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Against all odds: Sketching in the coal mines

Last updated on: December 8, 2009 10:39 IST

Photographs: A Solanki Sumita Vaid Dixit

In a five part series that chronicles stories of sheer grit and determination, we began with Suresh Ram, who's currently a third year civil engineering student at IIT Delhi.

In the second part of this series we bring you Amit Sinha's story, a coal miner's son who is today a teacher at the National Institute of Design, NID, Ahmedabad.

Today, Amit Sinha teaches his students apparel design at the renowned National Institute of Design or NID. But he arrived here 13 years ago and was unable to pay up his final year fees. And it has been a long, hard and eventful journey for Amit.

He grew up amidst the coal and mica mines in Giridih, a small town in Jharkhand (earlier part of Bihar). His father repaired fuel pumps of heavy diesel vehicles and machines.

Due to the slowdown in coal production, his father's income became irregular, so he travelled around buying machine spare parts and looking for work, while his mother stayed back managing the house, sometimes within Rs 2,000 and at other times with Rs 20. "Whatever my father could manage," he adds.

What pained him more was to see his relatives doing well while his father toiled in a workshop. Things got worse when his father met with an accident. "I used to be angry about not getting something when I needed it the most."

He sketched to fight his anger. Mostly kings, swords, horses, cowboys. So on weekends, after having lunch and after his mother went off to sleep, he would sketch, paint and makes things with his father's tools.

"'I was fascinated with all the tools and machine parts in my father's workshop. Because of his exposure to different kinds of material -- metal, clay, wood, rubber -- Amit judges a material's design potential without knowing the specifications. "My gut feeling guides me, and this is what I observe in students who come from small towns."

Although, Amit was always among the top three in school, his Class 10 results didn't measure up to his expectations. This shook his confidence to the extent that it badly affected his Class 12 results. "I had lost faith in myself." And soon after finishing school, he became desperate to leave his town. "It was a small place with few opportunities."

The awakening at Banaras
Amit wanted to apply for a fine arts programme at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, but his father doubted the subject's prospects. So Amit took up sociology to fulfil his father's dream of joining the civil services. Amit strongly thinks that schools must counsel parents as well, so that they are made aware of other career options.

In Banaras, Amit managed his lifestyle within the Rs 300 that his father sent every month. At one point for 14 days he just had one meal of bread and tea. His hard life turned him into an introvert.

"I was vulnerable to hurt." This was also the time when he started paying extra attention to his studies. His first challenge was to learn English as he had opted for sociology in the English medium; the other was to get hostel accommodation. For that he had to score First Class, which he did, and as a result his course fee was waived, and he was given a place in the hostel. Now life became a little more comfortable and slowly he began to believe he could do well as "I was rewarded fairly well for my labour."

Then one fine winter day, he saw BHU fine arts students selling New Year cards at the front gate of the university. That very night, in his hostel room, he started making cards. Before he knew it, they were all sold out. Alongside, he started giving tuitions, painting portraits and doing commercial illustrations.

Within one year, he made more than Rs 5,000 which he put into the bank. While the money gave him security, the design work gave him the confidence to pursue art in a professional set-up. So, at the insistence of close friends, he applied to both NID and NIFT, and got through both, but when he went to NID he knew it was the place for him.

Against all odds:

Part I: From potato fields to IIT
Part III: Grit and chemistry in her DNA
Part IV: 'When you have little means, you become a fighter'
Part V: 'Money doesn't open doors. Hard work does'

Finding inner peace

There was something about the NID campus that gave him the peace and freedom to explore. "I was excited to see that a range of different design disciplines had studios and I could observe or work on anything in any of these studios!" Here he studied apparel design.

In his final year, Amit won a few awards for his work in fashion as well as in knits and jewellery, but he didn't have enough to clear his dues at NID. So the institute gave him the chance to pay back with interest.

But NID changed Amit in more ways than one. "The harshest thing I learnt was to take criticism." Once that happened, many things followed. He became less critical of people, stopped being very serious about things and discovered he had a sense of humour! "Hardships had taken away my sense of humour." And he developed a fair command over the English language. "I had to get over my weak points!"

With his first job as a menswear designer with the Taj's Khazana, he paid back his NID fee. For 10 years he worked in the design industry, moving between Delhi and Mumbai, travelling abroad, working with top international design houses and companies in India.

He even cracked the film industry as a costume designer but those film projects never took off. When he had saved enough he paid back the house loan, that his father had taken more than 20 years back. "That was a great moment for me!"

But the time had come to slow down and reflect upon things. "I had moved out of my town when I was 17 and since then I have been on the move." So when the offer came to teach at NID, he took it up. "I could learn and share a lot with students." And he doesn't shy away from telling his students where he had erred so that they can do better. "I tell them: be smart and make your presence felt because you cannot wait for people to discover you."

In his spare time Amit is back to painting. But something else has happened, he says. "I have stopped writing poems; I suppose the pain's gone now!"

Against all odds:

Part I: From potato fields to IIT
Part III: Grit and chemistry in her DNA

Careers360 is a complete education and career magazine offering campus and course reviews, career features, scholarships, expert advisories, entrance exam preparation & solved papers, admission alerts and more.

Careers360 is a complete education and career magazine offering campus and course reviews, career features, scholarships, expert advisories, entrance exam preparation & solved papers, admission alerts and more.