Posted by: Anu | February 15, 2014

Another Year….

No matter how much one may love to travel, they still like to come back home….

Again and again every day I fall in love with this city just the same! It is exciting to go away and so so assuring to return…. that I could go to places just for that feeling of coming back!

There are stray evenings when I just walk alone by the side of flowing traffic…. watching intricate tree canopies turning dark against gold and purple sky….. Air is so warm and crisp with just a hint of winter fading away into spring…..And it is scented with profuse mango blossoms when slight breeze rustles through….

On weekends when I drive out, my loved hills are flaunting deep pinks of bombax and fiery reds of erythrina…. How could one doubt why the flowers are named after slow burning flames….like a devoted offering to some unknown deity of trees!

Since  who knows when, I have been measuring years in these blossoms…. and wonder every time I watch them, all wide eyed in amazement, has another year really passed me by?! Is it already time for another blossom?!

So much changed in the mean time….. Something gained and something lost…. and some things that never never change!

The city is still flowing by….absolutely undisturbed by my thoughts of aging!

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Posted by: Anu | February 3, 2014

Mud Getaway….

I was driving and driving for a long time. The road had led me out of the main town long ago, and slowly it turned into a dirt road just enough for a field tractor to pass….

There aren’t any intersections and traffic lights on such roads…. in fact there is hardly any traffic that is not a stray motorbike, cattle or actual field tractors!

Settlements too tiny to be called a village pass by….. They are a typical scene…. A huge peepal or neem tree with sometimes a built “par” around….. A school or Grampanchayt building, few flex posters showing enlarged faces of local political leaders, a leaky community-tap…. kids playing….chickens pecking through mud….

And then the scene swiftly moves back…. leaving the roadsides lonely and barren…. Barren if you forget to notice golden rustling bands of grass that run along the road…. And lonely if you do not count solitary “bor” or “babhool” standing unashamedly green by your side in the scorching heat of summer!!

These country-scapes are part of my childhood since my scooter excursions with baba….. Maybe that is why I am never worried of country dirt roads… somehow their dusty scent is familiar.

By the time I reach that familiar tall cluster of bamboo, waving a cheery welcome, the city-stench from my body and mind is washed away…. A solitary dog lets out a low bark when I touch the fake-locked gate. I know at once that this has to be some new guest dog, unfamiliar to my scent.

Every time I open that fake-locked gate, I think of my first visit to this strange place….

Almost a year ago, when just like now, winter was warming up into early spring; I had stood at the same gate….. Eager and little scared. No, not scared of all the imposing number of dogs waiting to sniff me, but scared of facing two unknown humans beyond that gate!

I had pushed the gate open then… and walked in. I remember a huge dark Rottweiler running towards me and somehow in a minute I was sitting on sun baked, hot ground, while the so-called ferocious dog was scrambling to sit in my lap, which was far too small for her liking!! Dolly had monopolized me in a minute and I forgot to be scared of her. It just slipped my mind, when she looked up…. her dark, warm eyes held me with that absolute innocence, asking for nothing but love…..

Of course there were other contenders waiting to take a sniff at me…. an exceptionally sassy looking husky, Rimmy, took charge of another side of my lap, with her long silvery bottle brush tail whacking the rest of me! A tiny black pug ambled past these two large dogs, sniffing my toes quite authoritatively. Punch is an old pug… But never judge a weapon by its size…. Or age…. She is a tough granny that even big dogs bow to!!

Only after getting through this fuzzy, drooly introduction session, I was allowed to finally talk to the two humans who watched me with silent speculation in their otherwise friendly eyes…..

To them, I was probably, someone who belonged to the selfish, desensitized city culture that they had deliberately left behind…..

But for me their dogs were enough an introduction of what they were…..

“Creating a bond of friendship between a dog and his human” is what they are experts at. Training the humans to befriend their dogs is their job…. It gets them their bread, butter, books and yea…. Very very enviable life on a dog farm!!

Their own trained pack of dogs is a model example of how dogs should behave…. This dog team consisting of Dolly, Rimmy, Stone and punch also plays a pivotal part in training the newcomers, dogs and humans alike!

Though the place is called a Dog Training Center, is in fact a Dog-owners training center advocating secretly between its lines that “a dog simply responds to what a person really is”. It gets excited and agitated if the approaching person is of that temperament….

Meh, that explained why their dogs acted like demented puppies at my approach….

With time I figured out that I had more in common with these humans than just love for dogs….. We also loved food, dogs, music, dogs, coffee, dogs, books, dogs, earth construction, dogs and more dogs!

Had the outdoors been any less adventurous and playful, I would have gladly taken refuge to their little books corner that holds a bizarre collection on earth construction, ecology, bamboo and of course dogs!

