You might know Rajiv Surendra from his acting work – he played Kevin G in Mean Girls – but I know him as the king of simple pleasures. Bookbinding, sink cleaning, cooking dal, and polishing silver: Surendra knows there is joy to be found in even the most self-contained of tasks and proves it through his content creation.
Along with AD Open Door tours, his undeniably quaint YouTube channel is one of my go-to comfort watches, a salve for the otherwise fast-paced, amorphous and compulsive digital realm. I was and wasn't surprised to hear that when it comes to his own approach to the online world, Surendra is noticeably untethered. In an ideal world, he wouldn't even own a phone.
For someone with a healthy amount of distaste for the online world, Surendra seems to have an innate sense of what makes great video content – much of which focuses squarely on what he calls "quiet, manual tasks".
On his own YouTube channel and in collaboration with home design brands such as HGTV, the softly spoken Canadian delights in small acts of domesticity, to greatly calming effect. The tutorials often offer practical life skills: winterising a bed, seasoning a cast iron skillet, setting a table or being a good host. Other videos are more craft oriented, offering beginners tutorials on paper marbling, the basics of chalk art (he's an in-demand calligrapher), or how to revive old wicker. Mostly filmed in his own home, this is cottagecore, but the cottage is a small, considered Manhattan apartment.
Surendra will bring this practical focus and passion to the stage at Semi Permanent Aotearoa in November, hosting a tutorial on navigating and maintaining a life and career in the arts and also delivering a keynote speech about how through learning to paint with watercolors, he's learnt to look not just at the world around him, but at life itself. As you'll see below, that gaze is focused on real life, not online.
What’s your earliest internet memory?
Looking up Xena Warrior Princess in the school computer room. It’s a very vivid memory!
What sites do you visit regularly/daily?
Accuweather, YouTube...I don’t spend a lot of time on my phone or computer.
The last story/link/meme/post you shared?
I shared an Instagram story from my watercolour class last night.
How many group chats are you in?
Have you ever had a blog?
Yes, on my calligraphy website, lettersinink.com It’s more of a visual blog and portfolio of the jobs I’ve done over the years.
Social media gets a lot of bad press. What do you love about it? What do you dislike?
I love that it’s an effective way to advertise and share messages with a large audience without a filter or middleman. I dislike that it is addictive to many people.
A lot of your content shows the joy found in analogue tasks - what sparked your appreciation of these small but creative tasks? Was your exploration of this a conscious rejection of our increasingly digital world?
I’ve always felt like I belonged in another century. I’m drawn to quiet, manual tasks because I feel rewarded by the time I’ve spent focusing and working on a project. My interest in these tactile activities are not a rejection of anything, they’re the opposite, they are the embracing of the thing I find joy in… working with my hands.
What’s your approach to Instagram?
Ten minutes a day, a visual journal of sorts.
Are you on TikTok? What’s on your FYP?
I just joined TikTok but am discovering that it’s a format that might take some time to get used to!
Who is the person that follows you that you’re most excited about?
My good friend Laura Fetterley. She and I share Instagram posts to inspire and educate each other.
Have you ever made/ been a meme or had a proud viral moment?
Are you interested in the Metaverse? Why? Why not?
I don’t know what the Metaverse is.
How do you feel about AI and ChatGPT?
I don’t know… I don’t really know what that is, and really don’t care enough to even investigate.
What is your phone?
I have an iPhone but I don’t know what make or model it is. To be completely transparent, I wish I didn’t have to have a phone. I’ll know I’ve made it ‘big’ when I can actually throw my phone into the garbage (where it belongs) and have a personal assistant who relays messages to me.
Rajiv Surendra will speak at Semi Permanent Aotearoa, the festival of creativity and design that returns to Wellington from Wednesday November 8 until Friday November 10. Buy tickets here.