisfaction for a student and also that a satisfied student would be loyal to the institute and would in turn happily refer the institute to his/her friends. Thus I do owe a great deal to INIFD, in whatever little success I have achieved.


Thousand Miles: Which famous person living or dead you like to meet and why?

Saurabh Kumar: Growing up as a star struck kid in the 70s and 80s I was completely smitten by Amitabh Bachchan and always wanted to see him in person. I was so enamored by him that for  a school exam in which I had to write an essay on a National hero, I wrote an essay on Amitabh Bachchan. The charm of this man has only increased with time, he has managed his composure through success and failure. He came from the dead when he was written off after the fiasco of ABCL. I want to meet him and understand  the secret of his continued charisma and as to how can any public figure maintain his/her popularity for such a long period.


Thousand Miles: Your thoughts on being featured in the ‘Culture, Traditions and Festivals’

Saurabh Kumar: I came to know about ‘Thousand Miles’ through my student who was being featured in one of the issues. I was extremely impressed with the passion that this young team of Thousand Miles possessed. The way they are working  to fulfill their dreams is extremely positive and when they offered to feature me in this issue of the magazine I immediately said yes. I am sure that through this magazine I will be able to reach out to scores of like minded people and students who are circumspect about a career in design.

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