From the Radio Station III

I never imagined myself building a radio station and I am certain the radio people never thought they would have a cranky architect working with them, sometimes shoulder to shoulder and sometimes almost nose to nose!

It is, indeed, a curious mix of professions and cultures that they have conjured up here! Also the very concept of a community radio station, broadcasting from a remote Himalayan village, attracts a range of visitors.

Sushila Bhandari from Raidu village, near agastyamuni is one such intriguing lady. This gadhwali woman of immense courage, is fighting for her “jal, jungle aur jameen”, against not just the corporate, but the very government of Uttarakhand. Two months of imprisonment, paid murder attacks or bribes have failed to muffle her voice. Instead, she has learned to write hindi, during her two months imprisonment! Now she also writes poetry and sings the songs of hills and rivers, in her high pitched, pahadi voice….

***

C P Joshi from dwarhat is another frequent visitor and a valued advisor for the MKA trust. A good looking kumaoni poet, he is also a sensitive social worker allied with “Axay”, a TB eradication initiative.

In the day time, he would quietly smile and walk towards me, while I stand surrounded by my construction gang. And he would very defensively, but with pure curiosity, ask questions about earth construction. For a while I wondered why the defensiveness… and I did admit it to myself that I must look like a daunting warrior on a construction site that resembles a bustling warzone!

But in fact, I do love to answer his questions about various forms of earth construction. At the same time I keep it clear that the views we express are our own inferences and learning, and none is a universal law to be enforced on another… He smiles his mild, enigmatic smile and jumps to another question!

Once, after dinner, we all grownups and kids plopped on Joshi ji’s bed, listening to his kumaoni poetry. An informal “mehfil” Somehow descended upon us!

With him, I have started recollecting old Marathi poetry, after quite awhile… on the other hand, Joshi ji, very soon plans to build a house in dwarhat, a rammed earth structure that he will design for himself!

***

My lovely brick maker team of women has been saving up their payments with Vincent. They plan to take the payment right in the end, and invest that into building a new house in stone. They are going to hire my team of masons for the job!

The masons thoroughly enjoy their work. There is significant change in their expressions and body language. The awkward stress and constant suspicion has evaporated long ago, replaced with natural easy grace and a hint of pride…

There is often a faint smile on Jeetpal ji’s face, as he chisels the stone, with his tongue held out, in utter concentration, so much like a small kid! He laughs and cracks jokes… hums along, old pahadi jungle geet (forest song) playing on the radio, and all the time I watch him with great respect and love… feeling like a mother, who has managed to evoke and protect the child within him…

***

Winter rains in the hills are indeed a special thing. There is a vague distinction between rain, sleet and snow as we climb up, but that entire downpour is essential for the forests, rivers, humans and beasts to thrive.

But for the adobe spread out in the field, drying in sun, this rain was very unfriendly. After a week or two of bright dazzling sunshine, suddenly one morning, we have an overcast sky, rumbling and threatening to wash away all our hard work. The whole team of workers rushes to the site early in the morning, moving dry bricks in shelter and covering the rest with massive plastic sheets. Then we all just sit sheltered by the tent, warming our bruised, frozen hands on an open fire of cheed pine twigs. Stories of man-eaters, bears and ghosts taste far better with rounds of chai.

It usually takes a couple of days for the weather to clear and for all of us to get back to the sunny outdoor work. But the chilly winter rains by then, have brought us all close together…. Bonded irreversibly now, we are a construction gang, driven by a special sense of comradeship.

***

The stone masonry in gadhwal, has such a robust and distinct character that we wish to expose it and flaunt it to the world! The crudeness of partially dressed stone and sleek lines of slate pieces, together create a rhythmic symphony of shapes and shades… no two stones in the masonry look alike and yet they all belong to the same astute composition.

Most people, who prefer the formal, strict masonry of fine dressed stone, fail to see the poetry in gadhwali masonry. I had a fair bit of problem, trying to see, what makes gadhwali masonry, so wrong in their perspective. Our visual senses are enslaved by now. We like all things to look alike… we want all kids to be dressed in uniforms and all women to look like movie stars. We want all roads to look the same and all places to become cities…. Just like that, we want all stones to look strictly alike. Every time someone asks why I refuse to use neat dressed stone, I ask them, why they want all the stone to look alike… and I am still waiting for an answer.

