100 Book Pact — Within touching distance

After being late the last two times, I am so happy that I am finally ahead of the curve, finishing the seventy-fifth book of the year today. I hope to keep this going and finish a few days left in 2016. It would be terrible for the pact to end up like a college assignment that is frantically finished the night before it is due. I love that the 100 Book Pact has heightened my awareness of the passing of time. Time caught me unawares only once this year, in February, when I fell very behind with the pact. It was early days still, and I learned my lesson. When you have to read hundred books in a year, every single day counts. At the end of September, it doesn’t feel like the year is over even before I took notice. And best of all, I have something concrete to show for it.Read More

Kochi-Muziris Biennale’s mixed-script branding

A few weeks ago Rahul pointed me to the mixed-script logo for the latest edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The style of the Latin letters, which have already been a part of the art festival’s branding repertoire, has been extended to Devanagari and Malayalam; and the three scripts are used together to spell out the festival’s name. When I saw the logo on Facebook, I was astounded at the adulation it was receiving. Was I the only one who looked at the first word, Kochi, and thought that the design of the Devanagari vowel sign ी was ambiguous and the name of the city could also be misread as kocho?


Some days later, I came across another version of the logo on the festival’s Facebook page that uses a different spelling of Kochi. The original logo I had seen is still on their Facebook page, and I couldn’t find any indication that the second one is meant to be a correction. As far as I understand, both spellings are wrong, and Kochi is spelled कोच्चि in Hindi. Neither logo spells it like that.


Design-wise, the vowel sign ी isn’t the only Devanagari glyph in the logo that is not upto scratch. The leftmost curve of the ल is truncated. The vowel sign ि is not designed to match the width of the letters it is attached to. Even though the र and स are written in the same way, the design of these letters is quite different from each other, for reasons I haven’t been able to work out. All this on top of the fact that the widths of Latin letters are inconsistent, many curves aren’t well drawn and round shapes in the numerals look too large compared to the rest (I’m refraining from commenting on the Malayalam because I don’t feel confident critiquing the design for a script I neither read nor write, and have never researched).

Designing a mixed-script logo is not easy. Using vastly different scripts together needs care, research and expertise, and this is not an undertaking that should be taken lightly. It is not often that a local organisation or event invests in mixed-script or multilingual branding, and it is a lost opportunity when attention is not paid to fundamental issues like legibility or spelling. I think it is truly unfortunate that in one of the logos above, the name of the festival could be read incorrectly. Design work for high-profile brands, such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, is seen by a large number of people and sets a benchmark for the quality of design we expect to see in the future. This branding sets a bad precedent. Of course, the organisers of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale should be commended for choosing a bold approach for their branding; I only wish they had made more of an effort to get it right.


100 Book Pact — 25 down!

When the new year was still only a day or two old, I saw this and decided I was going to read hundred books this year. The last time I attempted this (and finished with ease) was more than ten years ago. I was in school, and the idea of reading a book in 2–3 days was completely natural. I had probably been reading more that a hundred books each year without knowing that I had. This year is different—I have grown-up responsibilities now and between work, side-projects, chores and travel, it is going to be no cakewalk. But, I am happy to report that earlier this week I read my twenty-fifth book of the year. Even though I was a few days late and roughly 1.2 books behind, I believe I am on track to meet my goal at the end of 2016.

But there is more to this reading pact than just numbers. Because time is at a premium, is there a change in what I read and how? The most obvious pitfall in trying to read a fixed number of books in a limited time is the urge to read only those books that don’t require a great deal of time, effort or patience. When I realized how behind I was February, that option looked very attractive, but thankfully better sense prevailed. Reading several books simultaneously has been the single most helpful thing for me. It has made it harder for me to slack off. Long or difficult reads simmer along for weeks, while others take a couple of days, or sometimes just a few hours. Deciding what books to read simultaneously has brought me the same joy and satisfaction as planning a week’s meals. There is a balance to be struck between my latest infatuations, and that which is necessary; and between what will bring comfort at the end of a long, debilitating day, and what will be a taxing, but fulfilling project in itself. There need to be flavours and texture to appeal to different moods. If I get this right, things are a breeze.

Seeing all twenty-five books together means noticing patterns and biases. It is, for instance, easy to tell that of the books I have read so far less than a third are written by women. Or that I have only read English books. Roughly two thirds have subject matter connected to India, while less than half are by Indian authors. Fiction makes up just about a fifth of the books I have read, and there is only one graphic narrative. Some of these observations I am happy with; others not so much. I hope that by the time I reach a hundred, I’ll be more pleased with the mix of books I have read in the year.

