Exploring Ahmedabad with the city's up and coming creative illustrators Maitri and Bhadresh
iDiscover maps are created by locals and designed by locals. Why? Because we explore a city through the lens of locals, so we ask local designers to capture the spirit of a place. Each map is like an artistic ode to a neighbourhood. In the UNESCO-listed old city of Ahmedabad, we were lucky to work with two exceptional creative minds Bhadresh G. Raval and Maitri Dalicha. We met them for a cup of chai to talk about their creative process, what makes their city special and what they love about the local life.
The first rendezvous is with Maitri Dalicha who illustrated the map of Khadia, one of the most captivating neighbourhoods in the walled city, and a gatekeeper of the culture and traditions of Ahmedabad. Self-proclaimed ‘ink catalyst’ Maitri is an ink and pen type of a girl. An engineer by training she’s a self-taught illustrator. Artistic talent runs in the family, her mum is a painter and a sculptor and when Maitri was young, she would sit with her for hours scribbling away. “There was always art in the house, on weekends my mum would take me to art fairs and museums”. She’s been drawing ever since, but at school, she also excelled in academics and when it was time to choose a career path she found herself drawn to exact sciences. With an electronics degree from Rajkot in hand, she landed a job as a micro-chips controller. Yet after a few years soldiering away at circuit boards she realised that she enjoyed learning, but not working in science.
Inspired by the old city
In 2013, a friend invited her to join a photo walk in the old city and soon she was hooked: “We’d get up at 6am when the city is waking up and the light is beautiful and by 9 when it starts to get busy, we’ll have our breakfast and go”. Clicking away, the faded colours and intricate woodwork of the old buildings reignited her own artistic spirit, and she quit her job and started illustrating full-time. It was a tough decision to make, but before long her playful meticulous style in ink art and calligraphy caught the eye of Ahmedabad’s brand evangelists. Maitri’ illustrations - mainly in black and white, sometimes a splash of colour, always pastel tinted - can now be found on anything from Charles & Keith tote bags, Society 6 pillow covers to JAWA motorbikes. Maitri was also among the few local artists invited for a Locals X Society mural project in Dhal ni Pol in the old city, part of an artistic heritage rehabilitation project run by the Brihati Foundation. Becoming a full-time illustrator felt like coming home: “That was everything my childhood was made of. Consequently, that is what I decided my adulthood to be made of, given the immense pleasure I get by creating something.” Yet Maitri is quick not to romanticise the artistic profession: “When you call it work, it becomes scary, it gets harder, the art can get heavy”, she shares when asked what it is like to choose design as a career path.
This illustrated map for Khadia is Maitri’s first digital art project: “I keep changing the medium. I’m most comfortable on paper and these are the first steps of my digital journey. “I’m a very detailed-minded person so the process of making this map was time-consuming”. My favourite illustration is the icon on the front of the map, it took me a couple of hours to draw the delicate features. I keep educating myself and am grateful for the opportunity to add a new dimension to my portfolio.”
Favourite places in the old city
“When somebody asks me where to go in Ahmedabad, I say let’s go to the old city”. This project allowed her to reconnect with the old city. Maitri’s aunt is from the old city so she used to come there as a child: ”It’s a place of creative inspiration. The nooks and crannies, the back alleys, the bird feeders and of course the food. I loved illustrating the food dishes that Ahmedabad is famous for. Through this project the old city has become closer to me, now I can identify with the pols and I no longer get lost”.
The intensity of Ahmedabad may seem a bit loud! at first, but behind the bustling markets you find a living labyrinth of surprisingly quiet residential streets. The city is home to more than 500 of these pols, traditional Guajarati neighbourhoods grouped around a central courtyard, a temple and a birdfeeder. Hidden in these pols you find the city’s inner secrets. It is where people of different faiths and castes live together in harmony based on the powerful mantra of ‘Mahajan’, a custom of shared well-being. This unique concept was championed by the mighty Sultan Ahmed Shah who founded the city in 1411, and has been at the core of Ahmedabad’s success over six centuries. Even today we can witness the city’s glorious past in the many exquisite temples and stunning havelis with handcrafted wooden sculptures in all colours of the rainbow.