***

While I am pouring my blood, brain and sweat into the construction work, instead of making me feeble and desensitized, it is making me, more alive, lot more sensitive and aware…. In spite of all the brain boggling problems and surprising solutions… yet, there are moments that allow me to trace a beautiful Himalayan vulture soaring over my head, in graceful, lazy circles…. At times I stay back at the construction site, just to witness the sky that looks blue fading into orange, so much like a flycatcher’s belly, preceded by a sunset bathed in gold and copper glitter of stone dust around me….
Sometimes, long after those dramatic sunsets, I sit there, planning the next phases of construction. Hungry and tired, I step out from the studio, to find my construction site, drenched in melting silver moonlight…  Fresh, wet adobe glisten softly, and the stone masonry glows as if lit from within … It is irresistible to keep my hands off the rhythmic rough and smooth texture of the stone wall…. On a biting cold winter night, I let my fingertips trace the crevices of ice-like stones… like some magical self-lit objects!

At any time of the day or night, these hills never fail to take my breath away…

***

Although I am sure, my mum never planned it deliberately, I wonder sometimes, if she hoped, growing up in a house with Sanskrit plays and poetry scattered around, along with Hemmingway, will leave its imprint on me…. Before arriving in gadhwal, I carried a strange image of this land… for me it was the land of Kalidas’ poetry… the land where I presumed, Kumarsambhavam must have taken a verbal form. And with that bias, I keep stumbling upon places that, in my mind, match exactly to the setting of various events in the Shiva-Parvati story. It feels as if the gods and goddesses would simply drift in front of me, from behind that ancient banjh (oak) tree, if I truly willed them to appear…

But they do not, nor does the famous man-eater of gadhwal. I hear stories of men and women right from our neighboring villages, mauled by wild bears and snatched away by the panthers… but those beautiful beasts somehow never cross my paths. Although I know these wise ones must be prowling in the dark, quite too close by, camouflaged more by my absence of mind than their stealth… So I keep my curiosity reigned in and usually abide by the rules of village life, that forbid me to walk home, after dark, unaccompanied by a man. I religiously believe that a hungry beast would definitely be distracted by the more flavorsome option of devouring a man, and would spare this inconsequential woman to go home!

One day I will also write about the ghosts of gadhwal, but right now, it is indeed too late at night to think of bodiless voices following us along treacherous forest paths! But I promise, if someday the said feminine forest spirit truly chooses to confront me, I will sincerely ask her forgiveness on behalf of the mankind and promise to protect her beautiful green veil, for as long as I live…. I think she will be a smart forest spirit who will bless me genially.

***

There is something about half done earth masonry that looks like a warm promise of future… For some reason or the other, I keep walking and leaping over its dusty ledges, watching the walls risen and complete in my mind.

My gang once warned me not to do that too often, for it might offend the spirit of this building. They were anyway certain that just like the masons, who work too closely with the masonry, I too am possessed by the “devtaa”. There is indeed a tiny “deoli” temple, topped with brightly colored flags, next to the construction site. Every time we start a fresh phase of construction, our masons offer flowers, sweets and some incense to the deity staying in there….

I think the “devtaa” knows that I totally love being possessed by him! He is not a scary one, who gets offended so easily. I wonder if he laughs at me, if he likes me too…

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Himalayan pilgrimage part I: Dharmalaya

When I look back on my summer study travels, often it is the flavor and tenor of those places, the light and coziness of spaces, people, their pasts and so many interlinked stories, that fill my heart with some unknown affection, as though I have spread my roots into those places and people, as though they are very much part of my being…

Every day of my stay in Himachal, I woke up to the vision of Dhauladhar snow peaks. I thanked them every day for their mystical blessings that reached me through people, food and endless conversations.

The learning and growing of every pilgrim like me is made possible by these places and people. The smallest things in my routine life remind me of their smiling faces and I feel some warm and pleasant heartache.

I wish to narrate what happened on this Himalayan pilgrimage, and how it has altered me irreversibly… But I doubt if I can convey fully everything I have to say, while tides of love and joy burst against the walls of my heart, even at the thought of this journey… I am still too overwhelmed… Too touched to be able to find crisp words for everything… But I must write this now, with all this vulnerability still alive in me… And I hope that no matter how confused or ambiguous I may write, something will reach you just between those awkward lines.

There are three distinct legs of this journey that were staged through three different places in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh. The visions, experiences, challenges, and their solutions evolve into an overall flavor of first two places. It keeps climbing and intensifying with every passing day… coming together into an unexpected climax of the story in its last week — a beautiful closing note to a melodious song.

***

It starts way up in the awe-inspiring hills of the Dhauladhar range, winding through the half-asleep village of Bir, when we were dropped at the fringe of a pine wood to hike the last stretch up a hill to reach Dharmalaya. Walking up to the campus with all your baggage is the first gateway into the ‘Dharmalaya lifestyle’ that awaits us up top! And, there, the valley encircled with hills provides a literally breathtaking distraction!

That first vision of Himalayan peaks after so long… every time, it unfailingly takes you away from your urban presence. Your name, designations and credentials are all washed away. You become a being… a clean and simple unit of existence, cleansed and ready to live a life in the hills.