Another corner of the Dog farm is a little nursery of bamboo saplings that holds a wide variety of this intriguingly useful grass. I did start remembering the names and identification of each species and slowly ran out of my excuse of memory….. It was rather easier to shut up and help with repotting those eager-to-grow baby bamboos.

Their log cabin house, built by hand, had been to me like what wonderland must have been to Alice! I had touched and felt every surface of earth floor and daubed walls…while trying to hide my pleasure and excitement as hopelessly as possible. They would eventually anyway know that I am weird enough to be pleased at the touch of mud…..

The backyard is overflowing with what normally people would call junk. But to an expert’s eye, it contains a remedy of every carpentry, construction or hardware emergency! It provides an excellent space for keeping our experimental earth blocks for curing, saplings that need to get seasoned and acclimatized…and such stuff of prime importance….
When I am being most useless, it is still fun to amble around after everyone, acting just like a crazed pup, listening to crazier stories and laughing at absolute nothing in specific!

But this is only a feeler of another muddy episode in my life….. Now with repeated visits and endless weekends behind us…. The dog farm has become my secret getaway….. The log house feels no more like a wonderland…. It feels like a friendly place…. Its soft paper lanterns twinkling at me…. So warm…. So assuring….
The dogs do not act crazed anymore…. Most of them hardly raise their chin up to give me, “oh, it’s just you after all” look before sinking into snores…..

After a day spent in mud for one reason or another, we walk the dogs… I get to walk the most behaved and peaceful ones, while the skilled humans take charge of bullies and guest dogs.
When the air is all gold and red with sunset…. We all sit out with our coffee mugs….. Dolly and Rimmy softly settle themselves on our toes. Their warm fur feels soothing while winter air turns bitingly cold with sundown….

Punch, the pug wobbles into someone’s lap and resumes snoring….

A resident pair of wild lizards slithers out from the crevices in log cabin wall, scurrying over the garden net stretched over bamboo nursery. It is time for them to feed their scaly reptilian stomachs with a buffet of insects attracted by our paper lanterns.
I do not remember when or why, but we have christened the lizards as Jodha and Akbar, after the famous historic mughal royalty! They are our neighbors and not to be feared unless someone accidentally attempts to sit on them…..

It is so hard to get up from there and drive back into the blinding city lights….. so hard to jump back into the ruthless, senseless race of rats after spending a day with warm hearted dogs and real humans….. so hard to live through another week of phone calls, presentations, deadlines, paperwork, grocery bills, petrol fills, traffic lights and endless honking that contaminates my bloodstream all over again….. Until I hit the dusty roads for another weekend…..

I am expecting, someday I will have enough of this urban contamination and probably find a way to never return to the city ever again….

Posted by: Anu | January 13, 2014

The ATM boy…

It was late winter night, one of the chilliest in otherwise delightful Pune climate. Streets were empty and there was mild fog that took a yellow tinge of streetlights…..

I had worked till late and was heading home, when I realized my bike was low on petrol. I turned to the nearest filling station and like every time, I was the last customer to slip through, before the barricades were moved out with a closed sign.

The attendant asked for cash because card swipe machines had been closed for the night. I had no cash in my purse. The attendant agreed to wait till I could take some cash out from an ATM in the same premise.

It was late, cold and I was in too much rush. I fumbled to shove my card into the machines throat that choked again and again, rejecting my card. From the corner of my eye, I saw him get up from a chair, meant for ATM security personnel. Quietly he took my card and somehow machine accepted it from him! He was back to his chair before I could take the cash out and turn to thank him.

But I turned and stopped at the sight of bizarre scene. The lanky and tall boy looked much younger, pouring over a heavy stack of notes, quite unaware of my presence in the same ATM cabin. I tried to take a peek but could not make out what he was reading.

I asked him, “What is it that you are reading?”

He looked up with the same serene swiftness that he had dealt the ATM machine with, “study notes”

An ATM security guard, studying on duty in the middle of the night…?

“what is it that you are studying for?”

“UPSC exam”

(It is a very very tough exam that selects government officials in India. Those who get through UPSC are appointed on crucial governance posts)

The boy had come from a remote drought prone village. He spent his day in tuitions and study circles and worked at night as ATM security guard. The night job gave him accommodation in ATM cabin and a monthly paycheck….

I did have so many more questions to ask, about his family and why he wanted to do all this in the first place…..But I managed to remember that the petrol station attendant was waiting for me, I should rush out to pay him….

I wished luck to the strange boy and he replied in well-practiced English. My tired, irritated mood had suddenly moved into such warm glowing elation!

