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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

On the road: creative people are finding new ways to collaborate

Events like the Roadtrip Experience Project, which curates trips for freelancers to work on new projects, are turning out to be great opportunities for those who don’t normally have 9-5 jobs.

more-lifestyle Updated: Apr 11, 2019 14:47 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times
(Poornima Sukumar)

For a long time, Jaytirth Ahya’s father thought he ran a travel company. And who can blame him? Ahya, 27, has been organising trips for four years and has taken participants to destinations as varied and trendy as Spiti, Nagaland and Sri Lanka.

But travel agents don’t ask applicants to fill in a 24-point form to go on a trip that they’ll be paying for. They don’t conduct rounds of interviews to pick who can come along. And they certainly don’t receive over 800 applications from 9 countries for 16 slots, as Ahya did this year.

Ahya could call himself an experience designer, a networking facilitator, a talent curator or a collaboration engineer — all terms born of (and best understood by) India’s start-up generation. But the Bangalore resident prefers to be known as the founder of the Roadtrip Experience Project aka RTX.

The fourth edition was held in November, and took RTX international for the first time, with a 13-day road trip across Vietnam.

As he does each year, Ahya got a set of creative people from diverse fields together, to plan collaborative projects en route. Filmmakers shot with acoustic musicians, photographers and poets joined forces, muralists worked with light designers. Think of it as an elite networking opportunity for people who abhor the term.

						On the last edition of the RoadTrip Experience Project,
						participants went to Vietnam and learned to work with each other
						and local artisans like this batik designer (left).
On the last edition of the RoadTrip Experience Project, participants went to Vietnam and learned to work with each other and local artisans like this batik designer (left). ( Ruchi Shah )

Better united

“I realised four years ago that India’s creative scene was starting to grow, but meeting spaces were stuck in the 1990s,” Ahya says. “People needed new conversation avenues that were built on trust. RTX is not just about meeting new people, it’s about collaborating with them and local communities.”

For Vietnam, the team ranged from a 24-year-old poet to a 48-year-old French photographer from Bangalore. Participants signed up for reasons just as diverse. For Ruchi Shah, a 35-year-old design strategist from Mumbai, it was a way of leaving her secure, solo-career cocoon to “see how other people were doing what they were doing”. RTX’s locations are a big draw too. “They do trips in developing regions; it’s not some posh trip to Paris,” Ruchi says.

For Ankita Shah, 24, a poet who set up and runs a collective called The Poetry Club, the trigger was an evening of boredom. “Meeting artists on a journey sounded exciting,” she says. “I was up till 3 am, filling up that 24-point questionnaire.”

One of the questions is: What is your dream project? How you answer is key. “I’m not picking 16 people but 16 energies,” Ahya says. “When you read 800 dream projects, it’s inspiring and motivating. Some people’s dreams are so simple, you just need to find the right people to get them to make it happen. Collaboration fills those gaps and adds value to all the lives involved.”

#Makers gonna make

For an emerging group of creative freelancers in India, short-term gigs trump the tedium of doing the same thing month after month. And the chance to experiment is more attractive than a steady paycheque.

In such an environment, collaboration is not just desirable, it’s essential, says Sanket Avalani, an early adopter of collaboration as a driver of entrepreneurship.

His company, Design Fabric, creates gifs and stickers for Snapchat and launched TaxiFabric, a project where graphic designers showcased their work as the interiors of Mumbai taxis — an exercise that eventually grew into a studio practice and a publication. “Things have changed in the last decade,” he says. “The need to collaborate is now global. Whoever is up for understanding its value and hustle for it, is the one who benefits. What creative people today are most concerned about is missing the boat.”

						This year’s RTX batch of 16 (plus the organisers) went on a
						roadtrip across Vietnam and worked on five projects along the way.
This year’s RTX batch of 16 (plus the organisers) went on a roadtrip across Vietnam and worked on five projects along the way. ( Ruchi Shah )

They’re also looking to learn from experience not instruction. “The trip taught me that everyone has the same anxieties; that they may be big on Instagram, but go through the same hustle,” says Ruchi. “I learned to put my ego aside and learn from everyone, regardless of age. I’m pretty possessive of my paintbrushes but one photographer, 10 years younger, was happily letting everyone try out his drone camera. It gave me a lesson in opening up and letting go.”

Joint efforts

On the RTX trip, there were rides along the coast in open Jeeps, sharing-of-feeling sessions, and enough experiences to hashtag #YOLO #IMadeThis and #MakersGonnaMake on social media.

Ankita worked on a travel-themed poem that was set to music by two team members and one local and recorded in a studio. “Seeing how a song is created was a new experience for me,” she says. She also worked alongside a photographer to create text for a visual series about working women. “Poets rarely collaborate across disciplines,” she says. “The trip offered a lot of scope to look at another practice.”

She describes the team as good people, kind, helpful and open minded. But it wasn’t always happy camping. Full-time office drones will tell you that getting 16 strangers to work on 5 projects over 13 days is foolhardy. At RTX, participants also had to grapple with new locations every few days.

It became, ultimately, a lesson in managing expectations – not every dream came true. “We started off with everyone wanting to be the star – my style, my idea, my plan. But you learn to adjust,” says Ruchi.

Meanwhile, Ahya has a new plan, The Beachhouse Project, a conversation and collaboration space for those in the film, fashion, food, art, architecture, comedy to take their business to next level. And his father has finally begun to understand what’s going on.