Design based on Tehzeeb
I have always been fascinated by the Urdu word Tehzeeb because it refers to a culture of humility, mutual respect and elegance.
As a designer Tehzeeb holds a special meaning to me because it provides to me a clear framework for the qualities we need to incorporate in the living systems we envision to support an ideal way of living.
I first heard the word Tehzeeb from my father’s close colleague Prem Bhasin from Aligarh. Premji was a freedom fighter and a staunch socialist. As a child I have sat in several conversations between socialist activists planning a socialist revolution. Premji often provided intellectual framework for action. His ideals, his personality and his Gandhian approach to building an egalitarian society of the future were expressed in a gentle manner that helped me understand what Tehzeeb means to a change maker. At that time I understood Tehzeeb as a gentle way of bringing about change through non violent means.
My first job out of design school was in Lucknow. This is where I experienced Tehzeeb in action. I also learned the phrase “Ganga Jamuna Tehzeeb”.
“Ganga — Jamuni Tehzeeb (Hindustani for Ganges — Yamuna Culture), also spelled as Ganga-Jamni Tehzeeb, is the culture of the central plains of northern India,especially the doab region of Ganges (Ganga) and Yamuna rivers, that is a syncretic fusion of Hindu cultural elements with Muslim religious elements.
K. Warikoo, Professor at the Centre for Inner Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University describes the concept as one exemplifying communal harmony and a shared culture between the Hindus and Muslims of India” (source: Wikipedia)
The concept of Tehzeeb reminds me of the word “Coviviality” used by Ivan Illich in his book, “Tools for conviviality”. Conviviality is the ability of individuals to interact creatively and autonomously with others and their environment to satisfy their own needs. Illich proposes it as a direct contrast to industrial productivity that produces consumers that are alienated from the way that things are produced. The essence of conviviality is joyful and austere living.
The provocation to write down my musings about Tehzeeb came from a request from Jatin Bhat, a senior designer and creator of several design schools, to facilitate a dialogue between students of design at the Jamia Milia Islamic University in Delhi.
To understand the connection between Tahzeeb and Jamia one must understand the history of Jamia Milia Islamic University. The university was founded during India’s freedom struggle.
“It was conceived as a national institution that would offer progressive education and an emphasis on Indian nationalism to students from all communities, particularly Muslims. Zakir Hussain (who later became President of India) described “the movement of Jamia Millia Islamia as a struggle for education and cultural renaissance that aims to prepare a blueprint for Indian Muslims which may focus on Islam but simultaneously evolve a national culture for common Indian.”
In preparation of this dialogue I read through several social media conversations about Jamia. One word that keeps coming up is “Ganga Jamuna Tehzeeb” as the qualifying quality of Life on Jamia campus. Jamia has produced exceptional talent from its community that draws from diversity of cultures in India. (Incidentally, Shah Rukh Khan is a Jamia alumnus).
After a detailed conversation with Jatin and after reviewing online articles about Jamia, I wrote down a statement for framing the dialogue with the students of design:
“Design is a process of improving the quality of life by continuously improving the environment we live in.
Learning to design means learning to observe and understand how people live, the challenges they face, and coming up with ideas for helping people live better.
To gain this understanding designers must get involved in people’s lives and develop and improve design solutions together.
What unique approaches can graduates of the design program at Jamia Millia Islamia University bring to the organizations and communities they will work with?
This would be the central topic of a dialogue uday will facilitate with the graduate class of design at the Jamia Millia Islamia University.
Jamia has a unique milieu that has helped its graduates start their careers with an understanding of the complexities of managing the diversity of cultures, beliefs and environments in India. Graduates of Jamia have respect for traditions and at the same time are able to work towards creating a modern world. They understand tensions that exist in a multi-cultural society at the same time they learn the skills to address those tensions with constructive mindsets.
The purpose of this dialogue is to start thinking about your unique opportunities as designers trained at Jamia Millia Islamia University. “
I am looking forward to facilitating a dialogue that will hopefully lead to creation of a unique approach to design based on Tehzeeb.