Every time I think of him, I wish, he would become a smart, strict officer very soon. He would take decisions that will improve a million lives and stop wrong practices, bribes and corruption…..

Every time at the office, we work on designs of institutional campuses I think of that boy…. I want to build facilities for him…. I want to watch him studying in well-lit, warm classrooms and dormitories….not in a shabby, cold ATM cabin…. not anymore.

 

Posted by: Anu | December 3, 2013

Jumping into Earth Architecture…..

In the course of evolution, it is curious how life learned the sense of space, to know a cozy and safe space apart from being exposed. With time more advanced life forms learned not just “sense” space but to modify it, to “create” a shelter.

From nest weaving avian to hut making Stone Age man, the action of “building” had already been seeded within, long before its verbalization, into “architecture”.

Every human instinctively knows how to build the best shelter for himself, just as he knows to love the earth as his first and foremost shelter. When the artificiality of civilization and culture, modernity and lifestyle is striped off, there lies the true human spirit capable of “creating” spaces, capable of taking an undefined expanse of space and defining it into an identity, an experience….a flavor of its own kind, unrepeatable and unique.

It is necessary to strip down every aspect of thought and action to that purity if one wishes to discover the truth behind all. All great thinkers of the world have struggled to cut away the frills and loads of unnecessary ornamentation in their own field of expertise. Through many streams and professions they have sought and some of them have reached the same truth.

Pursuit of one of the most fundamental instincts such as sense of space is a straight path to the same goal. That pursuit of sense of space is what I would call architecture in its most fundamentally honest form. Architecture is not just an end to be achieved but a mean to a greater and better consciousness.

The earth is the first definition of space man has known and has founded his cultures and creations ever since.  Architecture naturally rises from that very earth underneath. No piece of architecture can disregard its roots within the soil. Every material that we take and mould spaces within has born from the earth and must return to the same.

The famous term, “Earth Architecture” hence contains a redundant first word, although made necessary by our ability to forget the whole point of every great conception. Conventionally “earth architecture” now means the branch of architecture than accepts and conscientiously responds to its origin in earth.

Practicing earth architecture is simple and most challenging at once, simply because it has no set rules, no guidelines, and no exact instructions to follow. It is not lack of scientific approach but the very natural demand of this path to trust none except instincts, which by the means of education we have deliberately wiped.

One needs to start some point, and may do so by taking a hint from all forms and expressions of vernacular architecture, because it reflects the act of building as man had known in his crudest, unaltered state of being. But simply going reverse in time and technology never solves the problem. History is not for repetitions but for learning from.

With all the study material that may be obtained from the vernacular architecture, we are at a point where we must think afresh, not just the way we build, but the way we consider our resources, deploy and replenish them… It is impossible to think of it in a closed air conditioned room. One must actually build by hand, experiment and create in order to learn to create well. I understand that it is a long way and I’m sure to get lost by the time I find my way. But that is what I intend to achieve in the end, to get lost in the pursuit. This is what architecture means to me. And I know that nobody can “teach” that to me, although, I am hungry to find those who would help me to learn or at least equip me to learn better by myself. Owing to the crippling effect of being educated, I find myself clueless about how to jump into the unknown….and scared too.

Posted by: Anu | May 16, 2013

The Grampari Affair Part I

I never wanted to get involved in this Grampari affair…. I had decided with full affirmation, to stop chasing the butterflies and take up a job in an architecture office, straight from morning ten to six in the evening, every day of the year….

***

I knew Renie since the Ecological Society Course. He worked somewhere in Panchgani. I got a chance to wander around with this geologist friend, while carrying out ecological surveys for Oikos. That is when I started inquiring more about his actual work.

He was working on Spring shed management project at Grampari, MRA in Panchgani. Of course this made no sense to me. So it was inevitable that, after resigning from Oikos, I should grab a bus straight to panchgani to visit this project.

It was absolutely casual visit. I anyway did not want to get involved with this Grampari affair….

The campus was abuzz with International Women’s Day event. Women Sarpanch and men assistant surpanch (Now, that’s exciting, isn’t it?!) had gathered there. Women’s participation in village administration has not improved merely by providing them reserved designations in Panchayat system. But here at Grampari these women public representatives got a chance to know the intricate laws, discuss their rights and responsibilities with legal experts and experienced social workers. With such exposure, I noticed, they were much more assertive and confident in their bearing.

Renie got me introduced to everyone at Grampari. I was already admiring ever smiling Jayashree Aunty, Dr Jared and Soumya. Who knew they were directors of Grampari?!

