Sunday, 31 December 2006

'i'ness: Graphic+Text

‘i’ness (graphic)
by - Remigius de Souza

THE GRAPHIC, ‘i’ness, as I call it now, was made around 1967 while I was staying at Ahmedabad. It was made on a wall-turned-black board with square line graph for sketching, writing etc. This is not an exact replica of the original. There were no circles in the original. They were there but invisible. The circles and ‘i’s are indefinite in numbers and at random places. The circles overlap and there is no centre. Ambiguities are obvious.

Do the circles suggest fields, or boundaries, or frontiers or a movement? Does the graphic show chaos within and outside? Or is it a landscape of mind? Is the ‘i’ a butterfly or a honeybee? Or does it represent an amoeba? The small ‘i’ certainly denies ego or a split or a fractured person. Is the graphic an attempt in self-discovery?
The ‘i’ is not an island but a drop in an ocean that evaporates, takes a ride on clouds, freezes on a mountain peak, falls in a pond, a stream, sinks in the soil, flows in a gutter to river to ocean, shines on a grass blade in the early sun-rays, but never lost.

The original has long disappeared from the blackboard, like a ‘Rangoli’ that is inscribed on a floor. There was nothing extraordinary to consider it as a work of art, or a formula in natural or social sciences. None of my companions or any of the occasional or regular visitors did any comment on the graphic. Like them I was also trained as an architect and a professional.

I remained ‘primitive’ in spite of my elitist education as architect and even though I moved in the elitist circle of professionals. I was looking at Corbu and others, and the works of the architecture at Ahmedabad and elsewhere. While my companions, colleagues, acquaintances were going to the West, I was moving with humility in the villages and forest habitats where the abodes, the languages and the ways of living were one with natural environment.

I had then come a long way, but did not fall for the masters, authority, religions, leaders or pyramids on my way. Though nonconformist I had been consistent at least in my thinking even in the trying circumstances, as it often happens while working in the organised sector that wants to maintain a status quo. I would rather move away and beyond, because I had seen not only two ends but also several of the world.

After decades I recall the graphic because a friend said, “I am depressed”. We all get depressed sometime or other for some causes. Why should a person be depressed? Stock markets are supposed to get depressed. Body and mind are just tools; they need to be revived, refreshed; they should be sharpened like a carpenter sharpens his tools when starting the work; they should be cleansed as a housewife cleans the utensils for the next meal.

Constant renewal of life is the nature’s way, so it should be with an individual and the society, along with ever-renewing miracle of love. A society – ancient or modern – that denies the renewal – constant renewal – of its life even in the third (and fourth) ecology, the society that turns love, gods, religions and humans into commodities, and monetises the basic needs, is a decedent society, which causes depression for its members. Life is larger than all the arts, sciences, religions and philosophies put together.

* * * * *

Remigius de Souza

because there was no room


'...because there was no room for them in the inn', is the greeting I designed during the Christamas of 1987. Twenty is the graphic I designed for the Christmas of 1987. Twenty years have passed since then, and not much change for improvement has taken place. Perhaps the situation is worsened for many, improved for a few.
People are being displaced due to development projects, floods, draughts, earthquakes Tsunami, riots, and terrorism. Any help comes is at its bureaucratic pace.
Remigius de Souza

Monday, 25 December 2006

Land and Peasants in Development in India

Land and Peasants in Development in India
Challanges of 21st Century
by Remigius de Souza

“Everything, in this world, exists in order to culminate in a book.” —Mallarmé (1842 – 1898)

'‘The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding” – Albert Camus

(Key words: Land (with waters) is the source of Life and the sustenance to all living beings, and culture to humans. Peasants – the landless and the landholder alike, the artisans known as twelve ‘Balutadars’, and the forest dweller or the tribal, which amount to 800 millions including those languish in the city-slums. Development is an ongoing process and not an abstract economic theory. When means and goals are same then there is possibility of development: here land is the means and goals, so also the peasants. Environmental-Ecological-Energy Cost.)

I am browsing through Amartya Sen’s book, ‘Resources, Values and Development’ (1984), a selection of his essays from 1961 to 1984, republished in paperback in 1999 (OUP), after about fifteen years. Perhaps the author and the publisher did not see any need to include subsequent essays, if any, a sequel to the theme of this book, perhaps due to the restraints of economy.

At the start of the introduction, Professor Sen declares, ‘Much of economics is neat and elegant; but some of it is not. The essays included in this volume belong to the later category (p.1).’ It is because, I think, they are holistic. They relate mainly to development economics that take into account many aspects.

I, of course, skip theories, equations, diagrams, tables etc., as I am not equipped to comprehend; I look for fiction. I, however, find something amiss, something desirable to the heart of a peasant. Hence, without defining or theorising I straight go to an example:

In the Chapter 13: Rights and Capabilities, Section 3: Capabilities, I notice:
‘Consider a good, e.g. rice. The utilitarian will be concerned with the fact that the good in question creates utility through its consumption. … But that is not the only thing it does (p.315).’ he further writes, ‘Four different notions need in this context. There is a notion of a good (in this case, rice); that of a characteristic of a good (e.g. giving calories and nutrition); that of functioning of a person (in this case, living without calorie deficiency); that of a utility (in this case, pleasure or desire fulfilment from the functioning in question, or for some other functioning related to the characteristic of ice) (p. 316).’

As I read this part, I wander away from the book into the realms of my perceptions, experience, information and impressions that I gathered during my journey through places, events and time. It is also keeping in with an idiom in my native tongue, Konkani, “you need not check every grain of ‘rice’ in pot if cooked.”

Sometime around 6500 – 5800 BC, the archaeologists say, people in the Fertile Crescent in South-east Asia domesticated rice. That included a part that we now call India, Bharat, or Hindustan as per our convenience. However, even to this day the tribal, in the backyard of Mumbai, cultivate wild Jowar – millet – and use it for various purposes: grains for food, its stocks that grow 7-8 feet for fodder and in housing.

I take the example of Konkan, a rice-producing region on the western coast, where I was born, and grew up on paddy farms during my formative years. For a peasant, her homestead is the yard around her adobe abode with plants, fields, groves, grassland, hills, and of course, the community well, a stream, water reservoir if any; and a cow, goat, chickens, cat, dog or bullocks join her kinship.

During all the dry days, besides other chores, she collects cow dung, brushwood, dry leaves, which go for fuel and/or manure in a compost pit. She collects even the ashes from ‘Chulha’ – cooking hearth, and ashes from the burnt leaves and spread in the farms. For the peasants this is ‘conventional’ agriculture, which continues in many places. The western and the westernised call it ‘non-conventional’ or ‘organic’ agriculture.

In between, there are four months of monsoon that witness hectic activity at home and the fields – transport, process, sowing and caring paddy, other grains and vegetables.

The harvest brings the work that involves transport, process and storage. For example, there is a process for parboiled rice. Until few decades ago, they used the wooden grinding wheels (Ghirat) at home to remove husk, similar to stone-mill (Jaate) for flour. Now they take paddy to rice mills. They take home even the husk of the ground paddy. They feed the finer husk after boiling to the chicken / cattle. They mix the course husk in cow dung to make ‘govari’ – a flat cow dung disk – for fuel. Paddy straw is stacked in a mound around a wooden bully 10 – 15 feet high. It is stored for cattle feed during dry days, as green fodder is available during monsoon.

