Systems made with empathy, love, flowers, and poetry.
From our chaos, let’s create clarity.
We are all a part of this world. We inherited it as it was, with its beauty and its flaws. I like taking little steps every day to make an effort in leaving it a bit better than how we found it.
I am Subalekha, this is a space that I curated to capture the projects that have shaped me and establish what moves me. This world is abundant, and I believe that there is a home for kindness, dignity, and bravery for every one of us in it.
The need for progress and change is deep-rooted in how we measure our life and success as individuals and as a society. Although our ambition has driven us to build bridges and fly to the moon, it also has the power to often turn us into a horse with blinders on, rendering us immune to the plight of others. As we move further and further towards innovation, authentic and wholesome success will need to be founded on genuinely connecting with the condition of the ones who are entirely different from our own selves.«
To understand the problem, first, we must understand how each person perceives the problem. When we approach new challenges with our knowledge of past solutions, we often run the risk of recycling ideas within our own/our particular group’s narrow understanding of the world. As things are always in motion, the new cannot be addressed without shedding the old. When we rotate the kaleidoscope, the light through it offers up a whole another view. Being open to it allows for honest observation and grounded solutions to take root and thrive. «
In a do, do, do economy, it is crucial to understand the power of conserving energy until one is ready. It creates a space to reflect, understand, and go deeper into whatever we wish to create so we may be able to remove obstacles and nourish it with an enhanced understanding. A gardener knows the right time to plant, to water, to trim and to uproot. «
To lead is to be aware of the most arduous task in the perceived lowest rung of the ladder. The fabric of our society is often held together by the threads that are hidden from our daily perimeters. Be it the things we consume or the hands that tend to it, they play a crucial part in helping us grow and continue living the lives we desire and choose to. The foundation that holds us up must be something we understand, and their stories are the ones that remain to be told and repeated. «
Every moment requires presence and silence to truly listen and operate from a place of deep knowing. To access the knowledge we have built over our lifetime, we have the duty to ourselves to hold space for the truth to emerge. When we are drowned with information and sensory overload, it is essential to sharpen the arrow of perception so it can shoot through the chaos and can still reach our target. «
Case Story 1
Connecting the unconnected during moments of dire need
When a disaster strikes and our lives are brought to a pause, I have seen the beauty of our humanity reveal itself. Everyone and their able hands participate in what needs to be done. Goods, transport, homes are all shared. We wish for ourselves and the ones around us to genuinely recover and we support that to the best of our ability. Being a part of the big earthquake in Mexico City in 2017 moved me. What I learned on the ground, I applied to support Project Lantern, which is very dear to my heart.
"The germs of rebirth are at the origin. They are those of our beginning... The tremor shook Mexico, and among the ruins, the true face of our people appeared: did those who are above see it?"
Often times, it is not a lack of resources. It is the destruction of infrastructure that affects the ability for help to reach the people who need it the most. If we can operate with enhanced knowledge and use technology to shed light during the moments of darkness, we will be able to close gaps and reach people who are cut off during such dire moments. To me, Lantern is an example of a project that can genuinely use technological progress to bring about solutions that rely on and capturing human-powered data that can support the path to recovery.
This project gave me the opportunity to spend time with the relief workers at the camp at Parque España in Condesa. The afternoon I spent watching them work and share the resources with the ones most in need is a memory I will treasure. I didn’t speak any Spanish then, so the most I could do was play with the children in the playpen while their parents were engaged in relief efforts. It also gave me the chance to integrate further with the culture of Mexico as I decided to stay there and make the city my home right after the earthquake. The strength that the city found in its most vulnerable moment taught me something quite profound. For these reasons, I am very grateful.
Case Story 2
Ripples with a profound center travel wider.
Games are one of the most ancient ways in which people have related to each other. Play transcends species. The rules of the game and the strategies applied have known to cause rambunctious laughter or meditative reflection. When we play as a group, be it a tug of war or scrabble, we all can see how each of us contribute and take away from the safe space created by the game. I like creating games that help us negotiate how the idea of The Other is deep-rooted in many decisions we make.
"I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are grey,"
This quote hit me in a place that hurt for days. A child being unable to play under the blue skies is an image that is hard to digest. But the flip side of that quote revealed the flaws within the technologies we rely on. As always, the human spirit finds a way to exist and find joy within those gaps. I also learned from a study conducted by Stanford and NYU Law Schools in 2012 that less than 2% who were killed in drone strikes were high-level targets. The game I designed took root in the flawed nature of surveillance technology and the data and the decisions that spawn from it.
Over two years, I have seen the game be played by many different groups of people. I have observed individuals act out their biases, spew out language they would never feel comfortable uttering otherwise and sometimes watch in horror that they too are capable of pulling the trigger. I like creating systems that help one connect to their own human condition, be it anger, protecting against a threat, joy, or desire. By connecting with something deeper within ourselves, we have the opportunity to relate to the same plight in another, and then we can act out of something beyond moral judgment, rules, or the right thing. We can serve out of empathy.
Case Story 3
Sharing tasks during hard times
I like seeing technology as the invisible thread that can connect all of us, and one we can tug at to reach another during times of need. This project, which found its seed in the research of Katie Willmann speaks to that. People who undergo chemotherapy during the treatment of Cancer are usually overwhelmed by everyday responsibilities. Fatigue is something that can’t be avoided during the process, and loved ones are often not quite sure how to help.
The project I worked on, divi, gave me the chance to work with people who were undergoing treatment as well as their families. I was able to see their needs firsthand and understand the social dilemma they face in asking help from friends with everyday duties. I am quite proud of the system I designed, which was entirely driven by human needs, to post and receive support on daily tasks.