Some unknown people from another corner of the world come and stay in a village, helping my people to know, understand and conserve our environment, health and sanitation… that was invoking natural curiosity in my mind…

All sorts of crazy questions were shooting out, unrestrained by my usually recluse nature. In conclusion, that absolutely normal day ended with Jared offering me a job with Grampari. I was hastily nodding in agreement while refusing verbally!

Next week I was in panchgani to see the spring shed project being executed in the neighboring village of Godavli. (We’ll write another post on it!) There was no harm in just visiting…

I was anyway not getting involved in this Grampari affair!

We decided my work hours, time schedule and other such details that day. In next week I had signed a short term contract with Grampari. It is a two month contract with a clever clause of extension possible at the end of the term! I am going to refuse…

I am NOT going get involved in this Grampari affair!

This is how I started working from home. Helping with the documentation of Spring shed Protection Program is my primary task. With the help of ample visuals, sketches and drawings we are making a spring shed management handbook to be used in the Western Ghats or comparable ecosystems. Naturally, first I had to become watershed-literate!

That is how my Pune-Panchgani trips started. Now MSRTC is my second home. I know almost every conductor on Pune-Mahabaleshwar semi luxury bus route! Besides, I can write another whole post about my crazy co-passengers!

Every time I get down from the bus, I take a deep breath….. Inhaling entire Western Ghats, the forest, every eagle hovering over the valley, every stepped rice field and the wild crazy wind…

And I know, that it makes no sense hence forth to not get involved in this affair….

It is impossible to not smile when I walk up to the MRA campus. As if some chirpy, mad bird possesses me! I never know if I walk or fly up there!

Then follow endless discussions, work reviews, planning what to sketch next….  Sometimes we go off on a site inspection all day long. Although, calling it an inspection is nowhere near the actual experience! I carry cement bags on my head, dig with a pickaxe along with Jared and his assistant, “Ashok bhau”. Carrying batches of freshly mixed concrete, cleaning old stone built water tanks are as much part of my job description as sketching by the lily pond or providing a running translation between my boss and the villagers.

On another day I translated to and from English so much that by the end of the day I was speaking native Marathi with the boss and English with the villagers.  The whole village laughed at me… and then Tukaram Aba, one of the village elders called for a tea break!

***

Food and boarding facilities are excellent at MRA, so much that at times I find myself too pampered. Not having to cook is another bonus for me! Meal times are very special proceedings here. Initially I was too baffled to dine with so many strangers. Where to sit? What to eat? Who to talk with?

Basically understanding this institution and explaining it in a single blog post is impossible for me! But slowly the mealtimes became my greatest learning sessions. Strangers are not scary; they are just an unexplored opportunity to learn! I eat at a different table every day. Sometimes I dine with the interns who work at MRA, sometimes it is my bosses, MRA officials, guests, well-wishers, resident staff or volunteers….. a multicolor collage of people from across the world… people with different expertise, different backgrounds, different motivations…. All so different!

I started firing everyone with my endless questions. I remember once, the secretary of MRA sat with me, answering my rapid-fire, while his plate almost dried out. (Maybe that is why he avoided my table since then!)

With hundred or so dining at every mealtime, imagine the number of plates and cutlery to be washed! Hence, everyday one department of MRA helps in wash-up. I started to groove into this tradition of washing plates with songs and laughter as accompaniments! As a kid I always dreamed of washing dishes when I grew up…or at least grew up enough to reach over the sink! Who thought childhood aspirations could come true in such way!

Yona, one of the African interns hugged me for helping the interns with their wash up, on a specifically rush day… After a baffled moment, I too decided to wrap my soap sodden arms around her!

One of the cloudy evenings I have spent with this girl, who filled up the glass faced meditation center with her honeyed voice, singing some unknown chants…. It is impossible that God would miss her clear bell like song flowing into the valley…..

***

There is much more to share about this Grampari affair, maybe with pictures next time!

Posted by: Anu | May 15, 2013

Man, Woman and Love…

About the same old topic…. Topic that mankind has been thinking about since its birth…. Love, man and woman, their mutual coexistence…. And everything else that follows…
For centuries people have thought, written, played and sung about this thing called love…. And yet it remains out of grasp….

The moment there is duality, there has to be strong attraction and repulsion inherent in the system….. Man and woman, being such complicated halves of one whole self that their coexistence would be, without any doubt, a mystery like no other… attraction to become one complete presence and repulsion to retain the individual presences.

They say a man and woman cannot be friends, there enters love to spoil it all….. But is that not ridiculous thing to expect?! There are two contradictions in this one single statement….. One, why is friendship not valued as love? Two, man and woman are dual poles of the same humanity, they are bound to love each other…. Why does that have to spoil anything?

