“Until now, Narendra-bhai (Modi) was focusing on power, energy and businesses. He will soon look into design. And then we will be the best Indian state in design also.”
The most elegant answer comes from Umang Hutheesing. I meet Hutheesing at his sprawling mansion in typical 21st century fashion. A mutual friend e-introduces us and when I land in Ahmedabad, Hutheesing invites me to dinner, along with several other design students from NID and CEPT.
We drink vodka; walk through his baroquean collection of Chola bronzes, antique framed shamianas, Meissen porcelein and Dutch pottery. His parents collect royal costumes, which were recently exhibited in Paris under the auspices of the Pierre Berger-Yves St. Laurent Foundation. After a vegetarian thali dinner on kansa plates made of five metals, I finally ask Hutheesing the question that’s been bugging me: why isn’t Ahmedabad the seat of Indian design, given the talent that exists in its environs?
“Let me quote a couplet, written by historian James Douglas,” he replies without missing a beat. “The bud was here. The blossom and fruit to be in Agra. Everything has a beginning: Greece before Rome, Damacus before Cairo, Agra follows Ahmedabad.”
I smile. He smiles. Wah, wah! Apparently, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal stayed in Ahmedabad during their younger years, when he was Governor of Gujarat for his father, Jehangir, who incidentally met Noor Jehan in Ahmedabad. According to Hutheesing, the then Prince Khurram wandered around Shahibag (named after him) and drank in Ahmedabad’s architecture, already 200 years old. The flickering moonlight falling on marble and alabaster; the craft and workmanship of the local artisans; the rhythm and harmony of their creations; their deft touch and cunning cover-ups. Khurram studied it all. “It was here that the master builder imbibed his artistic excellence which was to blossom in Agra,” says Hutheesing.