The Girl Who Didn’t Play with Fire

Rashmi Rajgopal repents from the depths of hell while telling you about Manmayee Desai, a promising digital artist from Mumbai.

It’s really hot in here. I can’t remember what happened. I interviewed a digital artist, and then I woke up and found myself on fire. And these awful midget demons jabbing me—stop that! How did this happen?

Till now, I’ve had reason to believe that post-1985 millennials from Mumbai are part of a doomed generation. Which includes me *gasp*. Because it’s been rubbed in so often—from school, right into college; stuff popping up on the internet and this slightly ominous article about Gen-Y from TIME I read a few months ago. For those of you NOT part of my generation and yearning to find a reason to shake your disappointed heads at us but unable to indulge in that pleasure thanks to restrictions on reading this article, it’s everything you hate about us with a slightly positive note at the end of it. We get saved. Kind of like Noah’s Ark. Or Vishnu’s matsya avatar. Not to say you’re Noah or the matsya, but we’re saved.

But before that, we must suffer. I’ll be honest. I’m most—if not all—of what this article says my generation is. I was drowning along with the rest of the millennials in a cesspool of narcissism and entitlement.  Then a dubious-looking-yet-graceful horse appeared and pulled me out. I jumped onto it, big as it was, and scoffed at the drowning millennials. Horse went trotting along prettily for a bit, tripped and fell along with me into a quicksand of narcissism, entitlement, arrogance and tripey ingenuity-without-having-to-try-too-hard and drowned. Just when I was about to resign, a girl walked along.

“You look like you could do with a little help,” she said, offering me a hand. Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

“You look like you could do with a little help,” she said, offering me a hand.
Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

Manmayee Desai, digital artist, NID graduate. I looked at her askance, caught somewhere between a thank-you and a how-did-you-avoid-falling-into-the-quicksand enquiry. Googling her, deviantART threw up some pretty awesome artwork. Her works—what I initially perceived to be an influence of manga—also feature on her blog Guzuguzu, where you get to see how she has been growing with her work. Couldn’t risk falling into another cesspool of misinformed opinions running in my head, though. When asked, she spoke of her admiration for and understanding of Japanese aesthetics (me: bingo…oh wait, not manga): of a “quiet sense of symmetry”, and the beauty in the dichotomy of Indian and Japanese culture.

“Ah yes, I see what you mean,” I said, scratching my chin. Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

“Ah yes, I see what you mean,” I said, scratching my chin.
Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

But that wasn’t good enough for info-gluttony-me, so I turned it into a very brief Q&A session, and she kindly obliged. My partiality led me to frame questions based on her more recent art:

Me: When did you first discover Japanese art? Was this an immediate liking you developed, or did it intrigue you into researching the technique and style of the art?

Manmayee: I recently discovered that I was very subconsciously influenced by Japanese art. The encyclopaedias that I pored over when I was very young, the bedtime stories that my mother read me, were all (incidentally) Japanese publications. One of my most prized childhood books (that influenced me quite a bit in my formative years) was ‘14 Mice Move House’ by Kazuo Iwamura. I began reading Japanese literature in high school and watched a lot of Japanese modern classics during the time as well. Since then it has become a more obvious and conscious fascination. I have researched Japanese art and culture out of curiosity rather than a conscious desire to inculcate its sensibilities in my work. If some of my work happens to look Japanese, it is a happy coincidence, or a very subconscious integration of my Japanese-biased (so to speak) ideas of aesthetics in art.

Iwamura’s mice have it better than Gen-Y. Source:

Iwamura’s mice have it better than Gen-Y.

Me: Reading about the Bengal School and Progressives gives rise to many questions—a pertinent one being their need for seeking inspiration from indigenous sources. Agreed that their circumstances were very different from ours—we were born amidst a free India and grew up with markets opening up to other countries, which has given us the freedom to carve our own paths. Yet the need to “conform” to a collective identity—though rightfully this shouldn’t be held as a prototype—in some way often seeps in for anyone dealing with the fine arts. As an artist, do you find the need for being “rooted” in Indian traditions?

Manmayee: I do not feel bound to Indian art. Is it beckoning me and asking me to be more like it? Not really, simply because it isn’t me, I do not identify with it fully. I have never really been forced by my parents or loved ones to be ‘more Indian’, ‘more normal’, ‘more like a girl’ and have therefore found a very comfortable place for myself between all of these things. I do respect and admire Indian art and culture, but at the same time I do not feel obligated to subscribe to it.

“The nationalists never saw this coming,” I thought to myself. Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

“The nationalists never saw this coming,” I thought to myself.
Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

Me: Is it important for you to develop a personal idiom? If you do, do you see a probability of a collision in dichotomy that you see in the cultures of India and Japan? Would you want for them to reconcile in some way, or would you like for them to remain mutually exclusive?

Manmayee: It would certainly be interesting to see the twain meet, as they are so very different from one another in every aspect. Again, it is not a conscious decision to inculcate a certain cultural identity into my work. I rarely think about what I am going to make. It is often a brief glimpse of an idea, a concept, a colour combination, a certain composition of forms: which then transforms itself into a finished piece of work. Having said that, yes it is important for every artist to develop a personal idiom. It is such an expressive medium that one can rarely ever lie through it. Sometimes it is difficult to connect with an artist’s work because it is trying so hard to be something it is not.
As of now I am exploring the many possibilities of art and design and am yet to find a definite and personal form of self-expression.

“And the inspiration for The Magic Faraway Tree is Enid Blyton,” said Manmayee. Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

“And the inspiration for The Magic Faraway Tree is Enid Blyton,” said Manmayee.
Source: (Reproduced with artist’s permission)

Me: I believe you still see yourself growing with your artwork, and growth never does cease. But at this point, do you feel a need to consciously seek out a personal style, or do you see it as a shackling down of possibilities?

Manmayee: In a way I am trying to find a personal style. It is necessary as a designer (which is my primary position) to have a certain way of doing things, for which clients approach you and choose you. This is what sets you apart from the millions of other designers and makes you such a necessary component of the design industry. However as an artist, I am in no hurry to find that definite style since discovering art as a medium itself has been such a rewarding process.  There is no real hurry to be a certain way or to fit into a certain glove because I think the medium fits around you instead. It develops and hones you into a certain kind of person and helps you transcend many personal shortcomings. I think this is a lifelong process, and I think really lucky artists are still being moulded and changed to the very end, until their work transcends them and becomes a part of the human experience, something that is universal and celebrated.


After the interview, Rashmi thanked Manmayee and turned around beaming, thinking she’d discovered some secret formula to success. Since she’d clearly not learned her lesson from the cesspool OR quicksand incident, the ground below her opened up to the fires of hell and she fell right in. She will return after suffering for her sins.

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