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.


75 thoughts on “Symbolically speaking

  1. Awesome boss! What is with pictorial representations in all posts? Is it the ‘in’ thing right now?!
    Ashok: Well. What ever strikes my fancy, really. Perhaps I might stop doing pictures after a while

  2. yendless yentertainment and yamyoozment. teng u muchly. as it is, I have a very bad habit of staying up late for absoulutely no particular reason, this is just going to add to the sheer thrill & misery of it all. rock on.

  3. ok Im confused here… Were you trying to diss indian-ness or simply represent facts? Was that sarcasm, with plenty of humor? Either ways, i got my laughs…

  4. Good One,

    Extrapolated the same idea to the indian traffic signs even they dont seem to represent the indianess. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Tsk …tsk… such sarcasm against your fellow countrypersons KA?!

    Those ‘symbols’ are supposed to depict what we should do, not what we should’nt na? Why would we want to wash dirty linen in public? That much intelligence you can credit our folks with!! Even if we don’t know how many people an elevator can take or how to drink water or throw litter in a bin.:)

    Btw, while on the note of homogenizing, notice how the ‘human figures’ seem, usually, male. This is one stereoyping I’m not complaining about. Heh. Heh.

  6. I love the way you keep sutthufying ooru and then keep vuttufying peter, and generally having gajabuja fun. Great post, as usual.

  7. LOL that was a good laugh Kkkrish!

    and please dont’ stop the pictures…that ‘adds value’ to your posts. can’t imagine one without the other.

    someday pls to put a photoshop tutorial.

  8. You have officially become my computer geek guru – one whom I officially “kow-tow” too. You are one of THOSE I wish I was! – brilliantly talented and bend-over-laughing-until-I-can’t-get-up hilarious ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. That was perhaps taking the figurative representations to the next level I thought…water drops from the tap…Impressive

    or perhaps what Vivek said may have worked better for humours sake – ” Kozhai Thirandha Kaathu thaan Varuthu…”

  10. Ayyo!! Pl. don’t stop doing the picture posts! The kid enjoys them. And desi edutainment is so hard to come by on the Net.

  11. PS. My favourite image is the Indian lift symbol – LURVED it, especially the guy crammed in over the other guys’ heads against the ceiling. Brilliant! ๐Ÿ˜€

  12. wow.. another master piece, the lift one is pure ROFLMAO… ๐Ÿ™‚

    how about modifying the taxi symbol []
    to auto symbol…

    Link to pic
    Ashok: nice ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. boss kindly be doing part 2. there are way more signs to be made fun off.
    Ashok: No part 2s. One topic, once only focusing. Technical term – Continuous Partial Attention

  14. ashok…how do you manage to get time to do all this..Which tool do u use to draw these pics..
    Ashok: Well. I personally buy time in Burma bazaar. I hear it’s quite a bargain there ๐Ÿ™‚ As for tool, I use Photoshop, but any decent image editor, like GIMP, Paintshop Pro or even Paint.NET should do

  15. We are thanking you for great contribution to the science of mass communication. Your desire for accuracy, esp. in customs officer signage, is most commendable.
    We are making one suggestion. The Indian sign for toilet should be nose pinched with finger and thumb. Ladies toilet – nose ring. Gentleman’s toilet – hair in nostril.
    We are recommending you for “Signage Ratna” award.

  16. In Chennai it would be more appropriate to have the Water minus the drop(lets). How about considering the Pedestrian Crossing ? Or the Bus ( with people dangling from the sides)

    Nice one. Liked the “Lifts” the best.

  17. When I sit and imagine stuf about perfectly ‘normal’ evryday stuff, people around me find it ‘insane’.But when I open, I am assured that is perfectly sane to be’insane’, even if Im a 20 yr old.(grr..hate that).
    In short, here is one person who can transmit the Weirdass Imaginations onto paper or into words n make people smile even when they think about it,a week later.
    Reading your blog since summer & evry one is jsut as reassuring.Except for the Tamil words with I try to decipher with my knowledge of Kannada.
    Hail thy imagination power.And plzzz plzz dont cut out visuals.People like us feed on them.

  18. 1. Where exactly at Burma Bazaar? ๐Ÿ˜€
    2. Write a book.
    3. That 2m distance symbol in the litter pic killed me. ๐Ÿ˜€

  19. เฎตเฎฃเฎ•เฏเฎ•เฎฎเฏ เฎคเฎฒเฏˆเฎตเฎพ.
    You should include a rating star widget under your posts so that people like me (who can’t come up with humorous comments) can just click ‘5 stars’ (or whichever is the largest number) and await the next great post.

  20. …+…Indian icons can’t be [oh so boring, unfriendly and corporety] BLACK, can they?
    I feel they should be deep orangishred, treegrass green or Radjastani pink.

  21. I chanced upon your site from a google search. This is the best blog I have ever chanced upon. Wondeful work.

    Pattai kelappu da mama…..

  22. Inimelu onnoda poshtu padikkaradhukku munnadi bathroomu vishitu condition-aa pannidanum.. (i.e. won’t make the mistake of reading this with a full tank)

    Yappa thangalaippa onnoda lollu ๐Ÿ˜€

  23. Hilarious! There is one sign you missed.

    Universal symbol: Thick red circle with diagonal line across it, meaning “no entry”

    Indian symbol: Thick red circle with diagonal line across it, with text at bottom “except for your vehicle”

  24. Fun-tas-tic !!! Superlative !!! Need to collect all ur blogs into a book – I will do it for $5000 a month !! ( Plus medical insurance, vacations, day off on Bird-race day, etc )

  25. Krishna

    Excellent write up. Very genuine thoughts and you are appropriate in every picture. Please do not stop that picture work, I saw you saying that in another comment. Please continue. Excellent job

  26. I just happened to visit your site, should say your work is really humorous, creative and great. Keep it going.

    So just kept reading all your older posts. Loved your Litter and Fire extinguisher symbols.

  27. Hey where do you get these ideas from???? I am blown away by by your imagination.
    Creativity at its best……work of a sheer genius. I hope you continue to blow our minds…and make us burst out laughing with your creativity….:)

  28. I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this site. I am hoping to see the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own site now ๐Ÿ˜‰

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