Where Do I Begin?

I had been in a steady job for nearly five years. I had settled in and begun making plans for the future: buying a house, getting a new car, travelling. But it all ended quite suddenly. Unexpected circumstances forced me to put in my papers. Staying on was not an option, and I had to figure out what I was going to do next.

I had managed to save some money, so I tried to be positive and view it as an opportunity to figure out what I really wanted to do. I’d had several different jobs over an 18-year career, and only a couple of these had come close to what I really wanted to do. My mind kept wandering back to my childhood carpentry set with the cobalt blue handles. I decided to entertain that thought a little more seriously: Why not take a sabbatical (for six or eight months) and try my hand at some woodworking, instead of looking for another job right away. If not now, then when?

I began looking online for courses or apprenticeships offered by carpentry studios. I hoped to find intensive, hands-on training programs, considering India’s rich history of woodworking. But I couldn’t find anything like that in Bangalore, where I live. There were government institutes like Institute of Wood Science and Technology and Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute, but these seemed to be offering courses that were more vocational in nature and better suited to work opportunities in panel processing, large-scale furniture manufacturing, etc.

I explored design schools like Srishti, which offered woodworking as part of their Product Design course. But going back to college full time, for a course that would take three years to complete wasn’t feasible. I came across an intensive nine-month course offered by the UK-based Chippendale International School of Furniture, but I couldn’t afford it. Besides, I needed to find a training program within Bengaluru, as moving to another city for even a few months was not an option.

I began looking for furniture manufacturing companies that might be willing to take on a trainee, hoping to learn on the job if possible. In the past, I had worked with a social enterprise called Maya Organic, which was involved in designing and manufacturing solid wood furniture. Though I had been in the sales function, I had worked closely with the manufacturing unit for a few months, and I hoped that my experience there might help in some way. While Bengaluru has a fair number of older companies as well as start-ups in the furniture industry, I couldn’t find an entry point. All my prior work experience had been in functions like sales, client servicing, marketing and business development. I had no training in design, interiors, architecture or even art (I had never even sketched before). Nor did I know how to use programs like Autocad, 3D modelling software etc., which were minimum requirements to get an opportunity in the design department of any furniture company. I had no portfolio to show, nor any idea of ‘design thinking’ or processes.

I tried meeting furniture designers who also had a manufacturing set-up, but I saw little or no interest from their side, which was very discouraging. I wanted to do this more than anything and I was willing to start at the bottom. But nothing that I had done in the last 18 years appeared to be of any value in this new domain. It was a real blow to my confidence and enthusiasm. I nearly lost all hope.