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A Maverick for All Seasons

by Professor Vikas Satwalekar

My association with Dashrath was over a period of 45 years — from the time he made a very persuasive case for me to join NID as a student, and eventually we were colleagues during the formative years of NID. Dashrath has a significant role in mentoring me and to some extent, shaping my design career.

As a teacher, he taught all of us to dream big, demonstrating through his many projects that nothing was impossible. Logic was not always the driver of the path he followed, but intuition most certainly was, in addition to which he was fortified with an absolute faith in himself. It must be confessed that quite a few of us fell short of this fundamental lesson.

One of the greatest gifts he passed on to all his students and younger colleagues, was the training of one’s eye for critical decision making, be it alignment of two elements on paper or items in an exhibition, plus the minute optical corrections he perceived when dealing with scale and space or composing a frame to tell a story. Each one of us probably excelled in one or two of these design constants, but Dashrath practiced them all with the confidence of the initiated. He did not get formal design training like us, but his time was well spent with luminaries like Cartier Bresson, Ivan Chermayeff, Charles Eames and all the others from whom he learnt through sensitive observation. Dashrath was like a sponge on his many trips abroad and within India, absorbing and mentally cataloguing for future reference all that he felt was noteworthy.

His communication style was unique, and while his sentence construction was not what the grammarians would given as classical examples to young students, his turn of phrase was so apt and visually powerful that any alternative sentence structure would definitely reduce punch and meaning.

Whenever I think of Dashrath, I visualize him in his special Khadi trousers with a Khadi short-sleeved top which was unique to his style – a sort of cross between a half-sleeved shirt and a T-shirt. The fabrics were always muted in colour , gently textured and beautiful.  This was his attire for all seasons (later he took to a kurta and veshti), irrespective of temperature or occasion. The accessory of note then was his Leica without which he never went anywhere!

Generous to a fault, everyone benefitted from his largesse, particularly when he returned from his travels bearing gifts for everyone at NID including the drivers and peons. He loved food and loved to share it. I have very fond memories of our visits to Moti Mahal in Delhi, where we both tucked in with gusto before going back to work late nights on exhibition or the other

There are, in any generation, only a handful of individuals, who are blessed with God-given talent to excel in more than one area - Dashrath was definitely one of them. Painting, ceramics, graphic design, exhibition design, photography, architecture, light weight structures, product design and later, even jewellery design, not to mention his wonderful collages and drawings. Dashrath wrote his own rules and broke them with great elan if they in anyway hindered his vision at the time. In many ways, he was fearless.

Very few individuals, particularly those as accomplished as Dashrath, have the ability to build relationships with all manner of people, irrespective of gender, age or social background. Dashrath had this amazing facility that put people at ease with him. Fortunately, this ability he passed on to many of his students. 

Of late, we did not have much contact, but when we did meet there was mutual affection and regard while Dashrath regaled me with a whole new set of stories from his latest activities.

He will be missed.

Vikas Satwalekar, Mumbai


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