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In a concrete jungle, an Indian illustrator is drawing stunning sketches of nature

Alisha Dutt Islam infuses diagrammatic detail into everything she draws.

Many artists are obsessed with the beauty of nature, but there is a particular meticulousness to Alisha Dutt Islam’s art. The almost diagrammatic detail with which she draws trees, animals and birds has its roots in a learning disability – dyslexia.

“My mother used to teach me through diagrams and flowcharts,” Dutt said. “This reflects in my work. I just try to keep everything very simple. I don’t like too much clutter, I love negative space. My retention power is also very low, and drawing helps me remember.”

A graduate of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dutt said she prefers to draw nature because it gives her comfort.

“Growing up in the city, I was disconnected from the natural ecosystems in and around Calcutta,” she said. “While living on the outskirts of Bangalore during college, I found myself forming a connection with plants and trees. This was one of the strongest bonds I have shared with another living being.”

A freelance illustrator and graphic designer and part-time art teacher for grades 6 to 10 at Shri Shikshayatan School, Kolkata, Dutt has also worked on an evolution series inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution and modern methods of reproduction. She experimented with a flower series inspired by common trees of Kolkata, which were part of her first solo exhibition at the 8th Day Café and Bakery in Kolkata.

Dutt realised her love for natural forms during a building sculpture course at the Madras Crocodile Bank. “It was oddly comforting working with reptiles,” she said.

She counts her mother Apula Dutta, botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian, Abanindranath Tagore, her Srishti mentor Alison Byrnes and Salvador Dali among her strongest influences. Although she has interned at firms like Bates & CHI and Amar Chitra Katha, and worked as a full-time graphic designer for six months in Kolkata, she said she finds herself most at peace when teaching.

The young artist’s most recent project on tropical birds was for a client in Jaipur called THEA. “The version that is up is still a work-in-progress and the client is coming up with accessories using these bird illustrations as her inspiration. The illustrations are first hand-drawn and then digitally coloured.” This is her first attempt at drawing birds.

Dutt has experimented with oil colours, water colours, natural paints, acrylic colours, charcoal, wax, clay, metal, glass, paper-mâché along with lino and woodblock printing. Recently, she created a botanical card game called War of the Gardens, which tells the story of Bengaluru transforming from a barren land to the “Garden City”.

The game, which is a tribute to German botanist and landscape artist Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel as well as the trees of Bengaluru, is a way for players to remember plants and their names.

“The memory game is an attempt to bring trees into the daily vocabulary of both children and adults,” Dutt said. “I’ve played on the concept of learning through repetition to help integrate the knowledge of plants into a game. The players need to make their own gardens by trading and stealing trees and secure their gardens from pests and land sharks.”

All images courtesy Alisha Dutt Islam.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.