Dharmalaya is a place that functions as an opportunity for learning a sustainable lifestyle by practicing it. Although it is a campus still in the making, it already lives and grows, true to its fundamentals.

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The place staged some simple and obvious challenges that, surprisingly, I had never faced before. It feels differently alive when you work toward the naked, crude reality of survival and stand straight, holding your head high, looking up into the face of a lofty mountain, and smile…

And there were my personal attempts to overcome past records! It is astonishing how much one can accomplish even after crossing the known limits of physical or mental exhaustion. Exhaustion is possibly just an illusory barrier after all, beyond which lies the world of personal miracles!

Every evening, when I would let myself become aware of how tired I was, it felt absolutely the opposite! I felt eased, as if all my limbs were completely relaxed after such a long time! I realize that it was because they had worked well beyond their limit of exhaustion! I would watch sunburns and bruises on my arms and legs, and wonder why it did not hurt even in near-freezing cold wind. But my hands have known a worse pain: that of spotless, useless idleness… bruises rather feel better!

I would think of quiet, peaceful afternoons back home… times when I watched my clean and spotless hands, hurting inside, for I was hungry to know what I could do with those.

It gave me some violent pleasure to think of clean hands while I mixed and danced in cold mud, wiped wooden molds for another batch of adobes… or got funny, throbbing blisters after a day of sod cutting.

There have been long evenings back home when I used to sit motionless through meetings, feeling a dead, heavy fatigue in my legs, for I was dying to find out how far I could hike or run through wilderness with those legs, as I know every human is born to do! It gave me the same violent pleasure to think of those idle evenings while I actually went jumping over boulders through possibly some of world’s most pristine hills, feeling light, strong and so so alive! Village dogs often joined me and raced through the trees by my side, with a grave look of comradeship in their hairy, warm faces.

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Of course there were quiet moments here as well, when there was warm, buttery sunshine and I could stretch out under some random, beautiful oak tree, thinking about nothing too human… Simply balancing sun and shadow over my body, according to how cold or warm it felt that day… Or finding the most comfortable angle to rest my neck into the rough lovely tree trunk! And then somehow the hills would become silent for a long time.

I know I was not there on a holiday! There was architecture happening, taking shape among all of us. We were breaking through the most obvious assumptions in architectural practice and starting our thought process at the very beginning… Somewhere near the instinct of ‘shelter making’.

It frustrates the best of us when we realize that, in the course of sophistication, we have let our instincts rot for generations. We have no clue of how to survive! Most people remain unskilled in this way because they simply do not know there is something lacking. Our schools and colleges have ensured that we remain oblivious to reality. But when one realizes what is missing, it becomes a personal challenge to learn things, to do things by hand… and to know that the most beautiful attribute of human anatomy is its ability to learn and do and create — an ability that often remains untapped!

I am not going to quantify and spoil all the learning that happened to me… To be honest, I cannot measure the depth and intensity of changes that these lessons have brought and are continuing to bring. The lessons of life and architecture have blended together inseparably. I simply believe that they will seep into my being and express themselves as I encounter relevant situations in the design of life. Nobody knows where this learning may take me with time. Slowly, I am starting to appreciate the beauty of this ‘not-knowing’ — a fat achievement for someone who has been such a control freak for years!

There is meditative pleasure in doing things by hand, and it grows deeper and more compellingly addictive with time. For example, before using soil for making earth blocks, one needs to set aside the precious top soil layer, for it contains all the organic nutritive treasures of life. Cutting chunks of sod and replanting them as part of landscaping can, in fact, turn into a blissfully exhausting experience. It also teaches one to watch carefully, at the scale and amount of ecological damage that has to happen in course of building anything, even with the least processed forms of earth construction.

Earth is a highly instructive teacher when we stop being morons and allow her to lead the way. She teaches us to look at life carefully… to treasure it and, at the very least, to limit our destructive activities and find ways to heal life as much as we possibly can.

Every time we make a choice of saving or healing, we must also be prepared to put in additional time, human effort, skill and sensitivity, because acts of benignity cannot be purchased: they must be ‘done’. But somehow modern man often does not care about investing these trivial things into a building activity. He has built his systems such that they compel him to become more and more insensitive, unskilled, thoughtless, and yet surprisingly too busy to do things!

So, probably, we are a funny bunch of people trying to turn the wheel back, while the rest of the world is moving forward. But the increasing number of restless architects setting out to find hands-on work opportunities definitely means something. It hints at things we have lost with time — things that are human and possibly even trivial, but things we have started to miss in our daily lives. It is instinctive and apt for a human to want to go back to the basics and relearn those things. It is no more going back in time; it is not reversing the wheels of development. It is simply nurturing our roots to have better grip in the future.

