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Beyond the handkerchief square of sky!

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Chances are, when I mention in class, that Oscar de la Renta passed away recently at the ripe old age of 82, I will be greeted with blank smiles. Smiles which say, 'of course we are listening, and perhaps even saddened by the passing away of someone worth mentioning in class, but we really don’t know what you are talking about. Or why, for that matter.' Smiles, that tempt me to bet that perhaps none of the 33 students of Fashion Communication whom I teach, have heard the designer's name.

But I may be wrong. Oscar was in the news recently. Just before the media flashed news of his death. If I ask again, who he was some connection may spark alive and a voice might just chirp up with a counter question: "Was he not the same man who designed the wedding dress for George Clooney's wife? Some lawyer female?” 'Some lawyer female'! I see red at that sentence, which deepens in colour over the fact that one of the brighter girls in class might be the one saying it. Not realising the sexist connotations of using the word female rather than woman.

But I shall drop that line of thought here. This is not an article on gender sensibilities. Or on the thoughtlessness of the speech of the today generation. To get back to my thread of thought. In my five years of teaching at various institutions that teach journalism connected to fashion, one constant has presented itself. That the average student lives in a little frog's well. A well that presents a sky that is composed of newspaper supplements that flash, paid or unpaid, news of movie stars, and fashion celebrities connected with movie stars, and tv personalities… and that's about that!

The stars that shine in the sky that most students see are covered in tinsel. Fashion is an actor wearing a designer, a designer dressing a film or a star, and a star who walks the ramp as showstopper. Ask them questions about these areas, and they will shame you into silence with the shallowness of their knowledge. Once in a while, their exploratory voyages on the Google spaceship that transports them effortlessly across the globe throws up something that goes beyond the kerchief of sky that they watch avidly. And I am pleasantly surprised to hear a snippet of news that is linked to real fashion. Rahul Mishra winning the Woolmark prize a case in point. Oscar dressing Clooney's bride, could well be another.

I should force myself to be happy with such titbits offered to me as responses to my questions. But I am not. I tend to get angry. Frustrated. Having a class of students who have free access to both Indian and International fashion magazines, and to websites that talk serious fashion, but choose to limit themselves to Professor Google and a slew of local newspaper supplements peppered with self made celebrities is a fact that makes me want to throw in the duster and cancel my name as a teacher. More poignant is the fact that the class comprises communication aspirants!

Yet, year after year I labour on. Telling myself that one has to give back what one has learnt, that even if I can change the attitude of one student each semester, and encourage him or her to read, read, read about fashion: global, local, national, Western and Eastern...I have earned a feather for my cap. I teach what the syllabus dictates I teach;  but I push beyond, with the courage of a soldier entering an enemy-infested forest. I know that disinterest is a powerful enemy to fell. So I use tricks I have learnt along the way over the years, quizzes, and puzzles, trick questions and jokes, impromptu fashion shows, videos and the telling of stories to illustrate how fashion can be a passion, as it is for me... And I triumph in the fact that the class comes back for more! Year after year I repeat the same litany. Read, I tell my students. Read! Read history: of the world, of your country, of fashion. Reading will help you understand the social context that fashion is woven closely to. Read. I know literature is a has-been these days, and there is no time to read or write complete words and intricately engineered literary concepts in this instant world of texting and whatsapping, and I am content if the students will read anything written with some semblance of grammar and style.  Mills and Boons perhaps, or the Reader's Digest, or blogs by well known fashion writers... I am appeased by anything they will reach out to if it will add power to their vocabulary, and teach them, albeit subconsciously, the art of expressing themselves correctly.

After all this is a communication course, I tell them. Learning to communicate is the first step. So whether they are writers or photographers; stylists or pr/admen in the making, they need to build up a base of knowledge. Which includes understanding the work of designers. Like those still unknown entities outside their world: to name a few: Donna Karen, Pauloma Picasso, Ralph Lauren, Louis Azzaro, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Sonia Rykiel, Zhandra Rhodes, and closer home, JJ Valaya, Suneet Varma, Ravi Bajaj, Gauri and Nainika, Shahab Durazi, Rohit Khosla...all of whom , like Oscar de la Renta are not part of the current sky scape of many of the generation of those seeking to go out into the wide world and communicate in different, chosen ways, about the wonderful and exciting world of fashion!

Sathya Saran
Sathya Saran
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04-FEBRUARY-2015 alina
I agree with Wendell completely..
29-OCTOBER-2014 Varija Bajaj
I can so relate to this agony. But then I also believe that you can cook food for somebody, even feed them... but you can't chew for them. Having taught students myself in several colleges ... I feel it is extremely difficult to teach “willingness to learn".
28-OCTOBER-2014 Kanak Rekha Chauhan
Beyond a journalist, a writer, Sathya is a teacher-for-life who believes that even if she can encourage one student to READ, READ AND READ and change her or his attitude, her work is done as a teacher. Each one of us should make it our motto to advise, inspire and teach the younger generation to go beyond 'google' and have the hunger to learn - be it history, fashion, marketing, what have you. Very inspiring - and beautiful expression - the kind of language today's texting generation should be using.
28-OCTOBER-2014 Wendell Rodricks
We can tell students all we want but sadly the world has become about the image and not the word.
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