The seeds, paddy, parboiled rice and rice are stored according to the quantity in a bamboo mat silos, or in paddy straw bundles (Moodi). Silos are covered from outside with cow dung wash. The bundles look like huge pumpkins of about three feet in diameter. The paddy straw cover is about three inches thick when compacted. They use a hand-made paddy-straw rope to tie around the bundle, compacted by using a wooden batten. The vertically tied rope looks like altitudes on a map of the globe. Indeed, it was a beauty, a work of art (or craft!) now perhaps lost forever. Paddy straw is also used for roofing in some cases, as may be seen near saltpans to cover and protect the un-disposed stock of salt in the open, during monsoon.

This is a very brief description of few details of peasants’ actions related to rice in the example above. Simple and ordinary as they may seem, there is a complex interrelationship between resources, values and development, which modern economics may not have fully explored. There is much more: besides skills, tools, processes and products related to rice, so also number of other “utilities”, not only for livelihood, but also culture/s of peasants. This has been going on for generations, for ages.

“Consider a good, e.g. rice”, again. A few hundred miles north of my birthplace is Riagad District. Here, for example, in the coastal plains, the peasants don’t plough the paddy farm, but directly broadcast the seeds. They also use water-flooded paddy terraces to farm favourite local specie of fish, ‘Jitada’, by digging pits that retain water for few months after monsoon. People have used diversity and adversity both to their advantage discovered by ‘collective creativity’ and not by theories. In the land of great diversity that is India, what variety and wealth of knowledge, skills and practices must there be.

However there is no time or will among the ruling minority, which is obsessed with western-style ‘development’ of capitalism with a benevolent name ‘duel economy’, hence, no records of “Intellectual Property Rights”, which may come up or be ignored in future; every time there may not be cases like Basmati rice, Neem and turmeric. The theft and smuggling of plants and herbs out of the country that is taking place is apart! While the elite enjoy a status of neo-Brahmanism, the 800 million peasants are like Shudras, second-class citizens, an underclass; that’s ‘duel economy’! Without right empowerment how would the peasants care for the vanishing precious biodiversity?

With industrialisation, and without appropriate rehabilitation, it is not only the loss of the people’s knowledge, tools, and skills and the indigenous seeds, but also the loss of environment of the natural habitat. The ground water is going lower or is getting poisoned. We do not hear the chorus of frogs during monsoon nights any more. We were shocked to hear a hundred peasants died at a stroke in Karnataka by consuming crabs that had concentrated pesticides in their bodies. What will be the fate of the land, waters and the people when the SEZs (Special Economic Zones devised recently to take over agricultural farms in India) will become operative in near future?

The governments, at the centre or states, have shown total apathy for the past six decades to organise and implement rehabilitation of the peasants, while bringing in and supporting industrialisation with their ad-hoc policies, projects and the laws. Why is this apathy? It is only because the peasants and the farming communities in six lakh villages is not an organised sector like commerce, trade and industry, which can twist government’s arm at a single call. Are the peasants on their way out to annihilation? It is as mute a question as the peasants.

Perhaps the plain reason for this failure of the government is that the British Raj did not leave any formula as their legacy while parting; or it failed to invent any on its own; or it failed to imitate others. It failed because it failed to do necessary fieldwork. It is easier to produce nuclear weapons or space ships, at any cost. How could anyone invent a theory or an equation or a formula for application for such a great diversity and the great disparity?

Certainly, Sen must be aware of many examples as one cited above, and the anomaly thereby, as may be guessed from his writing. However, what will happen to economics, if it has to take into account the above example? It will have to count also the “Environment–Ecology–Energy Cost” (EEE Cost) of the conventional agriculture of the peasants, here and now, at least in the Twenty First Century, and revise all its equations and formulae, hypotheses and rationale. It will have to re-write the equations after assessing the “EEE Cost” of all the industrial products.

The example cited above clearly shows the practice is labour intensive, uses local resources, and conserves the soil regularly by its rehabilitation, and so far it is a model of sustainability. The capitalist society and its culture of production and consumerism beyond needs, and the waste thereby, do not envisage this aspect. Even by conventional system the peasants do not get a fair deal, even by the governments. The experts, even those rebellious against the system, are recognised by awards not by action. But who could guarantee the theories work? As Paul Valéry says, ‘there is no theory that is not a fragment.’

See, for example, the Census Survey of India 1991 (Census 2001 is not yet printed). It defines, “persons engaged in household duties, students, dependants, retired persons, rentiers, beggars are some of the categories grouped as non-workers” (Section 10, part 10.2). This seems to be applied to both urban and rural populations. How crude? Among peasants, the women share major responsibility at farms as well as home; the help comes from the aged and the children – students, dropouts, or those never enrolled. The peasants, even if aged, never retire unless invalid. The village data, if checked, will show substantial number of non-workers. See also the number of inhabited villages in the Census data. How do the people survive? Where do people go?

How reliable are such data that may be extensively used by economists and other experts and planners to shape the fate of the people, but never reach the peasants? The amazing fact is the government may approve to send a man on moon, but never sends complimentary copies of the Census Survey the Gram Panchayats so they can scrutinise its work: only the peasants are qualified to do it, but they are languishing in illiteracy – innumeracy.

The peasants are not aware of their status recorded by the government every ten years. And now Census 2001 is available only in electronic form. What would be the response of the peasants, particularly women, ho feed not only their families but even the nation, to their status of ‘non- workers’ along the beggars, in the country that is so rich in resources? Whosoever may be responsible, the hypocrisy is unprecedented, it has no match anywhere.

Having, of course, a will, in the modern times, and by hard work, the government can open many new avenues and areas to the peasants to elevate their skills, knowledge, livelihood, sustenance and self-reliance. Taking the example of rice, we name a few options as a reminder:
Rice husk: paper, cement; Rice bran: bran oil; Defatted bran: cattle feed;
Animal waste and farm residue: methane gas, manure; Waste water: filtration
plant --- algae pond (nitrogen-rich manure) / fish pond; recycled water: farm/ kitchen
Plantation: fruits /edible - non-edible oils /paper / fibres / spices and condiments / herbal medicine / aromatic plants /colours and dyes / gums and resins / timber / and conservation of vanishing species;
Land: conservation, restoration, use of soil testing kit, and as the subcontinent now is known
to be earthquake prone, to be prepared for self-help;
Waters: conservation, recycling, aquaculture, health, recreation, use of water testing kit,
and water management in the times of floods and draughts by self-help, having known that
the government help does not reach in time to save life and property;
Market: (1) documentation of their every action and input into their daily work, sustenance
and way of living, and derive the price-cost-value-benefit; access to (2) idea of modern
‘economic developments that are conducive to a proliferation of middle-men, where
commodities take over things, even humans, and prices from values; (3) work towards to
master the market, neither to serve or patronise it.

Having a will and courage, the government, as it has vast infrastructure, it turn every village into a Special Agro-tech Parks (SAPs) across the country. Taking a clue, if need be, from the West that sent the youth to the armed forces, or China’s example of ‘Cultural Revolution’, India too can develop on an indigenous tool, which is partially in operation.

Introduce a compulsory ‘internship’ of six months for all the candidates who go for Diplomas, Degrees, Masters and Doctorates from every discipline of higher education, without reservations. They must go to the villages and work with peasants and SAP, without any stipend. They should support themselves by using, and also testing, their learning of 15 / 17 / 20 years of formal education. (The likely fallout that there may be a countrywide wave of ‘bribery and corruption’ to escape the internship, or otherwise we trust the Response-Ability of the younger generation, irrespective of all the prevailing waves in the country!)

