Dharmalingam Udaya Kumar was booked to fly to Guwahati on Thursday morning. On Friday he was to start his new job as assistant professor in the department of design at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati. He was leaving the IIT Mumbai campus where he spent five years earning a PhD in industrial design—the first doctorate to be awarded in the discipline in India.
The calls started pouring in early Thursday morning. He had won a nationwide contest run by the government to design a symbol for the Indian rupee. A symbol he designed, incorporating elements of Devanagari and Roman scripts, had been chosen to represent India's growing economy and its currency. It would be incorporated in Unicode, computer keyboards will have a dedicated key for the symbol and it will come to be seen and recognised around the world. A designer gets to create a currency symbol just once in a nation'
For a man used to painstaking and solitary pursuit of meaning in symbols, typefaces and ancient Tamil manuscripts, the attention must have been unsettling. He didn't take his flight. In the evening, cars came to haul him off to television studios. He would go to Guwahati the next day.
Born in Chennai on 10 October, 1978, Kumar's family hails from Thanjavur. The magnificent temples there must have had something to do with his decision to study architecture, which he pursued at Anna University in Chennai. Subsequently, he did his masters in architecture from IIT, Mumbai. When the industrial design centre in the campus started offering a PhD, Udaya Kumar enrolled, and started work on the evolution of the Tamil script,which dates back to 2nd century AD.
"I want to continue work on Tamil typography. I find our symbols have a very heavy western influence. I will do more work on Indian scripts," he told ET. For the design, he took inspiration from the symbols of such currencies as Korea's won, UK's pound sterling, euro, lira, peso and others. "Thus it has a harmonious identity as far as international currency symbols are concerned and at the same time it has the Indian uniqueness," he said about his winning design. Among the international currencies, he likes the Yen symbol as it best reflects the country. The 31-year-old bachelor worked as a senior designer for two years with speciality magazine publisher Infomedia.