Apart from making adobes and maintaining the existing building, we also had a design task to finish in two weeks’ time: We had to build a toilet, by hand, without using any industrially manufactured, purchased building material, and without using and help from outside.

Indeed, we did install a dry pit toilet with a bamboo enclosure at Dharmalaya, but only after two highly eventful weeks. It started out with long discussions, calculations, sketches, frustrating setbacks and redesigns. Through this, we architects discovered that none of us actually knew how to build!

So, we learned to select bamboo, clean their nodes and then cut the right lengths. We scavenged the hill slopes with our local thatch consultants, learning to select the right kind of grass for thatch roofing. And at the end, one sunny day, we had heaps of harvested grass — and no frame on which to tie it!

One needs something to tie bamboo joints together. Again, we ran to our local skill consultants and Rajinder bhaiyya showed us how, for generations, they have been making ropes out of the bark fibre of a specific tree that they call ‘dhaman’. After several frustrating and failed attempts at rope-making, finally our hands learned to roll the fibres into a rope! Rope-making is like a rhythmic dance that goes on into timelessness once we learn the motions well. I sat through a beautiful sunset, my eyes closed against the pleasant reddish-purple glow on the horizon, while my hands played with the bark fibres, rolling out seamless, neat spirals of rope. What a blessing it is to be alive!

There were several things happening around us in loosely connected dynamics: We were splitting bamboos, cutting bamboos, tying joints, falling, cutting ourselves, laughing into hysteria — and some of us snoring through the evening sessions!

One day, with outdoor work stalled by bad weather, we had fun with a new instrument: a glass cutter. Using this tool for cutting glass bottles was a quiet, precision task, and I had the warm glow of candle flame right by my side. All the cut bottles will be wrapped in reflective foils and embedded in earthen walls as tiny, glowing day lights.

There was a platter of tasks from which we could pick and choose, learning whatever we pleased! There were a thousand more things I could have learned, but I learned what I could gather in the time available and made a note to myself about things that I now know must be learned.

Dharmalaya is also a place where one learns to live as a community and participates in its daily chores. Unlike urban settings, no invisible cleaning staff comes here to maintain this place while we are oblivious to their presence, busy at work. We are our own janitors, cooks and housekeepers. Tasks as simple as chopping fruits and vegetables, cleaning the kitchen, dishwashing, and toilet cleaning have a very deep effect within us when we perform them with full attention. Chores were indeed highly contemplative opportunities to continue what we were striving to learn outdoors.

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One cannot drift through and remain untouched by the pristine hills and humble lifestyle at Dharmalaya. It is a hard life if not accepted with full understanding — as hard as reaching this place is!

Still, somehow it is much harder to leave this place, once we catch the rhythm of it. Yes, it has a heartbeat of its own that throbs in dung-plastered walls and in a solitary light beam stretched from the ceiling across the earth floor… a pulse that is the sum total of many hearts and hands that have shaped this place.

Himalayan Pilgrimage Part II: Sambhaavnaa

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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.

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.

Home in the Lap of Nature…..

The Real Face of Realty

Market is overflowing these days with the advertisements about properties. It is the leading investment industry in town that thrives mainly on increasing demand and hence price of properties. Basically this is about a vicious circle of greed that some people may term as “progress”.

Those who have no house, desire to rent a house. Those who have a “house on rent” desire to buy their “own” house. Those who already own a house desire to own two houses. So naturally the demand keeps increasing multiple times the actual requirement. Since the demand is high, prices keep rising higher. Anything that sells for a higher price becomes an investment asset. So now properties become an investment asset. Naturally the demand increases ever more. The more the insecurity in social mind, more the sale and purchase of such assets!

There is nothing created in this business yet money keeps rolling. It apparently gives a “feel good” mood but kills the habit of “working for money”. “Sit back and earn” is a dangerous culture. But never mind, this is not about the illusory economics of the realty business.

This is about what after you make all that money….There is the next advertising sport awaiting you….

The Weekend Home

The holiday home….”stay in the lap of nature”…. NA PLOTS!!! Observe the hoardings in and around the city. 80% of them are overflowing with serene pictures of lush green hills and valleys lined with blue rivers! That’s where you will get to stay…. Or so they claim!

You like the pictures and luxurious advertisements…. And you visit the site. A stately site office welcomes you with some more attractive landscape flex boards. A colorful broacher with landscaped plan decorated randomly with green blots of trees, some high quality 3D visuals of plush, furnished houses…. And they sell you a dream house! Then you look out of the window…. Yes! you can see a rolling hill adorned with bright green grass (if you go property hunting between the months of July to October!)

You feverishly sign the documents! And the moment deal is cracked…. So is your dream! By the time your house is built, the hill is no more green… its ugly color of grey… the color of concrete and the color of weathered plastic fence… the color of your hair by the time you get possession of the house!