Deliver the “Pro-poor” products, not the promises.
Give them the ‘fishing-hook’, not the fish.
Be the facilitator, being democratic government, not a ruler.
Return the land to the peasants, by their ancestral right, don’t sale to the corporate.
Start six lakhs SAPs for six lakhs Villages of India on war footing.

* * * *
Remigius de Souza
69–243, S. B. Marg Mumbai 400028 India

Saturday, 23 December 2006

Indian Budgets 12 years apart (2 Poems)

Fence sitter's view (Year 1994)

Grand old Adam
From heaven
Of free enterprise
Wonders, watching
The acrobatics
Of the finance expert
How he manages
Indian rope trick
Of the annual national budget
In between the holes
In the sky, by
Terrorists' acts
And Bofor's kickbacks
So also, securities' scams
Until bomb-blasts sneaks
And Mother Earth shudders,
All of which rise on and on, along
The progress chart of GNP
Successively year after year.

In the arena of circus
The first rows
And the second rows
Are entertained with
Intellectual kicks,
While the acrobat makes
Those in the stands
Forget their woes
Back at home, awhile.

The Marx, the Thoreau
The Gandhi and Leo
Watch with thumb in mouth
While grand old Adam
From heavenOf free enterprise
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
(Mumbai: 8-3-1994)

Ways to Wealth (Year 2006)


Once a god adored adorned
many a head of door to an abode.
Now the gods take to the road,
beg for patronage. And the rich
beggars go globe trotting for
finance, know-how and trade.


Once the children of communities
cohesive received learning free
in the life-supporting skills in
branches of wholesome life-tree.

Now in the forward societies
they buy it at the trading malls
turning their clocks fast forward
until late to their adulthood
to earn their dough of uncertain
value to buy the living and life-
supporting services from expertise
at the thriving market place.


Now the bureaucrats – the masters
from the branches of expertise,
at their highest level of incompetence
in Peter Principle – take chairs;
replace colours faded of feudal-ship,
at the helm of the people’s affairs.

Now no wonder the prostitution goes
rampant and the pimps thrive on
as they make it quick with smile on
the by-ways and highways to wealth.


Now no wonder all the world children
– you and I, yours and mine –
are the cursed ‘unwanted generation’,
as much said, the ‘growing population’
by the stakeholder – the rational animal – man
as much done: the rape of Mother Earth.

(Mumbai : 04-03-2006)

Remigius de Souza
69/ 243, S. B. MARG, MUMBAI 400028, INDIA.


Thursday, 21 December 2006

In the wilderness

By Remigius de Souza

Perhaps I could sing words of birds
along smiling shoots of spring
in the company of mango bloom
and soothing green of cuckoo's Pancham,
and dance under the canopy of clouds
to the peacock's call in the backyards
on the pathway of Meghdootam
there in the abode of Saras;
or inscribe them on deadly diskettes
for the posterity.

In my mega-city museums, mummies
of birds celebrate sing silently,
in the tombs of Natural History.
Who shall cherish the memory
of my jungle of skyscrapers
and of glass-skyscrapers which scares
the heavenly eagles away;
of serpentine Metro that snatches
the abode of Shesha's descendants away?
Notes: 1. Pancham: Fifth note in Indian classical music;
2. Meghadootam : Classicle Sanskrit poem by Kalidasa;
3. Saras: a bird;
4. Shesha: Mythological primal serpent, the bed of Lord Vishnu, while eagle is his vehicle. 

Friday, 8 December 2006

Public Places, Cities and People

Public Places, Cities and People
- Remigius de Souza

QUESTIONING THE CREDIBILITY of public places in cities in space-time-people or in the historical context is inevitable. The urban designers or town planners, however, may ignore it, not necessarily on its merits measured in aesthetics in design, which happens to be a yardstick today. It is because of their institutional schooling and bureaucratic grooming.

The public places are a part of social services in a city or a village. Whether a new city plans show any insight into people or foresight in providing for the needs of people coming from diverse cultural sub-groups is a matter of speculation. We know that there are cities, which have existed for thousands of years. A life of century or two is a trivial period of time. We are speaking in Indian context.

Man-Nature-Ageing trio works over a public place, where the first intervenes, the second rejuvenates and the third resurrects it. When man lives in harmony with nature, ageing – the traditions consolidate it. This happens in the eastern cultures and tribal habitats, and perhaps elsewhere.

In the Indian (traditional) context, not by modern western values and standards propagated by the elite, there are two types of public places or community places for the collective or community. A fort or a palace is not a public place because of question of accessibility or control on accessibility.

The first is a sacred place: a way, a tree, a grove, a stone, a hill, a building as a place of worship – a temple, a mosque etc.; water – sea, river, lake, well, and the earth as Mother Goddess. Second is a market place, which is often a street or open ground.

Sacred places are sometimes invaded by the militarily powerful or so-called advanced societies. Now the economically powerful are doing it under various garbs. They defile them.

A sacred place is a grand expression of community participation by ancient unwritten convention. A place for Holi is a village may remain deserted throughout the year, but no one ever, not even a child defiles. A deserted looking place at Tarnetar in Gujarat comes to life buzzing with assembly of people and animals, vibrant with colours, music, and song and dance. It takes place at a well that has mythological connection with Mahabharat. River Ganga appears once in decade at Rajapur in Konkan on the West Coast of India, and ther takes place Kumbha Mela. Thus the third aspect of ageing of the place is conserved by tradition. Now, commercialisation has made Tarnetar into a showpiece for tourism.

In cities, however, Holi, Ganesha and Navaratri and other festivals take place on the streets. Waste, urinating, and defecation sometimes defiles the streets. People temporarily wash and clean them. What else can they do! Ironically these events on the street are celebrated with great enthusiasm by the lower classes of the society and slum dwellers. Commercial ads have come forward to fund the festivals in recent years.
Indian people traditionally love celebrations – festivals, fairs, feasts that are associated with customs and religions; synchronised with seasons, crops, farming, deities, etc. that encompass plant world and animal world.

In urban areas as well as in rural areas the public realm had been fulfilled by sacred places. Temple, for example, plays a vital role as a multidimensional institute in the life of Indian society. It function more than just a place of worship,. It has been also a school of visual and performing arts and architecture for artisans and sthapatis, − master builders, for leisure and meeting for the community.

In modern times, the museums, art galleries, theatres, cinema houses, libraries, night clubs, discotheques, stadiums, schools, universities, playgrounds, parks and gardens have come up as public places in the cities. These precincts perhaps compensate for the lost past of the public realm in the changing scenario due to the industrialisation and economy. Hence they, however, are accessible selectively.

Accessibility is the very foundation of a public place. It is the need to sustain healthy and cohesive community. Where the access is denied to anyone on any account to work, leisure, health and education, thereby to sustain oneself then the community disintegrates, hence the end of community. Then what is left behind is the residue of civilisation, a mob, a crowd. This denial to access may take place on account of caste, class, creed, colour, race, ism, sect, ideology, social / political status, or now privatisation.