But this is all theoretical discussion of course, inside we all know that here, love refers to a very sexual, reproduction intending, and instinctive animal desire, which is only one tiny aspect of a huge big complex idea of love.

This is like the story of an elephant and the blind men….. We all encounter very unique aspect of that one big huge love and assume it to be the one and only love. Generally speaking, owing to the natural tendencies, men and women see almost opposite aspects of love…. They “expect” accordingly different responses from each other… but actually none of them is right about love. Love is all about overcoming that inherent miscommunication. Love is about learning the whole concept of what really the elephant is!

Woman sees love in every relation… she finds the very imagination of it so very satisfying that she hardly cares to check the reality, which may not be as rosy as she thinks… Of course here I refer to woman as gender expressed in any form. Man does not see love like she does, at least not naturally. For him, it is a sport, a conquest…. There is possession and power involved…. And there is sexual aspect of love so very dominant…..

But it would be unjust to denounce men to the level of an animal. Time and again, men have shown courage and vulnerability of crossing their inbuilt idea of love. They have evolved in so many invisible ways. Maybe it was living in thousands of years of family structure that has started to change men….

They are becoming sensitive like a woman is…. They are starting to feel the other aspects of love…. For a long time human psychology has believed children to be woman’s natural responsibility, that men have no instinctive parental feeling. But years and years of fatherhood seems to have rubbed off on them! Observe closely, there are so many men around us who feel complete with fatherhood. They want it; crave it as much as woman craves motherhood. This was not how nature made them. They picked it up with time….  Man became father…..

Of course, slow as they are by nature, they have taken long time learning it… and still seem to fight with the change more often than they should! This is a good change, guys…. It is okay to be vulnerable to women just as she is vulnerable to you… We are growing up together…see?!

We are not going to have wars anymore, fights anymore, if men learn to be vulnerable, to love… as a father…. Yes, they need not become a copy of motherhood! It will be as sick and shallow as women competing men in fights and smoke….!

And woman is changing too along his side. Woman, who was tied down in centuries of pregnancy, is now free… free to learn, to create, to express herself in ways other than raising children…. She’s learning about the world as men built it for years…. She is raising questions, making changes, taking her part in reshaping the world….

A very beautiful future is ahead of us, though only as one of the many possibilities…. But, my god! Look at the utopia we could build together if man and woman become a bit of each other and overcome the stupid miscommunication….

We call it only one of many possibilities because there is an ugly side of this evolution. By another law of nature, there is resistance wherever there is “change”. We watch women going overboard to claim their freedom and losing womanhood in the process! What are we seeking liberation from?! From our own mental block possibly…. Definitely not from womanhood, since it is the most wonderful thing about existing as a woman! Similarly men too are resisting the change. Sudden violent increases in the rape accounts are nothing but a way to protest against their own evolution! It is not women they are defying…though they are hurting her in the process of it.

Some people claim that this resistance is product of family based social system. Yes it is. But that does not really mean we have to discard the whole thing. We have lived with this system for generations, gotten used to it…and grown with it. Just as we picked up some bad habits, we have also learned a few good things…. Let us not ruin it all. Instead, it is possible to move on with whatever we have in hand….

We do not need revolution when we have evolution possible to us! Let us just behave ourselves…. Be little more aware…little more forgiving…little more complimenting….. Let us get rid of centuries of vengefulness in our instincts… We have moved on, way ahead of savageness of that kind. We can respect friendship, since we feel it so strongly…. We can stop being so authoritarian, so possessive. We can learn about love in more open perspective…. Respect the other gender too. Try to ease their complexes sometimes. Help them to understand too!
Let us not go back…. Because there is such a wonderful world awaiting us! And we all agree, that we are basically very, very wonderful people, aren’t we?!

Posted by: Anu | February 28, 2013

INR 1000 to 40… A food journey

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Typical road scape in Auroville….

No matter what, life is often nothing but a food journey. From one meal to another, we survive on hope and promise of the next repast! One could write a travelogue through many perspectives, but food seems like the most appropriate spoon to share this soundhidian experience with yeh all!

It is an ancient faith that the divine mother takes care of your basic needs like food. It means that the man need not worry, work and covet for the next meal. His life is for a greater purpose. The survival part will be taken care of as long as he is “useful” to run the machine of this world…as long as he is doing is first duty of evolving into a better being. It is not just a faith or mythical belief but a crude universal law of usefulness! Some call it the universal energy or the holy mother Mary or the divine mother, goddess Kali, Guadeloupe, mum, aunt, grandma….and so on. The variables in this equation change but the constant remains the same, that we are fed!!

