Conversation with Mianzi

For Sustainable Development

(Conversations) On the Potentialities of Experimental Design

As a form of creativity and contemplation, design has become a central instrument in disentangling complex social and environmental crises of our age. In the last decade, it has come to play a particular progressive role in augmenting ethical and sustainable production practices. Industrially, artists and conscious businesses are ushering a social revolution with sustainable design through two key areas. One, at the foundational scale of designing, that concentrates on the innate possibilities and impact of a design and object at the level of its inception. The other, at the technical scale that centres on the practices, materials and modes of production of a design.

 

Innovating on both these aspects, Mianzi is a pioneer in designing superior sustainable home furnishings using a simple and natural material – bamboo. Questioning deleterious models of production and translating experimental materials into novel wares, they are heralding new ways of understanding design and products, and our relationships to them. At IKKIVI, we had a conversation with the co-founders of Mianzi, Shashank Gautaum and Ananta Varshney, on their journey into the venture, and the conceptual, material and social features that underlie their (sustainable) design initiative.

 

Could you tell us of your background and interests through your foundational years? How did you come to feel connected with art and design? Have you been pursuing them for a long time or has it been a more recent initiation?

S: Since a young age, I developed an interest in the engineering aspect of a simple design, when I used to accompany my granddad to his cycle repair shop.

While designing a building with a Zero Carbon Footprint, for a design competition in 2009, (which later got awarded by Indian Green Building Council), I realized the true potential of Bamboo. I then designed a bamboo bicycle and prototyped several bamboo-based furniture and accessories.

After my Bachelor’s in Architecture (from SPA Delhi & Masters in Industrial Designing from IDC, IIT Bombay), I established MIANZI with the desire to revolutionize the way bamboo is seen and used in today’s world.

A:  During my graduation as a Bachelor of Architecture,  I became more and more fascinated with product design and how sustainability can be more than what it is believed as. Being associated with “going without” sustainability is always belittled, so we came up with products that attain both competitive edge for similar wood or plastic-based products whilst reaping benefits for the environment.

With a drive to build green products, I co-founded Mianzi, to manufacture products that are not only sustainable or aesthetic but economically viable. I reckon that every raw material has a story with nuance and complexity, which, if translated right can bring the most unique products.

 

What does design(ing) mean for you? Is there something, in particular, you like to showcase through it?

We believe that designing in its essence is a polygamy of different elements to accomplish a particular purpose, in a sustainable eco-friendly approach, and with futuristic minimalism.

 

MIANZI is a unique home furnishing brand with bamboo as a base material for almost all its products. Could you tell us how you realised that the material would become valuable for experimental design?

Bamboo, as raw material, inspires and challenges us to bring forth products that go beyond the accepted parameters of product design and bring life to fresh ideas that previously seemed improbable with bamboo. 

That sense of exploration and giving back to the environment has always been a big influence and inspiration behind Mianzi.

MIANZI is one of the foremost brands in India to exclusively offer bamboo-based furniture and accessories. Could you share with us why it was/ has been important in your view to introduce this idea in the market?

India has a rich cultural and economical tradition of artistic craftsmanship with Bamboo as a raw material – a material that is sustainable, futuristic, and has a vibrant cultural heritage. Despite this, the Bamboo craftsmanship is dwindling and is almost extinct in several tribes.

With Mianzi, we sought to redefine and exhibit the contemporary, elegant, and chic front of traditional craftsmanship. We need to understand that sometimes the greater good can be achieved economically by sticking to your roots.

 

Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process? Where the materials are extracted from, and how they are molded together to construct the intricate details on the pieces?

While experimenting with bamboo, we have and are still in the process of discovering it’s different inherent properties. With a distinct fascination to observe probable design possibilities, we created our own methods by tweaking existing industrial machines and integrating the traditional hand-craftsmanship of adroit artisans. 

To make the process as realistic as possible, we developed a few industrial machines dedicated to the work of bamboo bending and molding. The machine is based on existing industrial technology; it is an assembly of different systems to create an efficient tool.

 

Are there any challenges encountered in marrying together ethical, artistic, and business practices through the design process?

Working with natural material is always challenging especially when we compare it with similar existing products in the market that are made out of wood or metal or plastic. These raw materials have been available commercially for a longer time and a lot of research has been already done, in terms of design and manufacturing. In comparison, Bamboo still needs to be explored more to discover its several properties and innovate. Further, finding a balance between aesthetic freshness, quality, and affordability is quite challenging.

 

Are there any specific intentions MIANZI holds to generate an impact for the wider Indian and design community – both its artisans/ workforce and consumers?