A ‘Way’ is a sacred place being pathway of a Yaksha/Yakshi, or a ceremonial pathway. It is believed if the sacred pathway is defile than the Yaksha/Yakshi gives it up. The locals carefully maintain the sanctity of the place. In contrast a street in a modern city planning is designated to automobile irrespective of any regards to sacred passage by people’s convention, if any, either out of disregard for the so-called superstition or out of ignorance. We have known some examples: even the newfangled give sacrifices in case of any misfortune befall on a project. It is believed that human were sacrificed in its foundations during the construction of Hawra Bridge at Kalkota. Some streets in the cities often display a conflict of human scale and automobile scale. Street comes as a handy tool to vent anger, frustration, despair, revenge, and stress that result in loss of life and property. Not only people but also the governments are not exception. Jalianwala Baug – a public place – episode, and subsequently many others, is example of the conflict. At Chandigarh, the irate public, on the issue of Haryana’s new capital, had stoned, and damaged by breaking windowpanes, the Secretariat Building designed by Le Corbusier. When access is denied to sustenance, a street, which is market place for shopping in daylight, turns to flesh trade in the dark. A religious procession may turn into a nightmare. Just as cities are symbols of centralised power, the streets symbolise conflict. Culture then remains as a residue in the form of rituals.

Presently a street is not associated with people but automobile and follows traffic standards. They are planned for the paradise where people car ration is 1:1, aping the developed countries. On the Indian landscape the street for automobile is in conflict with human beings as well as other living beings.

A very simple example of rebellion has become evident in people urinate and defecate and throw waste along the streets in urban areas. This also evident in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which is forested area, in Mumbai. It is a silent protest against defiling the Mother Earth– in a reflex action – by the ancient society which is backward, illiterate, superstitious etc. according to the educated elite society: they defile that defiles; there is nothing sacred about modern city or a city-street.

Water – among sacred places – from ancient times has deep association with Indian culture in general and woman in particular. The lakes, tanks, drinking water fountains, besides private and community wells feature in Indian villages and most of the historical towns and cities. But in the plans for cities and city expansions, water – not being ‘land’ – is excluded as a public place from the land-use-zoning. Water is now trapped in pipelines and underground or overhead storage tanks; this malady has now reached to the villages. Now the villages too neglect the water bodies and wetlands, which were built in the past and traditionally maintained, are now neglected. Of course huge reservoirs are built away from the cities as a utility service, not as a public place. As an exception, few spouts for fountains duly fenced and surrounded by streets at traffic junctions are designed and built to please aesthetic sense, a feature imported from the cold western countries through colonial masters. Either water is excluded or defiled, examples: Sukhana Lake at Chandigarh, which gets silted, and River Ganga continues to get polluted. City planners ceremoniously bulldoze even the existing water bodies, even sea, to make ground (to make money) or else defile the sea and rivers by throwing city’s waste.

Modern city streets, parks and gardens, which are sometimes aesthetically beautified and protected by ‘ticketing’, ‘gating’ and ‘fencing within fencing’ from the public. This does not hide the fact but is a loud confession that a large part of the citizens are pushed to marginalisation by denial to access because of insufficient public place. The State then feebly executes ‘access’, within ‘free-market-economy’, through public distribution system to absolve the marginalized and the displaced.

The idea of public participation in the aesthetics of a urban designer or city planner or an economic planner etc. through the standards, perhaps international standards, is “I decide; you follow” alike many other authorities and agencies that hold power. No wonder what is achieved is “Tughlaq Effect” in planning. We are referring to Tughlaq the emperor who was sitting at Delhi.

Is it possible to define space – time not in scientific or philosophical formula, but in the ground realities in the real life issues?

There is a massive exodus of people from rural areas to the cities. Most of them live in the slums and on the streets. This too is happening due to the denial of access to the resources, most of which are monopolised by the powerful minority. In Mumbai, for example, they are about 5–6 million, half the population of the city. By no means there is any sign that it would come to an end, thanks to the development on a fast track. They have rehabilitated themselves in the unrecognised grey-land-use-zone by secondary use of waste material from the city, and created a self- sustaining system by self-help. They do have creative potential which the use. Thanks to the blinkered view of the experts and professionals that they don’t notice it, leave aside public participation.

In the Development Control Regulations of Mumbai, they have come up with a formula that offers redevelopment of slums by which they can have floor area 2.5 times the plot of land; each self contained unit of 21 sq. M. area. Some genius brains also have come up with a formula to give them free houses. The lucky ones who got these free self contained tenements, in a multi-storeyed bloc, more than 250 units, still continue to use the street where they live as a public place to celebrate various festivals as in the past while living in the huts. The commercial ads fund them, in addition to the residents and the shopkeepers in the locality. Of course the locality hardly be called a neighbourhood.

Meanwhile the elite class desperately tries to create order and maintain status quo. It creates designs by aesthetics to bless the public place. Its aesthetics do not wonder at “how nature ahs unnatural ways” as Kabir says, “that the fragrance of sandalwood, aroma of clove, sweetness of sugarcane, but none bears flowers”. Or as Tukaram says, “the sugarcane is crooked but not Rasa – juice – Essence.” Gardens are clean and neat, manicured plants and well moved grass, but no grasshopper, no dragonfly, no butterfly, no honeybee ever dare defile the supreme aesthetics propagated by superior race of Post-historic Man by trespassing it. Nor one does hear Madari’s – snake charmer – damaru, or see the acrobatics of a Dombari family anymore.

People at least see the stars and heroes in the politics and cinema-TV; they are selling dreams to people. But the stars and heroes of designing and planning are living on the periphery of the ruling class like the untouchables – Shudras -, they are hardly visible to people, almost a non-entity, though they are meddling with the lives of people.

Children, together with their families, see instead the Hollywood–Bollywood–Tellywood magic of the virtual world on deified TV that offers a ‘public place’ at home. Could city planners ever discover the essence when they have responsibility to deal with lives of millions of people? Could the modern public place endure Nature in space-time and grow in ageing for the posterity by accessibility, transparency, and accountability? Who could answer other than Kabir or Tukaram?

“Only we know the meaning of Vedas; others carry the burden on heads.”
― Tukaram

Remigius de Souza
This article was published in the Journal of Indian Institute of Architects
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
© Remigius de Souza. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

(Book Review) YAKSAS Essays in the Water Cosmology

Essays in the Water Cosmology
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Editor: Paul Schroeder
India Gandhi National Centre For The Arts, New Delhi
Oxford University Press
Hb xviii + 339 pp, ISBN 019 563385 7


“Our problem is not so much of the rebirth of an Indian culture, as it is one of preserving what remains of it. This culture is valid for us not so much because it is Indian as because it is culture.”
— Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (The opening lines of his address at Harvard University on 15 August 1947.)

The right question will provide the right answer, and the right answer would have efficacy of an “act of truth”. [P.138]

(I)n Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, the older esoteric interpretations have been made public while the mysteries as have been lost. [P.138]

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has given us a monumental work. The theme of this book dates back to third millennia B.C. and continues to the present. It deals with not only history but also the foundations of Indian culture; India not of the political boundaries. Presently some part of India lives in the space age, while the other is in the Neolithic Age. It is a new edition, revised and enlarged. The first two parts, ‘Yaksas’ and ‘Water Cosmology’, were published in 1928 and 1932 respectively. The part 3, ‘What are the Waters’ was not published before. It is timely publication to welcome 21st century and third millennium.