And so was I fed for last 12 days by the many forms of divine mother! It is an interesting account that connects tummy with heart…spirit with intestine!!

During one week at Auroville, most of my day was spent in lectures, case studies, studios and a ginormous stack of books to be finished in such little time. In addition to intellectual gymnastics, I also had to spend first couple of days in trying to get the map straightened in my head, balancing a torch and bicycle at once and such other skills. There was no time to look around for places to eat, though Auroville holds a unique range of restaurants for those who have ample time to bicycle through the woods searching for hidden food heavens!

Stone-like bread splattered with butter and marmalade was my permanent dinner plan. I followed it religiously every night, sitting in a clearing carved out of books and notes spread on the floor! There would be exotic music drifting through the open windows, along with clouds of mosquitoes, I must add, since the windows had no idea of closure at all! French, Italian, Greek or sometimes Middle Eastern folk music was the only variable ingredient of my dinner!

Though when I think of that one week, all I remember is the bright library of the earth institute, quite, except the chirping squirrels and soulful cries of peacocks….soft wind rustling the foliage, sending an array of dancing shadows through leaf- filtered sunlight! The smell of rows after rows of finest books in the world, disturbed only by wafting cups of real south Indian coffee twice a day!

Lunch at the institute is crazy time when all the international pack of students gathers around an international food fest! There is dosa in coconut milk, sometimes a tamil version of chappathy, as they call it! I thought I reached the ultimate global food unity when I was served pasta and samabaram in the same plate!

Accepting that the lunch was the only time I could get a real meal, I thanked the divine mother who had then appeared in the form of “Anjani” amma at the institute! She served with a smile whatever crazy combination lunch was made for us! She would save some for me, in case I spent too much of the lunchtime in the library…

After spending a studious and hungry week at Auroville, finally I grabbed my chance to escape to Pondicherry. First thing I did was finding an authentic Tamil restaurant! Idli wada sambaram and a hot cup of kwaapi was my contemporary definition of heaven! Mere smell of curry leaves afloat in sambaram can change one’s perspective about life!

The driver was smart enough to gauge the silent foodie occupying the back seat, so he drove me to a fine French restaurant for the lunch. It was run by a French architect who, naturally hails from Auroville again! Admiring the ambiance that was casual and tastefully aesthetic at the same time, I settled in a comfortable corner cane couch! An excellent fish cooked in French basil sauce, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rice served with a glass of decent French wine. Divine mother looked very inconspicuous as a tamil server, suggesting me the best on the menu! I like her as long as she feeds me with that charming smile!

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Massive wind chime at the Visitor’s Center, auroville

My time in Auroville finally came to an end with a quick excursion through the town and the beach. It was an absolutely unplanned and obvious thought to spend my last evening in Auroville, at the visitor’s center restaurant, an elegantly structured court surrounded with boutiques and brick arches. The sun was setting beyond high masts of palm trees, there was happy bauble of diners around me, a tiny candle fluttering inside paper lantern on my table, a glass of pomegranate juice and a piece of cake to go with a book about Aurovilliean perspective of education!

Divine mother feeds not just our stomach but our spirit as well…. That evening will remain in my heart forever, like a caress of a loving mother, smile of an appreciative teacher and a warm handshake with the future!!

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A kairali breakfast is incomplete without banana!!

Her lovely care does not leave me even when I leave the mystical land of Auroville. I reach Trivandrum after a day spent with cold airline sandwiches; throw my bags in a hotel and dash to the nearest diner! A sweet mallyali lady welcomes me with a whiff of jasmines in her hair, and looks up intently at my face…. I am not sure I can hide long spells of hunger very well! When she serves a heap of rice with sambaram and typical kairali chutneys, she smiles at me again and adds two pieces of fried fish that I never asked for! We do not really need a language to communicate, my half smile and teary face says everything that was to be said…..

Trivandrum auto drivers are not so gentle though, they drive like a charging bull in an arena! But I must admit that my Laurie Baker pilgrimage in Trivandrum would have been hopeless without their unmatched skills of finding strangest of addresses! This auto driver too soon figured out that the best way to coax a good tip out of me was to drop me to the best food place he could!

On the way to Kanyakumari I slept careless as a child… too full to stay awake! The calm salty breeze from kovalam beach was adding another sedative to my brain…. Once in a while if I woke, I could see a solid wall of green passing by the car window…. Endless coconut orchards make you dream green even in your sleep, I assure you that!