There are many more houses popping up identically like yours along the driveway. You check ten times to confirm which one of those factory-made cubes is your own house! From distance, the hill that was green once now looks like deceased skin of the earth!

There will be designed landscape of course! Of fancy delicate plants that remain wilted almost half the year….. Or shamelessly overgrow as weeds. Nature will painfully try to heal itself through tiny patches of soil you leave by the concrete driveways…. Old grown trees that you had seen in their pretty pictures have long gone from the hill… replaced now with stubs of some foreign tree standing within a cage, along the driveway, waiting thirstily for a tanker to pass by…

And the serene stream that was shown in the graphics… it has dried away. Besides you do not need that mud bank to breed mosquitoes. You have a wonderful blue tiled swimming pool right there in your premise! Why…no… we hardly get time to go and stay in that house… let alone to swim!!

You wanted to stay in the lap of nature…. But now it is killed. You have a house… an expensive one…but just like your city house…crammed up with all the “modern amenities” that you will hardly have time to look up. A handkerchief size patch of yellowing lawn will laugh at you, mocking your own desires now confined again in a few square feet of a weekend home!

This is high time we as consumers start to look into the reality behind the face of realty market! This is high time we start to question and demand some ethics! But in order to demand ethic we must first “know” them. We must know what we really desire deep down in our hearts….

Life in the Lap of Nature

Life in the Lap of Nature

When you started to look for a weekend home, you had actually started to look for a life in the lap of nature… had you not?! You desire to stay in a house surrounded with trees and birds, just as they portray on the bill boards! You work hard for years and years to be able to afford such house… and you end up buying a lump of concrete placed among some more lumps of concrete that look exactly like yours! “NA plots and row house schemes?!”

First proof that you are NOT getting a house in “nature”: check the colorful plan they show you. Forget the uniform green wash on glossy paper. Look at the plots. They are just enough proportioned to fit a house…. There is no space left for nature to crawl into your backyard. A handkerchief sized lawn is not nature; do not insult your own intelligence!

Second proof: if you fit all your “modern amenities” in the lap of nature, you end up staying in the lap of amenities…. Nature has just run away!! You city house was much better; nature had anyway run away from the cities long ago!

I believe that there is not a single human heart that does not respond to nature and feel big, light and fluffy as cloud! Every single person holding this sheet of paper smiles at the mere thought of standing in a clearing among trees with soft breeze that even smells green!

If you really, truly desire to live in the lap of nature, continue to read. Otherwise I have already lost my case and your interest. But if you have mugged up in your schools….rubbed nose in your jobs…just for a house within trees, my nature lover, this is for you….

Living in the lap of nature is not about affording or buying a house. It is about a mindset… about adopting an entirely different lifestyle. Just as you cannot truly live with your family without loving them, you cannot live with nature without loving it! Nature is not a piece of artifact to be bought and kept in the corner of your house! It is a dynamic, living and life giving entity that flows through us right at this current moment! Love nature!

And one cannot love nature without understanding it! Understanding is the first basic stage of love! Understand your surroundings and the silent loving traces and trails of nature around you. I know they did not teach this in schools. But they cannot “teach” you to love anyway!

Observe the green hill that you wish make your home someday. See the clusters of trees and shrubs…and birds nesting in that thicket…. It is their home first. Would you like a guy called “developer” come and run a bulldozer over their home and then give you a little yellow patch of lawn?!

Small shrubs and thorny bushes, deciduous trees that have always adorned our Sahyadris…. They are the nature you have been looking for! Give them just a moment out of your busy life… and they will tell you the ten secrets of living with nature!

The Ten Secrets

  1. Do not cut any old grown trees or clusters on your land. Add more native trees to the green. They are hardy, just need little water, protection and love!
  2. Do not level, cut, fill or flatten your land. Responding to the natural terrain will give a unique home of your own. (Pic: that insect mud castle….)
  3. Learn about the wonderful biodiversity that is already making a home in your land. Hire ecological experts to study and show you the nature’s wealth you got free of charge, when you bought the land.
  4. Leave a large portion of your land for nature to be your neighbor…. Give it some space! Protect the natural habitats such as seasonal water pools, streams, trees, bush clusters in that area.
  5. Design your house for minimalistic requirements and smaller footprint. You do not need Olympic size swimming pool or a huge golf course if you wish to stay with nature!
  6. Using natural material or recycled material is not as impractical as your contractor says. Concrete is expensive and harmful in many ways. Use it as less as possible.
  7. Keep manicured landscape features to their minimum. Foreign ornamental plants and lawns require large amounts of watering, artificial nutrients and hence expenses.
  8. Arrange for amenities that you truly need during a holiday. Watching the moods and melodies of nature is going to be your best recreation activity, and it comes for free!
  9. Plan your wastes properly. The sewage can be effectively used to recycle nutrients back to the soil, instead of polluting the rivers. Decomposable solid waste can be composted easily. And take your non degradable plastic wastes back to the city from where it came. Your new neighbor Nature does not love plastic litters!
  10. Ignore what the bill boards and advertisements say…. Beauty of nature cannot be picked out from a glossy catalogue. You must find it in wilderness. Trust your innermost instinct… it unfailingly takes us back to the nature.