In his characteristic style Coomaraswamy investigates, and analysis by taking evidence from texts – Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit – Vedic and post-Vedic literature including folk–lore, Ritual and Plastic arts and architecture. He traces the origin, the meaning and development of Yaksa Cult, Tree Cult, Water Cosmology and Life Cults prevalent in India, beginning from prehistoric time. He examines their parallels in and common roots with other cultures and countries and presents the mysteries, which are of timeless value. It helps to give insight in Indian people in the context of present times. It is a handbook the householder, social activists, environmentalists, the NGOs, the policymakers and the scholars alike. If looked up carefully in the context of the present wave of ‘cyberspace’ and ‘animated virtual reality’ and its background of the crisis of ‘Environment – Ecology – Energy’ and their progressively deteriorating state at local and global levels, simultaneously, has much significance.

Yaksas as Spirit, ‘Atman’, as Single Primal Principle, in various forms and aspects, as deities control waters, i.e. Essence (Rasa) in the waters, which is one with sap (in trees), Amrta (Elixir), seed (seamen) in living beings, so also, milk, rain, hoeny, mead (Madhu), and liquer (Sura). Refeferances to the Yaksa aspect as Agni (Fire), or in modern idium ‘Energy”, who is “deadly to be touched” has various aspects: in Kamadeva as ‘fire‘ or ‘love’, ’Life’, ‘Universal Life’; in the sun (Mitra) as the friend; in Yama as Devourer, Death i.e. want, privation and Desire; in Vanaspati as ‘Lord/s of the Tree or Forest; Palasa (The Flame of Forest) being Agni’s birthplace.
In the modern context we can verify and judge for ourselves the cocktail effect of unrestrained tapping of Energy, ‘Agni”, whether from hydal–fossil fuel – electrical – nuclear, or seemingly benign Alternative Technology sources such as wind – tidal – solar – bio-gas sources. Does that lead to Greenhouse Effect, besides various health disorders!

The aspect of Varuna who represents “ideal kingship”, Coomaraswamy has brought up the issue of ‘governance’, which is a ‘hot’ subject today at local and global levels he quotes variously, “When king’s virtue fails, the order of nature is disturbed”, “(T)he fertility and prosperity of the country depends upon the king’s virtue; the direct connection between justice and rainfall here involved is highly significant.” Who are the kings in our times? Are the people, or the high offices of the State, or those who hold monopoly over the resources of the Earth and the Waters? This question leads us to “Yaksa worship” and “Bali–Karan”.

Animal and human sacrifices as a form of worship have been prevalent, though the Bodhisattva forbade. It was believed that the human sacrifices were made when Hoogly Bridge was built. It is a belief that the spirit of the sacrificed person protects the building and the wealth. In the developed modern society the modus operand has changed from “Bali–karan” to “Bhook–Bali” i.e. death by starvation, which is common phenomena. May the “Bhook–bali” be on a mass scale or a stray examples: the Ethiopians, the Boat People, or at home the Tribal in Thane,
Melghat as well as elsewhere, which go unreported? These are, of course, the marginalized and underprivileged people. It could be indirect cause for the ‘protection’ of wealth and prosperity created by the modern development, therefore, of the privileged class.

Rituals of Water Cosmology take place from birth to death and in ancestor worship. One may find a person at a liquor bar in Mumbai city; he dips his finger and splashes a drop of liquor before taking his sip. In urban areas the rituals may have been miniaturized for instant delivery, where meanings and mysteries are difficult to retrieve. This may be due to loss of natural environment from built urban habitat, where canned water and synthetic plants and flowers are served, which is more of hedonism. This is aggravated by new ‘cults’ of endless production – consumption – waste, a new triad, through arms, trade and passive entertainment, but no place for contemplation.

The first two parts – ‘Yaksas’ and ‘Water Cosmology’ – are interspersed into each other, which deal with Life, Sustenance and Spirit. The first two parts are metaphysics show life and sustenance is supported by spirit in all beings, while the third part, ‘What are the Waters?’, deals with how Life and Sustenance help the person to liberate from birth till death by Way of Uajna and Yoga in Enfranchisement (Mukti) and thereby receive Invulnerable Happiness in both material and spiritual aspects, here and now,. “Yajna being work – Karma – ritual, or all works done Sacra mentally, as Sacrifice, work as Vocation (Swadharma)”. Yoga is a Way, Reunion or unity of the embodied self with the Self in itself. Perhaps in a subtle way this masterwork shows what is amiss in the global search for much wanted ‘sustainable development’.

The spatial plan of the book is analogous to a archetypal tribal hut, or a typical Indian temple. The first two parts are like Mandapas, the third is alike kitchen or a room for confinement in a tribal hut, or the ‘Garbhagriha’ with ‘Shikhara’ in temple, indeed a culmination, a pinnacle of the thesis. The first two parts are complex intricate, rich in texture of the outside of a temple. The third part is rustic, ascetic, without ornamentation i.e. as Coomarswamy says, “without extended documentary evidence“. It is graphic presentation (in words) of ascent of Life from Birth to Enfranchisement (Mukti), death being only transitory stage. It is the spherical ascent in spiral movement of the ever–expanding, ever–ascending Person towards fruitfulness and fullness of Life through Yajna (Sacrifice) and Yoga (Reunion) here and now to reach Sovran Good (Rta) and Invulnerable Happiness – ‘Ananda’.

The editing and production of this book is par excellence, which is at once visible from the beginning to the last detail: in selection of paper, appropriate typefaces, layout, the cross references provided to the text, notes, explanatory notes and plates, the bibliography and index which are carefully executed. It is a reference book for art students, architects, planners, landscape designers, and of course, movie–makers and ‘Vastu–consultants’.

Remigius de Souza
[Revised 18–8–2001]
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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Friday, 24 November 2006

Child Labour: Myth and Reality

Child Labour: Myth and Reality

Challanges of 21st Century

UN poster girl

Myth: UN poster girl (TOI, Nov. 21, 2006)

A branded bathing soap by a MNC, nowadays, in an ad on TV channels in India, send children to clean a waterlogged cricket stadium to drain the field. They are voluntary child labourers from elite class urban families. They have excellent communication gadgets and bicycles. What a noble cause! How tremendous human energy!

I was born in a village in Konkan – a rice bowl of Maharashtra State. During my childhood in nineteen forties, due to the shortage of food, the government was supplying grains, imported millet – red Jowar, through its public distribution system on ration shops. It needed thorough cleaning and washing. We called it “dukari” meaning “pig-food”, or so believed to be used in the West.

This was perhaps a side effect of war in Europe, called World War II. We were then fortunate to get that much. Now the conditions are much worst; the tribal, for example, in Orissa, as reported, were eating dried carnal of mango seeds, or in Gujarat kill their hunger by drinking fermented toddy arrack, in Maharashtra there are instances of death of tribal children by malnutrition or starvation in the backyard of Mumbai.

A standard reason for this malady put forward by the experts, the celebrated hypocrites, is “Population Explosion”, but they never mention, in the same breath, “Sensex Explosion” in the share market that corrodes the rightful claim of the posterity to healthy Environment–Ecology–Energy.

Later we heard that in Vietnam an entire generation was born on the war-field and grew up with guns in their hands ready to fight. Thanks to the power greedy warmongers and profit greedy armament industry.

Much later, very recently, we read in the media that the “UN poster girl” that appeared in a campaign against child labour is still subjected to child labour in Bihar. It is as if by being a “poster girl” she had reached an exclusive status of “Miss World”, or a celebrity! What about the millions of children in the cities and countrywide?