This is one of the few projects I hope can still exist in the real world someday. The impact it could have on the social and communal lives of folks struggling with temporary hardship and displacement is exponential. My fingers still remain crossed.
Case Story 4
HIDING BEHIND WORDS.
As a child, I didn’t have dolls, but I had books. They helped me escape into the worlds I couldn’t see or understand. I remember writing poems in broken English when I was quite little, scribbling them onto torn loose sheets of paper that I found lying around. Then I used to hide my innermost thoughts in poetry in my diary as a teenager. Just in case someone got hold of it, I believed that the obscurity of language would protect me.
Now, I write to share the joy I feel towards the souls who have shared their lives and tales with me. The paths I have crossed and the people, their cultures and emotions I have encountered. To honor everything of me, I see in them and everything of them, I see in me.
Today, I have mastered the art of existing without my phone for days but I can't even imagine taking a step without my pen.
A short video by Camile De Gend
Kuppaththu Meenu | Fisherwoman
Drops of water
Burst into a million more
Hitting the dirty
Grabbing the fish
By its cheeks
She scrape off the scales
In a back and forth motion
Opens its mouth wide
With every bursting bubble
It is hungry, so am I
– published in Oberon 2018
To Dust – an excerpt
The night wouldn’t end. Sleep; she welcomed dreams so dark. This is how we were meant to stay; endless nights feeding our day. We left fixing our suits. A few orphaned sequins losing their way hitched a ride on our polished black leather shoes. It was the hour when the police had done their last rounds. It was the hour when the leaves had turned inside out. And it was the hour of the night when Truth ventured out. Our bodies were finally empty. The ego, the hunger, the desire, and the madness were resting – well fed and satiated. We were finally free. We could finally just be. We slipped into our cars and knew where to go. After all, is one ever truly free, we just needed that one last fix for the Night; she asked for it.
We went far. To that place in the city where one doesn’t drive without tightly shutting their windows and securing their doors. It kept the stench and poverty out. The overpass was making music as the late-night tires pressed against it – drunk, steady, fast, and slow. We parked under and ambled towards our society’s contraband. A voice singing from the depth of its soul was seeking refuge amidst the makeshift guitars and a bandoneón. Burning cardboard boxes lit up the soapbox under that overpass. Dogs and a few people had gathered to warm their bodies and spirits in the truth that was Song. A woman with ripped stockings was dancing the tango with her man, who couldn’t any afford shoes. Slow and steady their shadows made love with the fire. Our black suits slipping into the darkness we lurked. Vampires feeding off the blood. Soon the sun will be up, and we will go back to dust.
– an essay inspired by the events in New York and Buenos Aires
Case Story 5
Making legs for an animal that walks the beaches.
It is quite serendipitous how I ended up interning with Theo and his strandbeests. Little did I know that this experience would shape how I see the world and my work ethic for ages to come. My distinct memory is taking a mid-day break to sip tea with his local friends on top of the hill where we worked. It didn't matter how far our work had gotten along, this tea-time was never compromised. Coming from an obsessive work culture in New York, I was initially taken aback by this, but to this day, I ardently follow this humble attitude and try my best to have a balanced view towards all I encounter.
Somedays, I used to spend making around 500 joints for the legs for these beasts of the future, and then I remember the feeling I would have when they would start walking. I believe the Strandbeesten look so real because of the love with which Theo creates and assembles each of them. He breathes life into them. It is another practice I have imbibed. Every little thing I do, I try to do it with love and weave a gentle piece of my breath into it, so that the projects and people I touch can all have a life of its own.
Case Story 6
Speaking with flowers.
I have seen faces light up when I walk down the street with a handful of flowers. Dogs look enchanted by the sight. Kids wish to touch and understand the nature and magic of those fragile beings.
To me, flowers offer an interface to express thoughts, ideas, and emotions that may go unsaid otherwise. I find arranging flowers quite meditative, one can’t demand that a natural poppy bloom in a specific way or carry a particular color. I am at the mercy of nature, and it is quite a pleasure to feel the conflict within me – between the inherent need to tame the thing of the wild and the desire to celebrate its freedom. The result usually is a sonnet that is tied up and short-lived with a smile in a vase.
"With freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?"
Last but quite crucial to my joy, are the moments in my life where I have had the opportunity to teach. From the kids in Montessori to grad students in the university, each one of them has had a meaningful influence on me. Their questions, their ideas, the way their world all are just beautiful pearls in an oyster. I wish the world would always be ready to receive all that beauty, joy, and wisdom.
The time I spent in various environments, form being a teacher to the children in the juvenile jail system and advisor to entrepreneurs leading products that shape our world, I have learned that the lack of clarity, self-worth, trust, and transparency are the biggest deterrents to building a sense of self and confidence within any tribe. It also pushed me to always be aware of the most laborious task in the perceived lowest rung of the ladder and to never shy away from the pillars that we build our roof upon. Teaching allows me to experience the genuine challenges that affect the people I work with. It helps me reflect on the gaps between knowledge, education, wisdom, and understanding in our current society.
"Nature is busy creating absolutely unique individuals, whereas culture has invented a single mold to which all must conform. It is grotesque."
– U. G. Krishnamurti, Mind is a Myth: Disquieting Conversations with the Man Called U.G. 1987.
BOOKS that I OFTEN TURN TO
These works of literature have been my loyal companions during all my travels and have ensured that I see the world with fresh eyes every day.
In the face of adversity, be gentle. Softness and empathy can move mountains.