    A flood-proof soil-fort built by the Harvester Ants

Little Silly thought….

Every day I am falling in love afresh, with you and your wonder filled world.

How could I not love each lush green leaf and every clear raindrop…. Every gush of wind flying up the valley and rushing rapids jumping carelessly off the cliffs….

They are all your moods and shades enwrapped around me. And I am a little seed germinating in your soft sweet earth….

However ethereal and formless you may be…. I have seen you in broad daylight, touched you in warm wet soil. I am drunk with your clear sweet rains….

And how could they say you did not exist, when I am holding on to this dream-life just to watch you exist in every cell….in every little bit of me…

Now that I have lost all the contests, given up chasing everything else….I see no other reason but you. I see not this world, but you. Every word I say has blossomed into a prayer that I must’ve offered you. My dazed chains of thoughts are nothing but fragrant garlands…already yours even before you arrive!

I am not conscious I know… But you are… all that exists, I exist not anyway! There is just little silly thought, slowly fading away… Who will welcome you…if I become you in the end?!

Smiling face across the flowers…

She was restless all through the night. Thinking if she should do it or not….

What if they catch me? What will they do to me? But I can’t just sit. I will not be able to hold back….

It is a day to express my love…. It is my rightful time to speak what I feel! It is my time to say that I love you! …Flowers! Yes! I will get flowers tomorrow! There is nothing as pleasant as a beautiful flower to confront the love! It brings a smile, makes you agree, even if you are angry with me!

Who will sell flowers on the Valentine’s Day?! I have heard they burn down the shops

It will be very tricky… but I will feel so nice when I will see that smiling face across my flowers, watching me with admiration?!

And with that thought she smiled to herself….laying in her bed, watching vacant ceiling she drifted to sleep with sweet dreams in her eyes….

Morning came with distant bustle of awakening human world….and she woke up from her dream world. Her first conscious thought was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

With eagerness of a five year old she got herself ready. As if she wanted to catch the first flower of the season, first ray of that special sunrise, first smiles and first laughter! She changed her dress five times before the mirror….but finally selected the first dress only! She went through breakfast as if it was first time she ate food! And she rushed out in hurry…

Roads were still covered in lazy traces of last night’s fog. As she reached, the florist shop was only opening its shutters… its clean glass doors shining in soft morning light…. There was smell of soft watered earth… And fresh flowers were yet to be arranged. Florist, an elderly man of wise temperament was busy arranging the bouquets on display racks. He saw her approaching with a beaming smile on her face, and he thought to himself,

Here she comes, another fool! She will buy flowers for her lover and he will cheat her first thing tomorrow morning! How many like her have come to buy a red rose and gone home with a wilted face like stale lilies!”

But working with flowers everyday gave him a youthful heart, the one that can encourage love everyday with a new blossom on his display racks! He smiled as she entered the shop overflowing with smiles and so many things to say!

She bought flowers of assorted variety, unlike everyone who was expected to come today for red roses. She got fresh white lilies and sunny yellow roses along with pinks! Even when she was selecting the flowers she could not stop her smiles! What an overflow of zest!!

The florist chuckled to himself and he too could not help the smile that retouched his face! He took the money from her tender, inexperienced hands and noticed that it must have been her hard earned, saved for so long, money that she was spending today…. He looked down at that innocent smile and prayed to God that, “You still not have stopped giving out innocence and love in abundance! Thank you lord, world needs this so very much!”

Unaware of the florist and his prayer, the girl swayed her way out of his shop, controlling her desire to dance into walking steps across the pavement. The roads were almost empty, so unlikely for a beautiful morning like today! She thought for a moment but it could not dampen her joy and she walked on with the bunch of flowers cradled like a delicate baby in her arms… As she saw the flowers, again she melted into the fantasy of the moment when the flowers will be given! And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Around next corner she heard voices….as if people following her…. Smiles tucked in…. as if they had never known how to smile….tall and rough… in a moment she was surrounded…. Another moment had realized her flowers, her fresh and beautiful flowers were strewn across the road…torn petal by petal…. She could not concentrate on next moment…. Her eyes were closed… And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Her eyes opened to reveal white vacant ceiling…smell of something familiar….like a hospital….. With a tiny shock she looked around… it was not a dream…. Was it?! She was definitely coming here….right towards the hospital…but not to lie in bed! Why was she in bed?!

