My father doesn't quite understand what I do. To his colleagues he introduces me as a designer. It's a big word, an easy word to encompass all the things that come with the creative industry. I laugh and indulge him, because it's easy and effortless, it would take too long to explain my day-to-day role and I doubt my (extended) relatives would get it anyway. You get paid to research and write? Writing for design? Um, graphic design? The entire conversation is a maddeningly slippery slope and whatever you do, don't venture down there. My cousin's in engineering, my other cousin is being hitched to an accountant and together they tick two of the three prerequisites (Engineering, Medicine or Finance/IT) for Indians who are supposed to have any sort of career prospects.
The truth is we have a naturally risk-averse culture, drilled into us from a very young age. When I was at school I was always told to get good grades, keep my head down and work hard. It would pay off later, I was assured, boys would come later and I most definitely didn't need any distractions. The same tune was sung when I went off to University. It's a story that most Indian kids can relate to, I'm sure. Even though I wanted to explore the Creative Arts, I went on to do Business, the Fail Safe Generically Useful Degree – because I was scared, because I didn't know how to vocalize my creative interest and because no one had told me that working in this industry could be rewarding, lucrative and yes, a real goddamn job.
There is so little information out there to support Indian kids who want to venture down this path. It's frustrating. I've spent a good chunk of the earlier years explaining what I do to grandparents who were convinced I needed to do an MBA, friends who were busy pursuing aeronautical engineering and batting off questions like "That sounds nice, but does it pay well?" How is a child supposed to follow any sort of creative pursuit when he/she has been taught their whole life to not take it seriously? At least I can indulge my father because I know for him "designer" is an affectionate all-encompassing term for my writing, photography and drawing. I didn't quite follow in his Economics footsteps as he might have desired, but we reached the beginning of a mutual understanding. It's a simplification of what I do, yes, but it's also an olive branch.
Present day. Auckland, New Zealand.
I'm at the bus stop after work one day, when an Indian man approaches me and asks if I'm from India. I'm sure he already knows the answer (they always seem to be able to spot other Indians from miles away). I say yes, and as if on cue, he starts speaking in Hindi. I'm not quite ready to bond with a complete stranger on the bus, just because I am from the same country that he is. It might have been different if we were long lost citizens of some remote island, re-united in unlikely circumstances in Auckland, New Zealand of all places. But not when the Indian diaspora (approximated at over 22m by the Economist in 2011 and only upwards bound since) is probably one of the largest in the world. We're hardly a rare species.
"Are you here to study or work?" he continues, oblivious to my weary disinterest.
"Business or IT?"
I am appropriately outraged, all the pent-up the frustration flooding back. Really? Really? As if those are the only two options in the world. Hello to the Indian stereotype, alive and well 7,757 miles from home. My father pops into my head suddenly, and I force an air of calm.
"Neither," I say with a smile. "I'm a designer."
Daughter of an Indian diplomat and now self-proclaimed nomad, this Auckland-based writer is a fitness enthusiast and adventure junkie. Bungy-jumping, skydiving, canyoning, even Tough Mudder – you name it, she’s done it. After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a double major in Economics and Marketing, she decided spreadsheets and graphs weren't quite for her and followed her passion into the creative industry. She currently works at Australasia’s biggest strategic design practice, putting her writing skills to good use and helping to solve creative challenges through design thinking.
Image credit: nokhoog_buchachon / freedigitalphotos.net
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