Here are the books I have read so far, in the order I read them—

  1. Sophia: Princess, Revolutionary, Suffragette by Anita Anand
  2. Breaking Out: An Indian Woman’s American Journey by Padma Desai
  3. The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabwala
  4. An Independent Colonial Judiciary by Abhinav Chandrachud
  5. Bread: A Global History by William Rubel
  6. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  7. Wanderings in India and other sketches of life in Hindostan by John Lang
  8. The World of Hrishikesh Mukherjee: The Filmmaker everyone Loves by Jai Arjun Singh
  9. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  10. The Presidency by Gerald W. Johnson
  11. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan W. Watts
  12. Balmukund Gupta by Madan Gopal
  13. India and the World by Jawaharlal Nehru
  14. Ladybird by Design by Lawrence Zeegen
  15. Walking Towards Ourselves edited by Catriona Mitchell
  16. This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition curated by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
  17. Unbound: 2000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing edited by Annie Zaidi
  18. City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes
  19. Love and Marriage
  20. Sunlight on a Broken Column by Attia Hosain
  21. How to Thrive in the Digital Age by Tom Chatfield
  22. Dictionaries: A Very Short Introduction by Lynda Mugglestone
  23. Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate by Walter Crocker
  24. The King’s Harvest by Chetan Raj Shrestha
  25. Laurie Baker: Truth in Architecture by Atul Deulgaonkar

If you would like to follow what I am reading for the 100 Book Pact, I post about the books on Instagram under #MatraTypeReadsA100.


Street lettering from India and its neighbours

Lots of blogs about street lettering in India have been catching my eye since I started my own last year. Whether it is a case of suddenly being more aware of them because of my little endeavour, or of lots of people making the effort of documenting street lettering in the country around the same time; I think it is a very good thing. I thought it would be useful to make a public list of all such blogs I have come across. This list has my favourite blogs and blog posts that document lettering from the Indian subcontinent. Of course, the list is nowhere close to exhaustive. I’m sure I have forgotten about some blogs that I didn’t bookmark and there must be others I simply haven’t encountered yet. I’ve also not included any Flickr photosets or groups yet. If you think I have missed an interesting collection, please leave a comment here or tell me on Twitter and I’ll try to add it.

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Book covers by Satyajit Ray

The internet, every now and then, throws up great surprises—The Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at University of California, Santa Cruz makes available scanned images of over 200 book, magazine and journal covers designed by Satyajit Ray. Covers such as this one for the book Khai Khai written by his father, Sukumar Ray.


The collection includes about two dozen and a half covers of the literary and cultural journal, Ekshan, founded by Nirmalya Acharya and Soumitra Chatterjee. For every issue of Ekshan, Ray drew or wrote the journal’s name afresh.


There are also close to forty covers of Sandesh, the children’s magazine started by his grandfather, Upendrakishore Ray, in 1913, run later by his father and uncle and revived by him in 1961 after 27 years of being of going unpublished.


Satyajit Ray’s calligraphy, lettering, illustration and graphic design works keep making an appearance on the internet, but this is the most comprehensive online resource of its kind that I have found till date. All the images for this post were sourced from this collection and it can be accessed in its entirety here. For those looking for some context to see these images in, Jayanti Sen’s Looking Beyond: Graphics of Satyajit Ray would be well worth the read.

Newspaper nameplates


Eenadu, a Telugu daily from Andhra Pradesh

I woke up today to the news that the International Herald Tribune is going to be known as the International New York Times from tomorrow. And since I was going through my collection of newspapers for some work, I thought it would be a good idea to scan all the nameplates and collect them in one place. My copy of the International Herald Tribune didn’t make it to the scanner today, but a handful of Indian newspapers did.

The growing collection of images is available on Flickr.


Loksatta, a Marathi daily printed in Devanagari script

Sakal Bela

A Bengali daily, Sakal Bela

Becoming an OPW intern

So many people around me love and work with computers and computer science that their passion has slowly rubbed off on me. I’ve picked up things along the way, and with every tidbit my fascination has only been fueled further. Lately, I’ve begun to feel the same way about FOSS. And just like computers, the more I’ve learned about FOSS, the more interested I’ve become.

In the last few years, there has also been an influx of work and commentary around “free” and “open-source” typeface design. It was, after all, only a matter of time before this movement caught steam; I remember reading the Free Font Manifesto when I was in undergrad. For some time now, I have been thinking about the intersection of FOSS and typeface design from the sidelines. Reading what I can find and engaging in the one-off conversation with friends who are lawyers or software developers who work in FOSS. When I heard about GNOME foundation’s Outreach Programme for Women (OPW), I thought it was a great opportunity to finally get my hands dirty and mind jogging.

Come June 17, and I will join a group of fifty-odd women from around the world to become a participant in the latest round of OPW. In my three months as an intern, I will contribute to further development of GNOME’s UI font, Cantarell (designed originally by fellow Reading alumnus, Dave Crossland). There is a lot I hope to gain from this experience. The first is, of course, the chance to work with and within an open source community and to witness, first-hand, how they operate. After consultation with my mentor Jakub Steiner, I have decided to work on Greek and Cyrillic extensions to Cantarell. Working on non-native scripts is always a challenge, and it will be great to add to the limited, but growing experience I have with these two scripts. Through my interaction with the community online (and also offline if I end up attending GUADEC, GNOME’s annual conference), I will have the opportunity to be an advocate for good typeface design. Finally, being involved in the OPW will, hopefully, give me exposure certain to ideas in the FOSS community that could help me think more critically about typefaces, what they are and how they can be understood as software.

If you’d like to follow my FOSS summer adventure, I will be blogging about my work for the OPW at a separate, dedicated blog. Every now and then, I will also cross-post, like I am doing today and those posts will all be collected here.