At just 29 years old, artist raghava kk’s life has been a self-described ‘magic carpet ride’ that has taken him on a journey to the far reaches of the earth and through a prismatic spectrum of emotion. First finding notoriety when he audaciously caricatured his entire faculty of high-school teachers and gave it to the principal, raghava left school at the age of 16 and soon found success as a newspaper cartoonist. But when one of his cartoons, intended to be cheeky commentary on the events of September 11, was angrily received and left him without a job, raghava was forced to go back to the beginning and start from scratch. Over the next few years, he experienced multiple reincarnations, discovering himself as a painter, a sculptor, a son, a father, a teacher, and an ambassador of goodwill. But in the end he realised that he could not be defined by any of these roles. instead, he was simply raghava – and he loved life.
What was your childhood dream?
Well, drawing for me wasn’t so much a childhood dream as it was a childhood obsession. I didn’t really think of making a career out of it and I still don’t really understand what that entails. It was just something that I really took to.
Were your parents an influence on your career?
My mother is a person who has never thought about consequence, but in a positive way. She would do things simply because she thought they needed to be done, and without worrying what she would get out of it. She lives very much in the moment, which can have negative consequences as well, but they are far outweighed by the positive. I’d come home and find random people staying in my room and I’d ask my mum who they were. She would reply: ‘Oh, I found them in a cafe and they were looking for a place to stay and I said, “We have a home”’.
How do you think your mother’s influence has affected your approach to life?
Well, the rest of my family are academics and their approach to life has been very calculated according to their skill sets. I’ve learned from the rest of my family how to go about things scientifically but, from my mother, I’ve learned that you can’t predict the outcome of something. If you can break your fear and bias, it can lead to something far greater than your mind can construct. I try to put myself in situations where I don’t know the outcome of my actions, but I do it with good intentions and with love and hopefully it will pay off.
Why do you think creativity and art form such an important part of a child’s growth?
Firstly, because children explore subjects in such a complex, layered way. For me, abstraction has helped me understand the world a lot better. I think it really opens you up and allows you to understand different realities and the layers and complexities of life. And it’s very exciting when you accept them and take them on as a challenge. I love working with children and I hope from all the attention that I’ve received from my talk at the 2010 TED conference that I can channel that into working more with children. What has been the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome? I think my own knowledge and assumptions of life have bee my greatest challenge. I think deconstructing myself is a very difficult exercise and once I’m able to do that and to clearly go beyond what I know, and what I think, I can become myself again. Just before I was about to give my TED talk, my wife – whom I consider to be my guru – told me some advice. First she said: ‘Don’t talk about what you know, because I’ve known you for ten years and you’ve not changed, but what you know has changed.’ Then she said: ‘Name-dropping won’t help, because these people at TED are the names’. And finally, she told me: ‘What you really need to answer is why you do what you do, because that’s the most honest thing.’ So that’s what I did and I was surprised that it became one of the most top-rated talks of the year. I now realise that I do have a certain attention and notoriety and I need to think about the responsibility of that.
I hope that it’s something I can channel into working with children. I’m trying to go to the Congo to do some work with children there. You have also been on the more negative side of notoriety. What made you not give up in those particularly low times? I’ve never given up. I’ve dealt with a lot of dark stuff in my life and there are certain elements that continue to be dark. But I think that of all the bad stuff that happens, the good stuff far outweighs it. I love life. I just believe that there’s so much that I don’t know. The most democratic thing in the world for me is the availability of knowledge. I can sit with a taxi driver, or anybody, and learn something about life and that excites me to no end. You just have to charm someone enough to allow you entry into their lives.
What has been your greatest achievement?
Two things. One is my family and creating an environment in which I can be creative, be loved and be productive. And then, on a deeper level, I believe that one of the reasons why I’m around is to motivate people. Just as you have doomsayers, I’m like the ambassador of goodwill! I’m not saying that the world is only fun, but I am saying that it’s a beautiful world. I’m currently trying to work on graphic novels that will go and infiltrate the underground darkness and say that it’s a beautiful world. I believe in goodness and that people are inherently good.
Why do you care?
I don’t think I care so much about people and the world as much as I love living in it and inheriting it. I enjoy my life and the interactions and travel that come with it. I don’t think I know what’s best for anybody and I don’t pretend to solve any of the world’s problems. But I just think that my attitude is my language and my direction, and I’ve learned that from people.
What is success to you?
For me, it would be learning how to wake up every morning knowing how to be inspired. It’s so important and if I can learn how to do that, then I think I would consider myself successful. I think a lot of world peace has to do with inner peace.
Where do you find peace in life?
I think peace is dynamic – it’s not a pill you can take. It’s a certain comfort you have with the environment around you, and it changes. As my wife would say, you cannot construct happiness. It’s a state of mind and you need to learn to accept things instead of getting agitated and you will find happiness and peace.
Who inspires you?
A lot of people inspire me in different fields, but the person who I hero worship is my wife. She’s studying to be a teacher and she doesn’t go about trying to change to world, but she genuinely affects every person she meets and every child she teaches. If I could be half as dedicated or sincere and grounded, I would be proud.
What inspires you?
When I meet certain people who bring out the best in me, it makes me a better person. And it makes me go out and do good. But when someone meets me with cynicism and criticism that’s not constructive and they don’t believe in me, it brings out my worst qualities. So I’m very inspired when I meet someone who believes.
Do you believe in a god and, if so, which one?
I love the concept of God. I read Karen Armstrong’s book, The Case for God, recently and I totally support her. We need heroes and heroes need a concept. If I love a certain person, then they are the manifestation of the concept that I love – not a flesh and bones person. So I think of God as that hero who I impose my ideals on, but I don’t believe in any particular god.
What are your words of wisdom?
I think people need to live and learn for themselves, but if I could, I would tell my children not to try to construct the future. Live now and live life with the integrity of the future – make today the future. If you really want something, go get it now.