Perhaps after the two World Wars in Europe many orphanages, SOS institutions for the children and homes for the aged might have been founded, so also, many brothels flourished. And the West being highly industrialised and wealthy, and less populated, may have also abolished ‘child labour’.

However, here, the children among 700-800 million Indians, who are subjected to harsh disparity, educate themselves by ‘experiential learning’ in every possible occupation, vocation, trade of their families and communities, from dish-and-cloth washing and child rearing to agriculture, carpentry, abode building, pottery, smithy, running grocery shop etc. from early age.

They also acquire skills in hundred and one errands to support living. This education, of course, has no recognition by the official systems. Thanks to the absence of burden of books typical of modern urban elite style of education that despite their labour and meager level of literacy, they still get some time for leisure and play, and at countryside be with whatever natural environment there.

A few years back, I met one of my ex-students, an aspiring young architect, near Churchgate Railway Station area in Mumbai. This is a very prestigious and prime location of downtown Mumbai. Besides, this young lady and her family have been residents of this area, perhaps for generations; obviously she belonged to a high society of Mumbai. She has been conducting a survey of hawkers in that area on behalf of the local residents’ association and some NGO.

I asked her, “In your survey is there a question to find where these people – individual or group – come from? Do you find from which place they come and why? And where do they live in the city? Does this aspect figure in your questionnaire?”
With surprise she answered "No, Sir."
Predictably she did not think even about their families, leave aside children.
Now the hawker-menace from that area is largely removed.

With the rise of industrialization in India, earlier only male family members used to leave for cities for work, which fragmented families, yet womenfolk with help of the children and the aged managed their families.

But now here there is another war, a war without a bang, that displaces not only families, even villages. There is one definition of “Dharma” – religion: “Dharayati Sa Dharama” – religion (is) that supports (society).

What could a decadent fragmented society, which fails to evolve with changing times, do? It needs a law to abolish ‘child labour’, but law cannot guarantee morality of any society. Neither the system – legal or moral – nor the fundamental right by the Constitution to sustain oneself to be alive has any viable answer.

We have a saying in Marathi, “Mother doesn’t give to eat, father doesn’t allow to beg.” What would be the fallout of anti-child-labour law?

During the past two decades, how many youths in the country have turned to crime, extortion or ended at the hands of the fundamentalists or terrorists? Indian politics, as is sentimental as well as fashionable, perhaps has an excellent record of enforcing law and enacting development projects long before or even without rehabilitation of the affected people. Would child labourer turn a beggar?

Water play at River Narmada, Bharuch, India

Reality: Children at play, Rive Narmada, Bharuch City, Gujarat, India. (Pic by the autor)

(The article was published in JANATA weekly, Mumbai.)

©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Saturday, 18 November 2006


Recurring floods: Central Mumbai (On the top left are the slums that too are flooded

A Tip of the Iceberg

by Remigius de Souza


CALL THIS CITY Bombay (former island city) or Mumbai (now a metropolitan city), the dichotomy remains. While speaking and writing in Marathi it has always been Mumbai, while in English, ‘Bombay’, even before the British left.

So also there has been south-north divide; south of island city being the seat of power. Now north is extended beyond the island city that includes ‘suburbs’ and ‘extended suburbs’.

There have been several flood- prone areas in the north of island city for more than five decades, whatever may be the reasons; negligence could be one of them. The divide between the First World and the Third world (and the Fourth World of tribal communities living in the nearby districts of Thane and Raigad) too continues. Media’s attention during deluge, of course, was Mumbai / Bombay; the woes of slums in the city and Raigad District were scantily noticed.

High, very high, highest-in-a-day rainfalls, likewise, cyclones, earthquakes, typhoons, are common natural phenomena. Floods causing damage to lives and property are mostly due to human folly, whether at countryside or in mega-cities. People learn, or should learn, their lessons over a period of time.

Mumbai has been witnessing for last few decades phenomenal rise in almost every aspect of city life: Stock Exchange Index, population, pollution, vehicles, traffic jams, scams… to name a few, so also the increasing slum dwellers and hawkers that are branded illegal though they struggle to earn their daily bread and to survive with dignity, in the wave (or Tsunami?) of development. These are symptoms of a sick society at large.

Boast about Mumbai’s ten million people! Thankfully it is not going to be a global city in the near future, perhaps never. Mumbai is only a fashionable product. The city picks up technologies for their cosmetic use… with disregard for possible fallout.

The experts, specialists, planners, architects, builders, policymakers, legislators, administrators, of Mumbai thrive on foreign collaborations – ideas, aids, funds, loans… and flattery by the foreigners – institutes or individuals – who have vested interest in trade, market and profit. Almost in every field of city-life they takes on ‘Bollywood Effect’ to please or fool themselves and the citizens, or for the self-interest.

A city’s services, for example, have to stand the test for two to three hundred years and the trial by any calamity – one in hundred possibilities. City can’t be a product by a single visionary genius, or by authorities, or by fancy of a politician. City is not a container made in a factory or in a boardroom. It is a work of collective creativity of people over centuries.

MOTHER NATURE unravelled some of the chapters of sordid past and present of Mumbai / Bombay by the deluge of 26th July 2005.

The first rape of Mother Earth took place when the British founded Bombay; they destroyed the islands and hills, bulldozed the lakes, wetlands and creeks, and reclaimed the sea, which drowned some coastal areas in Konkan.

Since then the land grabbing has continued unabated with religious fervour till this day. Mumbai otherwise could have been the Oriental Venice, so to say. The City of Venice, built upon 137 islands, too, gets flooded and is sinking in the sea.

The second assault came when the hills of nearby Raigad District were deforested to build the city. The gods in the religions, scriptures and epics of the world may assume human traits, but Mother Nature is indifferent to the entire human species, not alone to the underprivileged but even to the so-called superior, developed societies. Yet there are millions of people choose to live in harmony with nature.

All human habitats are vulnerable to ‘calamities’ caused by human nature or Mother Nature. In the age of democracy if the citizens give away their responsibilities, therefore, their rights, to the so-called authority of politicians, experts, policymakers, authorities, without making them answerable, without subjecting them to public scrutiny.

The citizens have to face consequences and bear the responsibility; their ignorance, illiteracy or wealth/ poverty cannot be an excuse, or they face annihilation.

This must be happening all over the world. It is time to get educated in the rights and responsibilities, but most urgent are ‘civic sense’ and ‘hygiene’ for everyone, from the presidents and prime ministers to a pauper on a street, throughout the world, without exception. These would cover issues from deadly nuclear power, to dumping toxic wastes, to dumping food in the garbage, to all the issues affecting air - land - water.

Sixteen years ago, on 24th July 1989, there was very heavy rainfall that caused equally devastating floods all over Raigad District. Mumbai also was flooded then. Even that time the authorities were slow to reach the affected areas of Raigad District; the people helped themselves.

That time there were unusual floods also in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. This is a clear indication of more and continued deforestation south of Raigad District. When water in the Koyna dam reached danger-level, the authorities were caught napping.

In sixteen years they did not learn their lessons. Where and how did the policies, physical–economic–social planning and implementation fail?

Can the built environment compensate the destruction of natural environment, collapse of ecology at national, regional and micro level for development? While taking remedial measures for Mumbai’s sickness, the city cannot be isolated from the region/s.