Reaching the quiet serene campus of Vivekananda Kendra was like smoothly drifting from one dream into another. After a strict scrutiny of my documents and probably ancestry too, VK administration consented me to stay with them. In spite of initial strictness, eventually these people loved me and fed me like I was their immediate family! The VK canteen, GouriSankar restaurant is an odd place where all sorts of VK guests and life workers dine together. The manager smiled and showed me a table, and I felt easy, belonged, not a stranger anymore! The so-called limited rice meal was definitely more than my appetite. But the servers rushed again to offer more rice when I had managed to empty my plate with immense effort. What was the idea behind limited meal really, to overfeed?! The manager even offered me a banana, for good digestion, he said, munching one himself!

I never mind having a meal alone because it allows me to read simultaneously. Somehow everyone at VK restaurant found that very quaint. Saying that “You have a very good vibration” is their style of appreciation! Honestly, I am no expert on classifying people by their “vibrations” but the restaurant manager sure is!

I met a Malaysian lady who had grasped her Chinese New Year leave to escape to VK for a spiritual retreat, and a VK life worker who runs a facebook community for spiritual aspirants. Ticket man at the Vivekananda Exhibition blessed me that I would be a “top architect” one day, though I tried to explain to him that there is nothing like a “top architect” in reality!

Often when you speak plain, unglamorous truth, people think you are too modest. Then there is no option left to you than wearing the hat of greatness. It is not a flattering feeling, just too sweet sugary syrup that leaves a bitter aftertaste….

I hoped that it was their innocent goodwill and it need not be destroyed with my harsh frankness. It is simply good to turn deaf when your limit of endurance is reached. These people approached me with a smile and treated me graciously for no reason at all. There cannot be any motif, anything for them to gain from me. I was just a guest, who would be gone in another couple of days. But surprisingly I was not a stranger to them. Probably my “vibrations” were good!!

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VK NARDEP Campus

The main point of my visit to VK was to meet Vasudev ji, who is a secretary of VK’s Natural Resource Development Project, NARDEP, a fine man with multilingual skills who speaks about organic architecture, as a delightful life experience. Meandering through the campus of Technology Research Center, which took shape under his able hands, is a model experiment of sustainable architecture. The office in charge of TRC is a slight lady, sister Saraswathi. The moment when I met her first she was frying papadam in the backyard of Center’s kitchen, singing a “hari-song”! Saraswathi akka sent me to have a look at the campus and then ordered me to return to the kitchen for lunch. I tried to refuse politely, saying that I could go back to the VK canteen. And she turned to me with her eyes wide and yeah, quite scary, “when divine mother says you should have lunch with us, you do not object”. I had nothing to say in reply. I helped her in the kitchen, to serve plates and to clean, hoping that the divine mother would not stare at me again with those dark eyes widened with anger!

She was pleasant once I settled to stay for lunch, said that Pune was an atrocious city. I agreed instantly, wholeheartedly! She said that architects were pests! I nodded to that as well! And so we went on in perfect harmony! I even learned bits of Tamil under her rule! Kunjum meaning little, modu meaning buttermilk and podum meaning enough…. And here I must say podum to my Tamil vocabulary!

Slowly I saw her world unfold around me. Her trees, her people, her trainees, her kitchen, her birds and kittens! She loved all, including me. Saraswathi akka was the one who brought me to realize essence of this travel. It was through her words that I touched the shocking realization of how and why I was fed. not just in last two weeks but throughout my life. The meal may cost me a thousand rupees, forty rupees or just an angry look, but I am fed every day. There must be some reason to it, I wonder…..Image

Posted by: Anu | January 19, 2013

Pledge…

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.

I love my country…

Yes, I love this corrupt, dearth-stricken, hungry, ragged, homeless country.

I love the litter, sewage, rowdiness, flippant movie songs, hoodlums and goons, pollution and famines in this country.

Stray dogs on roads, wandering cattle, dirty pigs and flocks of crows… I love them all.

Dry brackish farms, dead rivers, dried lakes, murky coasts and lost forests I love.

Potholes in roads, broken taps and leaky tanks, power cuts and scanty petrol…I love.

Empty schools, crowded multiplexes, dusty libraries and glittering malls…I love.

Because…

If not all of this, what else is there to love? I do not afford to buy an iPhone or iPad. But I can afford this country…. Why afford! I got it for free since my birth, didn’t I?! So I love this country.

I know it is not so perfect… so I cannot really love it for its immaculateness. But yeah, I can set it right a bit. How to change it without loving? Even if an animal is to be tamed, needs to be loved… loved unconditionally! And here we are considering a young country that is thousands of years old! It must be loved with its strengths and flaws, wholesomely if it is to progress.