As we were discussing before, we want to expand Indian craftsmanship and give it its deserving centerstage by proactive collaboration with local craftsmen, bringing high-tech industrial advancements to them, and to substantially increase productivity and nurture their skills. We can introduce substantial growth in this industry on an artisanal and economic level, and at the environmental front.

What are your subsequent aspirations with, and for MIANZI?

With a deliberate and equal focus on expertise research on bamboo, we want to competitively revolutionize the way bamboo is seen and used by the masses, introducing it to the construction and mobility industry, discovering its resilient composition with a breakthrough through an economically viable and sustainable approach.

 

Is there anything you would hope for, or expect, clients, to discover and take from MIANZI?

In general, people consider sustainability as the latest trend rather than considering it as an imperative choice for our environment and future. Understanding the consumer demand we need to make a conscious effort to market products that are contemporary yet sustainable.

Mianzi with its fresh designs and functional approach expects that more and more people and designers understand that the purpose of sustainability is not to greenwash with yet another eco-friendly material, but rather to rethink industrial production and product conception in a realistic way.

During the last one and a half years, Mianzi has been recognized and awarded by esteemed design fraternities. The acknowledgment of their work from both practitioners in the field and their clients has lended them working opportunities with renowned architects and interior designers across the country, inspiring them to continue to experiment with bamboo and sustainable design.

If you would like to explore and shop their designs, you can visit their catalogue on our shop.

Credits


With Karuna Ezara Parikh

With Karuna Ezara Parikh

Conversations on The Profundity of Language & her book The Heart Asks Pleasure First

Along with being an artistic and expressive channel, writing is a medium that represents our meaning(s) and structure(s) of thinking in a given piece of work. Encompassing multiple perspectives and forms, writing has been a prime ideal through which to explore the human condition in all of its complexity, and simplicity. Reflecting on the profundity of language and the power of writing, we at IKKIVI had the pleasure of speaking with Karuna Ezara Parikh on the influence of books in her early life, their lasting impact on her present work and approach to writing, her creative process(es), as well as her upcoming book ‘The Heart Asks Pleasure First.’ She also shares with us her experiences during the CAA/ NCR protests and in isolation. Parikh employs writing in an artistic capacity to express her views and vision, and offers varied and important insights on broader creative and social matters through her work.

 

What was your relationship with books and art as a child like?

 I grew up in a house full of books, so I think that helped bring them into my everyday existence from a very young age. Some of the titles I saw around the house as I was growing up, imprinted on my memory and I still remember their spines today… particularly my mother’s volumes of poetry, old Hollywood coffee table books, and early texts on feminism. I think when a child grows up with books, they are no longer separate, or something to strive to incorporate in a life. Instead they’re everyday magic, existing as friends do. It wasn’t long before I was saving up pocket money to have my own. 

Are there any artists/ writers whose work you personally came to identify with as a child, and still continue to?

Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ and Kenneth Williams’ ‘I Only Have To Close My Eyes’ come to mind. The latter is now sadly out of print, but I reference it in my novel – that’s how much I loved it! Even today I find them utterly transporting.

You often utilize writing as a means of expressing dissent. Are there any particular experiences or times you recount where you saw language and writing as powerful tools (of change)?

 When I wrote my Paris poem and saw the global response to it – on a personal level, nothing has come close in showing me how much power the written word possesses. To write a poem and two hours later have a hundred thousand people to share it. To have the BBC calling 24 hours later, Paolo Coelho rewriting it 48 hours later… That was shocking for me. I realised that I can use my words for so much better. 

 On a greater level, the things I have learnt about the world from reading, remind me of that power constantly. Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy and Jonathon Safran Foer’s non-fiction come to mind. 

Writing is a different experience for everyone. Is getting to the actual exercise of writing simple for you, or does it require you to be more disciplined?

I wait. An idea appears as a seed. I don’t begin to write immediately. I let it lay in the mud of my mind, I water it with thought, I turn the soil, maybe take a bit of sun to it. And then when I feel I cannot resist the pen, I begin putting down words.

I think most artists struggle with discipline, and there is this romantic idea that it is part of the art itself. I too have thought that way in the past, but after writing my book, I see how it is simply bringing yourself to the page, the table, the pen, the idea, day after day, that results in fruition. 

What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

Not being as good as I want to. I want to write better and better. I sometimes pause while reading a phrase or a paragraph in a book and think ‘Wow, now that is something!’ and I am in such awe of the different ways people practice approaching this craft, and it inspires me to be better but it is hard to hold yourself to a certain perhaps impossible standard.

Editing is a tough process – letting go of things you’ve written. Writers are so in love with their own words, I think it’s necessary to alert a very cold side of your heart before editing. My editor Teesta Guha Sarkar gently pointed out many places in my book where I had rambled on…and despite my attachment to those lines, I knew, with cold clarity eventually, that she was right. Letting go is hard – but important. 