It's not ‘growing’ as popularly said. Growing implies healthy natural organic process. Swelling is a malady, a sickness. Like floods, slums, etc. this is one of the national indicators, visible, loud and clear than any official statistics or proclamations.

On 26/7/2015 the services, systems, regulators, health, safety, civic sense… and justice failed resulting into a calamity. These indicators are visible at several places during several events – natural or manmade. These maladies are symptoms of sick society, inevitably of the nation.

City is a symbol of centralised power throughout the ages throughout the world. Some call it a magnet to hide the fact. A megalopolis wields immense power by its invisible tentacles over the regions, far and wide, even across the borders of sovereign state, beyond the oceans and continents. What is not perceived is how the metropolitan cities devour the resources of the region/s and the nation. It is even beyond the control of so-called metropolitan/urban region development authorities.

Some prominent citizens may harp on the taxes paid by Mumbai to the nation, but what is the size of ‘black money’ that circulates in the parallel economy, who generates it and who is accountable? How much energy does Mumbai consume and what is its ratio to the State or National energy consumption?

Some talk of appointing CEO, or to appoint a CM who is local citizen (ninety percent of Mumbai’s citizens are migrants), or to block the entry of slum-dwellers to the city, or to make Mumbai an independent state, etc. These are only ‘curative’ measures. This is how some influential citizens use their credibility to consolidate the centralised power. What is needed is ‘corrective measures’ with ‘care’, and rigorous investigation by field work with participation of the local citizens.

Mumbai is beyond a manageable size for its civic authorities and the government. In fact Mumbai is spilling over in Vasai-Virar area, in Thane and Kalyan-Dombivali cities, besides Navi Mumabi; it’s a vast agglomeration, though separated by boundaries. Eventually all oversize institutions fail.

To speak only about Mumbai for a while, the immediate corrective measure is to ‘decentralize’ the power of the City of Mumbai. The first vital measure is to separate Mumbai in three municipal corporations: 1- the island city, 2- the former suburbs and 3- the former extended suburbs. Name them whatever – Mumbai, Mumbapuri and Mumbai Nagari.

The second vital measure is to ‘shift the capital of Maharashtra State to some interior area such as, Beed, Parbhani, Jalgaon, Sangli etc. but not at any major city like Pune or Nagpur. The cash-stripped Maharashtra Government could rent or sell the existing Assembly hall and Secretariat buildings to multinational / Desi corporations instead of selling the city’s open spaces, to make money. In any case we have been dividing the states, districts, even villages, and building new capitals.

To divide the City of Mumbai into three separate corporations is a ‘corrective action’; and to shift the capital of the state, in the words of Patrick Geddes, is a ‘painless surgery’.

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Click below for "Flood Fraud" in Mumbai:
Late News (14.01.2007)

Remigius de Souza
(Published in Janata, Mumbai)
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Butterflies on Mobile

by Remigius de Souza

Red Mobile by Alexander Calder | Source Wikipedia

From an egg to larvae to caterpillar to butterfly the life-form passes through change. Call it evolution, creation, change, growth, rebirth, chemistry, or whatever you may. Does it happen to a person in human life? Being conscious of ‘person’ within inevitably could bring about change. Consciousness is helped by contemplation and awareness in oneself, and alert watching. Watching the real life helps attention, but while watching ‘virtual’ reality or an idol may lead to chains of conditioning and judgments that leads life astray and to decadence hence loss of creativity.

We have been witnessing it enough at societal level within individual and the society outside. At global level this situation is now more exposed than ever before in the age of Electronic/Information Technologies and transit systems. Rational thinking and senses together must be used until both come to their inevitable end – death –, i.e. end of space-time, for creativity to blossom. Within the bondage of space-time there is no liberation, creation, celebration of life. It is only a manipulation, repetition, and adjustment – readjustment, reaction – counteraction. End of rational thinking and senses does not mean their negation or denial, but on the contrary their full use.

The dance of creation (destruction) is continually happening in the Nature. Man is part of Nature but the intellect and senses that are divorced from it do not come to the end of rational thinking and therefore is caught by the irrational. It may appear in the forms of state, religion, philosophy, progress, development, dogma and what not. Evolution, creation, growth, rebirth etc. remain just the words on the fringe of Life. One cannot attach or decide any meaning or purpose or goal to Life; it is not a concept. Our living or routine has goals. But to attach them to Life is to demean it.

Alexander Calder’s mobile sculptures fascinate me. After him, when there was newborn baby at home, I set out to make a mobile with butterflies, to hang it on the cradle. But instead I mounted myself on the clouds and took a ride. Their colours, mass, density, shapes, velocities were constantly changing. Suddenly I come down with billion drops on the ground. There I entered the soil particles and watched a billion seeds breaking their shells. Calder left a lesson for me in his mobile sculptures.

Instead of making a mobile of butterflies in imitation of Calder, I mounted myself upon clouds, buried myself in the soil, and witnessed the dance of creation (destruction). Down to the earth, I lifted baby Rhea, sat under the canopy of the foliage and flowers that were swinging with breeze, real butterflies dancing, and the baby in my lap, watching with amazement, her whole body smiling.

Remigius de Souza
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Design Teachers' Dilemma

Design Teachers' Dilemma: Architecture of Diatoms
by Remigius de Souza

So far more than 70,000 species of diatoms are documented each with uniquely shaped shell. Shells range in size from millionth of meter to thousand times as large, and can very in structure (New Scientist, 17 January 2004).

There is no scientific definition of life, says James Lovelock, and gives its attribute, “Life is social. It exists in communities and collectives … homeostasis or ‘the wisdom of the body’ is a colligiative property of life” (The Ages of Gaia, OUP. 1988, P.18). This is evident in algae as well as bacteria in the gut.

The attribute to design in Nature is cryptically described by Martin Jones bio-archaeologist, “In whole organisms, randomness structure is uncommon. Everything seems finely tuned by brutal rigours of natural selection. There are no spare limbs to be found and hardly any dispensable organs. This forced economy of organism design has always limited the use of bodily form as evolutionary timepiece” (The Molecular Hunt, Penguin 2002). He gives most apt definition of design for any artefact from product design to regional planning, and institutions by humans.
Institutes that teach architecture obviously aspire to produce geniuses on their assembly lines; the students, however, produce homogenised designs.

Algae’s habitats are ocean, river, lake, pond etc.
Remigius de Souza
©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.
Postal address: 69, 3rd flr. 243 S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028 India

Saturday, 4 November 2006

Architecture and Biodiversity in India

Architecture and Biodiversity[1] in India

A Context to Aesthetics in Our Times

by Remigius de Souza

(This paper has no visuals or graphics or photographs of any examples of architecture for obvious reasons. You, however, can draw any number of examples from your experience, of from the folk architecture from any region.)

Prologue: Way of Nature

THE ATTRIBUTE TO DESIGN IN NATURE is cryptically described by Martin Jones, bio-archaeologist, “In whole organisms, randomness structure is uncommon. Everything seems finely tuned by brutal rigours of natural selection. There are no spare limbs to be found and hardly any dispensable organs. This forced economy of organism design has always limited the use of bodily form as evolutionary timepiece" (The Molecular Hunt, Penguin 2002). This is most relevant definition of design even for manmade objects or institutions. Nature – within and outside – is the first and the last guru, irrespective of the tools – arts, sciences, religions or trades. All wisdom and knowledge originate in the nature. It is time now for ‘Srishtiyog’ – union with Nature.