But even this is not the real reason why I love this country. Love just surfeits and overwhelms! Just as a mother loves her child irrespective of its notoriety! We made mistakes, behaved badly; still our parents never gave up on us did they?! They taught us to fix our mistakes. Now that we are all grown up, do we just discard them off?! We don’t! A country is just like a parent… we cannot blame it for its imperfection and move aside. Carl Schurz felt the same when he said, “My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be set right

Not that we must overlook the flaws. We see the things gone wrong. It makes us angry. And anger is good…quite necessary. It should bring upon the change. Anger should make us do something creative… something constructive.

Progress in my country cannot be measured on the parameters set by someone else. Development in another country cannot be applied in this country with an easy “copy-paste” command. Progress should take shape in this soil, water, climate, culture and people. A man cannot unlearn his past to create his future. He must learn from the past, use it as a foundation to build his future. And here we are talking about a past of ten thousand years of solid cultural history. We cannot really wipe all that out and create a modern civilization. History imparts a character to the nation…without that, the nation looks like an uncivilized man dressed in an impeccable suit. It is not modernization… it is just a global sham…nothing more.

Yes, there are problem, quite grave too. But how creatively do we address them? If we change our paradigm, we will realize that the solution is secreted in the problem itself. We are habituated into a national melancholy, somehow! If we just break out of that, we can see those solutions smiling serenely at us, inviting us to do something incredible!

For that we will have to work ceaselessly, unashamed. We will have to fight a lot… and find our path against the irresistible trends. If we look upon this as hard work, we might give up even before starting. But there is joy of freedom, insolently proud laughter and incredible satisfaction in this. Those with stubborn daring and endless patience will find that treasure of realizing a utopian dream!

Posted by: Anu | January 9, 2013

Frame…

In my school life I always got nine on ten when it came to painting. I always lost one mark for not drawing a border…or a frame around my painting. Thankfully nobody insisted that I should get ten on ten. I thought nine marks were absolutely delightful score and continued drawing without any frame!

In high school I failed the government drawing exam, probably for being disqualified without the frame! That is when I decided to understand the “core” of art. Now of course I know that there is no such “one” core to understand. Silently this mystic world of lines and shades weaved an invisible envelope around me. I watch the world through its highly transparent but highly effective screen! I perceive the world as an object of a painting. And to be able to communicate with you all, I must express through the same invisible screen… this layer, instead of limiting my expression, has only made it beautiful. My painting still has no frame to it…and now after failing in their terms; nobody is going to cut any marks for it! What a delight art can be!

Posted by: Anu | January 9, 2013

Built with Love….

Years ago I used to dream…about erecting tall skyscrapers in my home town. I dreamed of watching this city from a lofty terrace up there…. I was young and eager to build a new era for this city. I loved this city.

But something has gone wrong in last couple of years. No…I still love this place, I call it home…don’t I?! But I do not want any skyscrapers here….not anymore. Me and my friends…we have lived here for generations. But we will neither afford a house in those… nor the lifestyle that must be bought as well.

I know who will afford it all…. Those few people for whom we toil day and night. They will buy what was rightfully ours. They will show us a dream…. that if we work harder someday maybe we can be like them…. Maybe! And someday we will really afford it all…but we’ll be too old and worn out with hard work, to enjoy it. We will be acutely aware of those who were robbed of living so that we could buy some luxuries…..and the plushness will feel so vacant somehow. We will learn to not notice the emptiness…not feel too much, not even pure happiness.

It is a cruel joke… such dark humor that I feel not like laughing at all. But the glamor-dressed reality of the building trade has taught me something. The people that I slaved for will never let me change the fate of this city. They will offer me a glorious chance to build my dream city on their terms…just a few compromises! I would build it on any terms… as long as I get to build. But it will be them who own my dream. They will sell it piece by piece, to those who can afford to buy. I will stay in a cubbyhole for the rest of my life and watch the skyscrapers with pride…. “I built it!” I will stand in the long queues, suffocate in jammed roads and I will look up to the skyscrapers once in a while, coughing and retching, “I built it”. Poor will become poorer, rich will become richer, I will watch them rob each other in turns…. I’d want to look away…to the skyscrapers… “I built it”

Ten years down the line I do not want to think that I built it all…I helped them build this horrific world. I know they will build it anyway…much worse without me. But now I do not want any part of it. My home is about to be destroyed. And I am going to run for my life. Many have fled before me. I laughed at them, called them cowards. But now I must run too…jump off from this sinking ship.

Lucky for me I know how to build. I will find a secluded island somewhere… and build another home there… a home that will not be built on the corpses of my fellow brothers…a home that will be an ascetic’s cave…. and nothing more.

I know there are more like me…. They will come too. I will build for them… I will build with love. The land will heal and blossom under my touch. I will blossom with her…someday to die in peace and return back to the sweet earth.

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