Manu A B
The young man, who has given the Indian rupee a symbol, has been relentlessly pursuing a little-known art called typography over the last five years.
He took up this specialised subject despite opposition from his parents, who wanted to him to become a doctor or an IAS officer.
On July 15, D Udaya Kumar became more famous than most doctors or IAS officers in India. He has achieved celebrity status after his design for the Indian rupee currency was approved by the government on Thursday.
"It is a great honour to be a part of India's history," said an excited Udaya while speaking with rediff.com.
The 31-year-old PhD-holder from IIT-Bombay who was set to join as a professor at IIT-Guwahati's department of design on Friday had to postpone the date of joining after he heard that his design had been chosen as the rupee symbol. He has been talking to the Indian and international media incessantly. His cellphone didn't stop ringing till late into the night.
At the Indian Institute of Technology, Udaya Kumar has been pursuing research in esoteric subjects like evolution of the ancient Tamil script from palm leaf etching to printing press. His ultimate aim is to resurrect regional language scripts in India.
"India has some of the greatest scripts in the world, but unfortunately they have not been studied properly and in a scientific manner," says this ardent admirer of Van Gogh masterpieces.
'I have not even had the time to celebrate'
Awards and recognitions have been his best companions. A simple and unassuming Udaya has won laurels through his schooldays, be it at sports, studies, art or good behaviour.
He was conferred the best student award of La Chatelaine Residential Junior College, Chennai, in 1993. He considers honesty, equality and discipline as his best virtues.
In his latest stint as a professor at IIT-Guwahati, he wants to share his knowledge of typography and help students discover the essence of India's regional scripts.
In an interview with rediff.com, Udaya Kumar shares the excitement of winning one of the nation's most coveted recognitions.
Did you ever think you would win this competition? How do you feel now?
I was quite confident, but all the designs were good and had their own identity. So I was not too sure.
I was anxiously waiting for the results just like the others. It is a great feeling. Words cannot express what I feel now. I am yet to comprehend what it actually means to me.
I have not even had the time to celebrate or think about it. I have been talking to the media and other well-wishers since morning. There are hundreds of missed calls. It is truly overwhelming.
'I knew this is the biggest test of my life'
What did your parents say?
They are very happy. I could hardly talk to them as I have not got the time. I hope by tomorrow I will get some time to talk to them peacefully. My father keeps saying that I should have become an IAS officer. They wanted me to reach great heights and were disappointed with my professional choice. Perhaps, today he will change his mind (laughs).
Did you seek the opinion of your professors and friends before you sent the design?
Yes, I had shown the sketches, explained finer details and made a presentation at the IDC (Industrial Design Centre at IIT-Bombay). They were very positive and encouraging.
It took me months of practice and preparation as I knew this was the biggest test of my life and I had to do it really well.
How far did the PhD course in typography help you in designing the rupee?
The course helped me make a design with some meaning. With a single character, I have tried to portray the Indian Tricolour on the symbol. The symbol will go a long way in making a great impact for the rupee. My background knowledge helped me look at the micro and macro level aspects of the rupee design.
I could make the finest changes and visualize their impact when one writes. I could make a unified symbol.
'The symbol highlights India's rapidly growing economy'
How did you develop an interest in designing and typography?
I was always interested in extra-curricular activities. I started tinkering with designs and calligraphy when I had to design brochures for college events, et cetera.
It gave me immense satisfaction when I made a poster and brochures publicising even a small event through my design. This interest grew deeper and I decided to do my masters in visual communication from IIT-Bombay, after which I did my research in typography.
I am interested in graphic design, typography, type design and design research with special focus on Tamil typography.
What kind of an impact will the Rupee symbol have? How long will it take for the symbol to be adopted in India?
As for the Indian economy, the rupee symbol is a step towards elevating our status with major global currencies that have a distinct identity.
I am sure it will be widely accepted and recognized. The rupee symbol highlights India's rapidly growing economy.
The symbol is likely to be introduced in a matter of six months.
As for me, it makes a big difference as my design has been chosen to represent the Indian currency. It is a turning point in my career. Until yesterday, I was not a known figure. Today, I am getting so many calls from India and abroad, it makes me feel really proud.
'There is a huge opportunity in learning about Indian scripts'
What are your future plans?
I have several things in mind. First and foremost is teaching. I want to spread the knowledge that I have to many more people. So I will start my academic stint as a professor.
There is a huge opportunity in learning more about Indian scripts, especially Indian regional languages. There are not many resources to study the history and patterns of changes in our script.
There are very few resources on typography in vernacular languages, especially Tamil. I would like to create a knowledge base for the history of Tamil typography and other regional languages.
I know this cannot be done in a year or two. But I can start the process and work constantly on making a resource material on various language scripts.
Currently, there are not many people who are interested in learning about scripts but I would love to create more awareness and publish books on these topics.
'I find immense joy in every design I make'
I love nature and growing trees. I would love to start a big campaign to promote trees. I have planted many trees, I find time to nurture them and it is a great pleasure to see them grow. It feels they are like my children.
How were you as a school student?
I was studious. I loved maths and physics. But at the same time, I took part in painting, sports and other extra-curricular activities. However, over the years, I could not devote much time to painting, so it got sidelined.
But my love for design continued to grow. Since I was in a boarding school, I had lot of time to practice and perform well. I found immense joy and satisfaction in every design I made.
Tell us about your family.
My father is a contractor and mother a housewife. My younger brother is also very creative person. He loves art and is very talented. My elder brother is an engineer.