The days since Sunday August 9 when Ranjan left us have been difficult. All who cherished an association with him have had to confront as best we can the eternal mysteries of mortality. Having shared his last evening in a conversation so full of Ranjan’s ideas and future plans (as well as his sharp indications to me of priorities he felt I should apply to whatever years are left to me!), I am yet to find the strength to set down all that he wanted me to remember. Others too must feel the same way, coming together as we have to remember Ranjan on the NID campus and in many places outside it. A measure his impact on so many is reflected in the outpouring that has marked these past days: grief, remembrance, gratitude, pride and even celebration of an extraordinary life and its achievements. If our loss seems immense as we recall what was so special about MPR, we cannot imagine what Ranjan’s own family is enduring at this time. Our first thought needs to be for them, and what we together can do to soften their pain with hope and with affection.
For the rest, how would our selfie-wallah look back at himself? What would he want us to remember most? What would he have us do to ensure that his commitments live on – live on through colleagues and friends, through the generations he inspired through his very personal way of teaching and relating, as well as through those who tomorrow will know of him not over chai or in a classroom but as a legend – hopefully, as a legend brought closer to life through the meticulous documentation of teaching and thinking that was Ranjan’s hallmark? A first responsibility now must be to protect his intellectual ‘selfies’, that body of thought and practice that MPR has left as his legacy.
As we do this, perhaps we need to most remember the values that drove Ranjan as an educator. He was uncompromising in his belief in education as self-experience and self- understanding, tested through practice rather than dominated by the quantitative attitudes and measurements that have caged Indian education for so long. It is that quality, symbolized by the NID experiment and the system of professional education which it pioneered, that was the torch Ranjan carried. It illuminated his extraordinary relationship with all whom he influenced. This was the magnet that drew him to NID’s culture, first as a student, where he grew and flourished by challenging himself and his mentors, and later as a teacher, colleague and as a design professional. Questioning and combative, Ranjan was the quintessential argumentative Indian. His most compelling advocacy was for greater understanding and respect for design as an approach to real human development, as a fresh way of thinking and perceiving, and as a pedagogy relevant well beyond a single profession. Ranjan demanded national priority for design education and practice. He backed his demands with evidence of what design could deliver to enhance the quality of Indian lives. The rigour of his arguments are what he has left behind to enrich design education in India and wherever in the world design education can be valued as the independent ability to think, analyse, resolve, and serve – serve through that unique design capacity to lift confidence and self-reliance through shared experience and knowledge. Sharing was the quality which the NID opportunity gifted Ranjan. Sharing was the quality he transmitted to his students, colleagues and clients, encouraging them and inspiring them to value design as a very special calling. To live up to that promise is not easy, particularly at a time when academic freedoms are threatened almost daily, and education itself so often reduced to training in skills rather than built as an ability to reason and to choose wisely. It must not be forgotten that the potential of a great teacher like Ranjan would never have been acknowledged and could never have flourished in closed academic environments where paper qualifications dominate and achievement is assessed through the quantitative metrics of India’s marks-and-degree mania. If Ranjan and others educators like him have helped set the standards that should inspire India’s design education, then the greatest tribute we can pay to his memory and the greatest contribution we can make to his unfinished task is to preserve, sustain and cherish the academic integrity which MPR exemplified. There is something deeply moving in the reality that Ranjan was taken away while arranging his departure from a campus he so loved. That campus held on to him, in life and in death – a sign perhaps that the pioneering values which he cherished will endure, and that tomorrow other Ranjans will grow and flourish, keeping that torch burning of education as ‘learning by doing’ and of design as a priceless expression of “service, dignity and love”.
Prof Ashoke Chatterjee received his education at Woodstock School (Mussoorie), St Stephen’s College and Miami University (Ohio). He has a background in the engineering industry, international civil service, India Tourism Development Corporation, and 25 years in the service of the National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad) where he was Executive Director, Senior Faculty, Distinguished Fellow and Professor of communication and management. He has served a range of development institutions in India and overseas, particularly in the sectors of drinking water, sanitation, disability, livelihoods and education as well as working with artisans in many parts of the country. He was Hon President of the Crafts Council of India for over twenty years and continues to serve CCI. An author and writer, his books include “Dances of the Golden Hall” on the art of Shanta Rao and “Rising” on empowerment efforts among deprived communities in rural Gujarat. Prof Chatterjee continues to assist design education in India and Pakistan. He lives in Ahmedabad with his son Keshav, daughter-in-law Prativa and grandchildren Kabir and Alisa.