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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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!

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

Munnaring Tourist….

I had heard so much about the god’s own country that a rushed, exhausting, crammed-in-a-tourist-bus type of trip could not do justice to the description.

So after the first day of site seeing through Munnar that was in fact spent in a traveler bus, I decided to do a bunk! Our tour guide was nearly as strict as a headmaster of school for juvenile criminals! So years after my schooling got over, I got a chance to experience the thrill of bunking!

Now I had all the time and freedom to do anything I wished! So I walked through unknown roads of those unknown places… watched people… real, walking, working people who lived behind the face of a tourist destination…

I zoomed around in local auto-rickshaws, felt like a mute and deaf trying to understand mallyalam!! And I watched their buildings…. It was a painful struggle to bind a natural and rugged architecture into western definition of modernism… and hopelessly failing at it.

They build glass facades because city people like it that way… and city people pay for the tourism industry…. Through the infection like crowd of faceless steel and glass boxes of luxury hotels there would be a little shack put together in rough stone, hidden behind clump of trees…. Like a tribal child peeping curiously!

One must cross a couple of hills to leave the market and tourist area behind. There I walked through simple cobbled streets of a local settlement flaunting wonderful, graceful, old stone-wooden houses. These houses definitely outlived those who doubt durability of wood and stood there mocking the fragility of glass boxed hotels!

I watched little songbirds soaring through the valley and imagined their songs were about the elite forest that once existed where rolling hills bear a disciplined monotony of tea gardens. Ecology has overpowered my aesthetic judgment a long ago. Mono-plantation of a tea estate does not appear beautiful when my mind is trying to grope the beauty of an ancient forest that was…

Though many bollywood heroes have pranced through these gardens…. I believe the tea gardens are supposed to be beautiful to most eyes….

While leaving Munnar, I concluded that I was unfit to enjoy famous hill stations…. Though the soft fog wrapped memories of the lofty Western Ghats will stay with me forever… for the elegantly mysterious forests of Anaimudi ranges…

PS: Forgive the lack of pictures, my faithful camera is in need of battery repair.

Next Post will be about Divine Abode of Ambadi in Thekkady…