As she tried to get up, a searing pain went through her stomach…. A soft but firm hand came from somewhere and supported her up, so that she could sit and look around. That was some strange surprise to see her best friend by her side! What a great day it must be! And as her gaze moved around, she saw that old grandpa on first bed with his toothless smile, little foreigner girl craning her neck over the pillow to look at her, Head-nurse aunty in her crisp white uniform, bustling around the beds arranging curtains….sweeper uncle with his broom swashing under the beds smiled at her….

All the smiles that she had been dreaming of from across the flowers were right there! And she remembered flowers! Where are my flowers?! Some distant vague scene of petals strewn across the road…. Was it true?!

“I was getting flowers for you all” She said to the room at large, though her confused and pained look contradicted her words….

“Grandpa, I had got white lilies for you…you said it reminds you of granny…. And for nurse aunty and sweeper uncle, I had got yellow roses…those big fragrant ones….For the little china doll over there I had got pink rose”

She looked up at her friend, “What happened of my flowers?!”

He just smiled as if relieved from great tension. “You are safe, my flower! That is all we need! You are one fool to carry a big bunch of flowers right on the road, when you know things are very sensitive these days! If I had not found you in time, the people who stabbed you would have left you bleeding there on the road!”

His expressions of warm love changed to ferocious anger while he spoke! Late morning light fell across the tall windows, his red angry face glowed in that light…. But his rage could not touch her! She still smiled at him the same way! What could he do?! He had to smile too; such was the intoxicating wonder in her smile!

She was not much disturbed….as if violence never touched her! “Alright, so the flowers are gone you say?! Could we get fresh ones? What do you say? Do you have some money?”

“My dear, it’s the morning of 15th February, 2010! It was not very nice of you to remain unconscious for one whole day and keep everyone worried!” though now everyone was laughing!

He got up from her side and yawned and stretched “Is it okay if I go home now?! You are safe here with all your valentine friends and your parents will come in some time. I will see you later today…. Is it okay?!” she smiled and nodded with the enthusiasm of a fresh daisy swaying in morning wind!

She waved a goodbye to him, and relaxed back into the soft pillow, realizing the small effort had tired her out…. She saw from her bed… grandpa had taken his medicine and was dozing away…. The little Chinese girl was watching the doctors bustling outside the ward. It was very quiet… tranquil place.

Her gaze moved around…..and stopped on a wrinkled shirt, clumsily folded on her bedside table…. She recognized it at once….it was the same shirt he had worn. She knew her best friends shirt so well that she could have closed her eyes and picked it out of hundreds! But it was stained with blood… was it her blood?! She touched lightly on the bandaged wound on her stomach….trying to feel it….remember it…. It hurt for sure, even through the heavy painkiller dose….

She opened the folded shirt…and from its folds fell something in her lap…. A wilted red rose…one solitary red rose… and a note,

“to my dearest flower, you have been my best friend ever since I know you…. You have brought magic and wonderment in my life. You are no less than a magician for me! Would you want to spend your life with me, fill me with your magical love always and forever?!”

She Smiled and closed her eyes…and she saw his smiling face from across a solitary red rose, watching her in admiration!

She was restless all through the night. Thinking if she should do it or not….

What if they catch me? What will they do to me? But I can’t just sit. I will not be able to hold back….

It is a day to express my love…. It is my rightful time to speak what I feel! It is my time to say that I love you! …Flowers! Yes! I will get flowers tomorrow! There is nothing as pleasant as a beautiful flower to confront the love! It brings a smile, makes you agree, even if you are angry with me!

Who will sell flowers on the Valentine’s Day?! I have heard they burn down the shops…

It will be very tricky… but I will feel so nice when I will see that smiling face across my flowers, watching me with admiration?!

And with that thought she smiled to herself….laying in her bed, watching vacant ceiling she drifted to sleep with sweet dreams in her eyes….

Morning came with distant bustle of awakening human world….and she woke up from her dream world. Her first conscious thought was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

With eagerness of a five year old she got herself ready. As if she wanted to catch the first flower of the season, first ray of that special sunrise, first smiles and first laughter! She changed her dress five times before the mirror….but finally selected the first dress only! She went through breakfast as if it was first time she ate food! And she rushed out in hurry…

Roads were still covered in lazy traces of last night’s fog. As she reached, the florist shop was only opening its shutters… its clean glass doors shining in soft morning light…. There was smell of soft watered earth… And fresh flowers were yet to be arranged. Florist, an elderly man of wise temperament was busy arranging the bouquets on display racks. He saw her approaching with a beaming smile on her face, and he thought to himself,

Here she comes, another fool! She will buy flowers for her lover and he will cheat her first thing tomorrow morning! How many like her have come to buy a red rose and gone home with a wilted face like stale lilies!”