What kind of differences do the mediums of poetry, prose and script writing allow you to express? Do the differences in these mediums converge at a certain point?

They each take care of a different aspect of me and allow me the liberty to explain my beliefs and my version of a perfect world, in various ways. I think they converge in style and in a value system. Both are consistent in all forms, or so I would hope.

How has your craft developed and evolved over the years? Have you taken a particular direction with it?

Intuitively. Though I always wanted to write books, I ended up working as a journalist in order to provide for myself financially. Poetry, a tighter medium, allowed me to continue to express my heart. Eventually when I have written a book, I feel like there are threads in it of the journalist I once was, and definitely my poetry writing affects the prose. So while I have not taken a particular direction, I would say my experiences of being a writer of these varied mediums allowed me to create one cumulative style. 

The Heart Asks Pleasure First Book Cover
Art by Shilo Shiv Suleman

Your book The Heart Asks Pleasure First was set to release this month, but is now pushed to September. Has this change affected you or your other/ future work(s)?

While it has been heart-breaking of course to further push the book release to Fall, considering the circumstances, I think this made sense and was better for everyone, the readers included. I do have a book of poetry releasing after the book and clearly this will affect that as well. The one thing I am hopeful about is seeing how many people have embraced reading again in this time at home. 

Could you tell us about the book and your journey in writing it? How did it come to be?

 Ah. So I began writing The Heart Asks Pleasure First about ten to twelve years ago but put it away for a number of years in the middle, finding myself unable to tap into something essential required to write it. In 2017 I moved to Calcutta. I was falling in love afresh at the time, and that, coupled with the peace and quiet I found in a new city, gave me the inspiration and space I needed to finally return to the work.

The story circles around a dancer, an Indian Hindu girl and her relationship with two Pakistani Muslim boys as she attends Dance School in Cardiff, Wales. It is set around the events of 2001 and the global turmoil that followed. I feel like I needed more years to fully comprehend the depth of those events, and to tie them more correctly to India and the communalism we battle with here even today.

What kind of research did you (have to) do before beginning this book? How did the process of developing the storyline and plot unfold?

Oh so much. If I had written a book based solely on what I knew when I began writing, it would have been a far shallower novel. I researched the entire time I wrote the book. Not all of it has gone into the pages, but it has gone into the story, if that makes sense. 

What do you hope for readers to take away from this book?

 Though I would want readers to decide that for themselves, in brief I guess I would say – hope. 

Karuna by her writing desk at home
Photographed by Nayantara Parikh

You have been an active voice through the CAA and NRC protests. When, amidst the tensions, did you become involved in the demonstrations?

From the very start. It was a matter of great sadness for me that our great country cannot find space in its massive beating heart for everyone. I simply don’t believe that. 

You faced a significant number of threats on social media as a result of your participation in the protests. Did you, at any time, have to alter your approach to the discourse on account of these difficulties?

 I took breaks from it when I needed to, but I think that is always the case with social media isn’t it? Whether I’m speaking out about the environment, women’s rights or civil rights, there are always some folk who will respond nastily. I try and tell myself that it clearly means I’m getting to them. 

Do you have any anticipations for how the NRC and CAA issue will unfold post the Covid-19 lockdown?

None whatsoever, but I do think every movement needs rest time, and no movement sees success overnight. Let’s not forget how long the Freedom movement took in India!

How has this period of social isolation been for you, both personally and professionally?

One of immense gratitude and minor frustrations. Realising how much I have, how little I need, and being given the space to ask the important question – where do I (we) go from here?

Apart from needing to work-from-home, are there any lifestyle changes you have had to incorporate since the lockdown? And have they revised your relationship to everyday life/ living in any way?

Washing my hands more?! 

On a more serious note – it has been an eye opener in the sense that, doing yoga every single day seemed like an exhausting task to me earlier. Cooking every day as well. Moving slower. Sleeping more was hard before. I have found joy in these things and hope to carry this into whatever life comes in the future. While I have other, larger observations from this time, I’m still doing the inner work on them, and feel it is too early to share or comment.

What would you like to say to fellow writers in lockdown?

I would like to share a quote from the incredible Ocean Vuong – “When you’re hitting a dead end…take it with you. Get away from the desk. It means something is not happening. It doesn’t mean you’re blocked. I don’t think writer’s block is real. I think it’s the mythos of capitalism…that you’re always supposed to be producing. This anxiety of being productive and quantifying your self-worth through page counts and word counts. You’re working…but you have to work differently now.”

Karuna was interviewed by our writer Malini Mathur. For updates on Karuna’s book launch and for more of her soulful writing, follow her here.