Bhadresh G. Raval
Badde, known as Bhadrresh Raval in the industry, is a wanderer and wonderer. He is also the proud founder of the Ahmedabad-based graphic design studio Greyphyte. His signature style - a playful mix of hand-drawn illustrations, typography and calligraphy - is very much in demand, whether it is for the design of a new logo or a complete rebranding exercise. He's lucky to count coffee roasters, hotels and even an airline among his clients, but is always happy to make time available for NGO's or community groups in need of some creative juices, so he jumped on this opportunity to make the old city of Ahmedabad come to life on paper.
"I wanted to draw the soul of the old city, the birdfeeders, street markets, the vibrant colours and and the pulsating energy. I love roaming the streets in the morning when the spirit of the place comes alive, when people go out to eat, pray and play" says Bhadresh, as he sits in the shade on a stone bench sketchbook in hand. He draws what comes naturally, it's the daily scenes that intrigue him; in a few simple strokes, he draws a woman walking to the market, a man selling sweets or a random cow in the street, so characteristic in the capital of Gujaratai culture. Yet most of all it's the design details of Ahmedabad's traditional architecture that continue to inspire him: the intricate woodwork of the doors, the elegant stonemasonry, the wrought iron balconies, stained glass windows, the original typography of signboards or even the elaborately decorated jhoola's, the giant swings that are an essential component of every Gujarati household.
Bhadresh started drawing at the age of 5. He excelled in science at school but carved out a creative career for himself. After getting a degree in visual art from India's internationally renowned Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) he worked for a few years as a graphic designer for a pharmaceutical company to learn the business side of things, then decided to follow his passion and set up his own company.
What makes Greyphite stand out is that they use the sketch approach not only in designs but also as a tool in client meetings to fast-track decision-making: "We live in a visual world, so it helps when clients can immediately visualise the creative concept".
Bhadresh still loves sketching historical places. But he never really sketched in his own city, so he is grateful for this opportunity to make a contribution to his own city. In his illustrations, he takes his inspiration from the rich Gujarati culture, historic paintings and sketches inspired by ancient Indian mythology. He's also a spiritual soul, bringing kindness into his artistic creations.
Bhadresh family comes from the old city, even his name originates from Bhadra temple. His childhood memories are fond and full of laughter: "I remember kite flying, jumping from one roof to the other, not just our own house, we were all over the pol." He quietly reminisces about the interconnectedness of it all, living together as a community: "the horsecart was our school bus".
The Ahmedabad kite festival is still his favourite time of the year. every winter when the winds come out and people are up on the roofs flying their kites, an amazing colourful spectacle. "I’ve drawn at the time of the festival when there are dancers, food sellers, and beautiful light decorations all up on the roofs. It's a unique festival that exemplifies the spirit of the old city, it unites the Ahmedabad people in art, spirit and joy and the old city is the best place to be."
Explore Ahmedabad like a local
Created by locals and designed by locals, iDiscover is your ultimate guide to exploring the hidden gems in the old city through the lens of local residents. Two walking itineraries handcrafted by the women and children of inner-city neighbourhoods: Desai ni Pol and Dhal ni Pol, accessible as a self-guided digital walk or as a printed map. The mapping process was facilitated by the passionate folks of the International Center for Innovative Developments (ICID) in Ahmedabad, and powered by Prince Claus Fund / British Council ‘s ‘Beyond Cultural Heritage’ programme, won India's Best Design Project award in 2020 and also came first in a global competition for IT solutions for World Heritage Sites.
Find Maitri at @maitri_dalicha and Bhadresh at @greyphyte.
International Center for Innovative Developments
ICID is an Ahmedabad based organisation that specialises in documenting and promoting living heritage in India’s heritage cities to preserve their unique identity in a time of rapid urbanisation.www.linkedin.com/in/sameeha-sheth-2582376
Prince Claus Fund
The Prince Claus Fund from the Netherlands creates opportunities worldwide for cultural development, connection and expression. Its joint initiative ‘Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage’ with the British Council supports a dozen innovative projects in six South Asian countries that have the potential to create dialogue between communities and foster mutual understanding.princeclausfund.org
Badresh G. Raval
Greyphyte is a strategic design studio in Ahmedabad that delivers fool-proof creative ideas that penetrate the psyche of the consumers and result in conversion for clients.greyphyte.com