But working with flowers everyday gave him a youthful heart, the one that can encourage love everyday with a new blossom on his display racks! He smiled as she entered the shop overflowing with smiles and so many things to say!

She bought flowers of assorted variety, unlike everyone who was expected to come today for red roses. She got fresh white lilies and sunny yellow roses along with pinks! Even when she was selecting the flowers she could not stop her smiles! What an overflow of zest!!

The florist chuckled to himself and he too could not help the smile that retouched his face! He took the money from her tender, inexperienced hands and noticed that it must have been her hard earned, saved for so long, money that she was spending today…. He looked down at that innocent smile and prayed to God that, “You still not have stopped giving out innocence and love in abundance! Thank you lord, world needs this so very much!”

Unaware of the florist and his prayer, the girl swayed her way out of his shop, controlling her desire to dance into walking steps across the pavement. The roads were almost empty, so unlikely for a beautiful morning like today! She thought for a moment but it could not dampen her joy and she walked on with the bunch of flowers cradled like a delicate baby in her arms… As she saw the flowers, again she melted into the fantasy of the moment when the flowers will be given! And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Around next corner she heard voices….as if people following her…. Smiles tucked in…. as if they had never known how to smile….tall and rough… in a moment she was surrounded…. Another moment had realized her flowers, her fresh and beautiful flowers were strewn across the road…torn petal by petal…. She could not concentrate on next moment…. Her eyes were closed… And there was the same smiling face across the flowers, watching her with admiration! Again she could not help but smile!

Her eyes opened to reveal white vacant ceiling…smell of something familiar….like a hospital….. With a tiny shock she looked around… it was not a dream…. Was it?! She was definitely coming here….right towards the hospital…but not to lie in bed! Why was she in bed?!

As she tried to get up, a searing pain went through her stomach…. A soft but firm hand came from somewhere and supported her up, so that she could sit and look around. That was some strange surprise to see her best friend by her side! What a great day it must be! And as her gaze moved around, she saw that old grandpa on first bed with his toothless smile, little foreigner girl craning her neck over the pillow to look at her, Head-nurse aunty in her crisp white uniform, bustling around the beds arranging curtains….sweeper uncle with his broom swashing under the beds smiled at her….

All the smiles that she had been dreaming of from across the flowers were right there! And she remembered flowers! Where are my flowers?! Some distant vague scene of petals strewn across the road…. Was it true?!

“I was getting flowers for you all” She said to the room at large, though her confused and pained look contradicted her words….

“Grandpa, I had got white lilies for you…you said it reminds you of granny…. And for nurse aunty and sweeper uncle, I had got yellow roses…those big fragrant ones….For the little china doll over there I had got pink rose”

She looked up at her friend, “What happened of my flowers?!”

He just smiled as if relieved from great tension. “You are safe, my flower! That is all we need! You are one fool to carry a big bunch of flowers right on the road, when you know things are very sensitive these days! If I had not found you in time, the people who stabbed you would have left you bleeding there on the road!”

His expressions of warm love changed to ferocious anger while he spoke! Late morning light fell across the tall windows, his red angry face glowed in that light…. But his rage could not touch her! She still smiled at him the same way! What could he do?! He had to smile too; such was the intoxicating wonder in her smile!

She was not much disturbed….as if violence never touched her! “Alright, so the flowers are gone you say?! Could we get fresh ones? What do you say? Do you have some money?”

“My dear, it’s the morning of 15th February, 2010! It was not very nice of you to remain unconscious for one whole day and keep everyone worried!” though now everyone was laughing!

He got up from her side and yawned and stretched “Is it okay if I go home now?! You are safe here with all your valentine friends and your parents will come in some time. I will see you later today…. Is it okay?!” she smiled and nodded with the enthusiasm of a fresh daisy swaying in morning wind!

She waved a goodbye to him, and relaxed back into the soft pillow, realizing the small effort had tired her out…. She saw from her bed… grandpa had taken his medicine and was dozing away…. The little Chinese girl was watching the doctors bustling outside the ward. It was very quiet… tranquil place.

Her gaze moved around…..and stopped on a wrinkled shirt, clumsily folded on her bedside table…. She recognized it at once….it was the same shirt he had worn. She knew her best friends shirt so well that she could have closed her eyes and picked it out of hundreds! But it was stained with blood… was it her blood?! She touched lightly on the bandaged wound on her stomach….trying to feel it….remember it…. It hurt for sure, even through the heavy painkiller dose….

She opened the folded shirt…and from its folds fell something in her lap…. A wilted red rose…one solitary red rose… and a note,

“to my dearest flower, you have been my best friend ever since I know you…. You have brought magic and wonderment in my life. You are no less than a magician for me! Would you want to spend your life with me, fill me with your magical love always and forever?!”