Symbolically speaking

When I was a kid, I always wondered what the “Tropicalized” symbol meant on the small Philips cassette player we used to have. My dad explained that it was to indicate that the player was specially designed to withstand tropical conditions. And it made sense. Clearly, from the perspective of the cassette player or any electronic good for that matter, India must feel like the epitome of hell, what with dust storms, water vapour fogs, demoniacal insects and very undutchlike temperatures. But what interests me now is the symbol itself.


The insect and cloud captured the very essence of the word “tropical”. Perhaps a chilly might have sealed things, but I’m not complaining.

But now, after having traveled around the world a little bit more, I’m piqued by how un-Indian international airport symbols really are. Especially the ones designed by AIGA. It is simply yet another case of Americans designing homogenous standards for a heterogenous world.

Take the standard symbol for “Customs”


If that looks like an Indian customs officer to you, you must be from Betelgeuse V and you must be named Ford Ikon. In my opinion, Indian customs officers are best represented by


Although, nowadays, Euros are preferred over dollars.

Now let’s look at the symbol for “Elevator”


Now that’s plain disinformation. To insinuate that Indian elevators will waste precious space (and therefore energy) by just accommodating 3 people is scandalous. Here is what I propose:


And what about the ridiculously inaccurate symbol for “Water”?


Seriously. I am reasonably sure that Indians do not drink water by pressing buttons and letting a random fountain of water wet their faces, shirts and the floor. Our style is more like this:


Perhaps not quite hygienic because us desis will often make labial contact with taps after tucking in Poondu Rasam and Netthili fry. But still, practical, elegant and effective, and ensures 100% transfer of water from tap to mouth.

And what about the symbol for “Fire extinguisher”


Ok. It’s not that bad. I do see a few like that once in a while here, but I would have ideally preferred:


The international symbol for “Litter” is also rather confusing to me.


I mean. They really do mean this, don’t they?


And finally, the symbol for “Restaurant”.


I am sorry. The average Miltry hotel, Kake da Dhaba and Vada Pav stall do not serve food that is designed to be eaten with the gardening implements shown above. But if foreigners do insist on trying to eat Laccha Paratha with knife and fork, I’m ok with that, but not before I propose a slight change to this symbol.