Garden under a Glass Cage…

WE ARE THINKING OF ARCHITECTURE at primary level it is everyone’s need – from a shelter to farming to damning a river. It has emerged as a most costly commodity not merely economically but also environmentally.

Architecture – good or bad – is concrete manifestation of abstract thought. Any thought is always abstract. Language, script or graphic is abstract. So also, sciences, philosophies or religions are abstract. We comprehend abstraction by our perception of reality. Art also is abstraction; it is surreal. A farmer is an artist, who works with elements on the canvas of soil, where thought and senses are unified in action as a way of life. He works at tremendous risk. His work is concrete and spiritual at the same time. We are not referring to industrialised farming.

Architecture is primarily a utility; its interpretations, however, are abstract and various. A thought involved in architecture is abstract; it may even be superstitious, whether it is scientific, philosophical, social, economic or religious, or legal such as, building by-laws or development control rules for cities and regions. The superstition may appear by way of imitation, reproduction, adoption or mass production. Architect is a thinking person, unless of course one is physically, mentally and spiritually involved in the construction, even if it may be a modest artefact, where thought is dispassionately tested in action. The word architect is variously to various occupations, for example, building a nation in politics, writing a constitution for a nation, or creating virtual reality on computer.

Buddhist religious thought, for example, we assume, is translated in its religious structures, such as, Stupa, Vihara and Chiatya. However we are not informed about any example of Buddhist secular architecture. Hence we presume that when Buddhist religion is a person’s way of life it’s a concrete form. Can we interpret any architectural edifice – secular, religious or monumental – of any time or place as a way of life? The archaeologists do that taking help of many disciplines, though with their perception. Or is Buddhism yet another brand for mass conversions in defiance of another brand? Or is Buddhism, in our times, merely an intellectual kick in discourses or at coffee-table-talk? It is said that Vihara was derived from the tribal village halls or men’s clubs, and cave ethos share with ‘Gotuls’ or youth dormitories of Muria Tribe. This has been the way of life of the tribal, even now. The tribal communities were, still are, republicans. Knowing such facts, now even vernacular architecture is acknowledged along with classical, historical, ancient or so-called modern architecture.

Zen Buddhism has enriched daily living in its expressions in gardening, painting, poetry, drama, Ikebana, Tokonoma and tea ceremony that are elements of architecture and planning. In the India too there are innumerable such expressions. Call them customs, rituals, religion, or traditions or whatever you may. Undoubtedly they originate in and relate to Nature.

The industrial civilisation emerged with the Mechanical–Industrial Revolution (generally called Industrial Revolution), in the West. It started mass production; so much so, that communities turned into a homogenised mass society, which took to monoculture. It also started many institutions. It has institutionalised almost every aspect of private and collective life of an individual and the society, and reduced their autonomy.

It took a few hundred years to build (!) Ajanta–Ellora. Here we notice a remarkable consistency and diversity both in the edifices as they materialised over a long period of time. How was it made possible? It took a few decades to build Taj Mahal. Now it takes a few months to build a skyscraper or a township.

Today technology renders several buildings and building types obsolete before their building-life is over. The West now has developed “controlled demolition technology” to ground multimillions dollar worth new buildings in the heart of cities, with total disregard to environmental-energy-ecology cost. The large industrial establishments are decentralising and shifting their manufacturing units to different places and countries. Technologies and products including those for modern buildings are abandoned. Some prove hazardous to health.

We are in state of flux than ever before. Whatever may cause this flux it is man-made. Where can we draw a line between that which is permanent, universal or timeless and that which is transient or temporary? Homo sapiens have not changed biologically ever since they appeared.

Are the architects merely going by conventions of the past, or by those set elsewhere? Do they comprehend the present and foresee the future? Are architects obliged to accept, follow, or imitate blindly or piously the architecture of the 20th century that originated in the West? It, of course, is a by-product of the Industrial Revolution. A 20th century “form-giver” aptly said, “House is a machine for living in”. Now the investors and profiteers, hand in hand with science and technology, after exploiting the resources of the earth, have turned their eyes on biology and biotechnology[2]

Biotechnology is now becoming the buzzword of the 21st century in the industrial society. It, of course, is motivated to investigate and exploit new avenues for profit and power. It is banking on genes of every kind of species of animals, insects, plants, including man, after defiling land, waters and air, and biotic and abiotic nature, and after causing extinction/ annihilation of fellow human beings. Biological diversity however is the lifeline for the survival of mankind.

Who shall be the next master to be the 21st century form-giver? Who shall write the guidebooks? What shall be the new slogan of 21st century? It may be perhaps, “Garden under a glass cage is a house for the clones” who will live at the command by remote control in New York, London, Paris, Brussels, and Tokyo… or New Delhi, Mumbai!

Built Environment and Biodiversity

WE ARE THINKING HERE OF ARCHITECTURE ALSO because it is major consumer of energy that affects ecology in a major way and modifies environment through its six design fields. Architecture is no more “a plot and a monument”. The scope and context of architecture has widened with environmental awareness. Here we consider architecture as “built environment”, which has six design fields: Product Design, Interior Design, Architectural Design, Urban Design, and Town Planning, now added by Regional Planning. Any of these six design fields have bearing on all other fields, which include land, water, air, and biotic and abiotic nature. These could be verified in any example at any place and time.

What legacy the Industrial civilisation has given us? We know that industrial civilisation only takes from the earth but never returns. We may generalise it in brief. About 10 percent people of India may have made it theirs. They rule and force others to accept it. It is not a willing acceptance or by understanding it. It has left increasing gulf between the educated (now armed with computer education) and the illiterate, the rich and the poor (including those below poverty line and the starving, the unemployed whose skills are redundant in industrial society and the educated unemployed).

Yet in spite of environmental and ecological degradation all is not lost in India. There are a large percentage of people that still remains outside the folds of industrialisation. There are still a number of social and cultural sub-groups who are not trapped by the cult of monoculture. These diverse subgroups have their kinship with biodiversity in their regions. Their languages, culture, life-supporting skills, traditional wisdom, and of course architecture, are akin to the biodiversity. There are fifteen regional languages recognised by the State, leave aside fifteen hundred vernaculars, and as many bioregions and as many “styles” of vernacular architecture.

The ruling minority has made persistent efforts to colonise them or to bring them into its web of economy, education, planning, law and institutions but they have remained outside. Are they defiant in spite of being a weaker section or is the system not keen? Perhaps both. The system has failed them again and again though no one will want to admit it. It is happier in self-gratification. In such a situation the people – the masses – become easy target for attacks by either the State and the power mongers or the terrorists.

We fail to recognise even at the turn of the last century in the historical context, if not democracy, that no person or a group has any credibility without people. There is no credibility for any brand – economic, social, religious, political or any other – without people. We mention religion not with any bias but it is our mindset, irrespective of rites, rituals, castes, sects, creeds, or superstitions.

It is a historic flux. We are parting our ways mentally, morally and culturally from nature and the living traditions, while dilly-dallying between old and newfangled ideas. We easily begin by falling for commercial brands issued in attractive packages and with compulsive justifications through multimedia and propaganda in the name of information and communications. Leisure, for example, is free for anyone, but now it comes as entertainment with a price tag of money, time and health. We are indeed destitute in time by being helpless, complacent, or contented, or irresponsible to the society and the posterity.

In such a state, we – individually and collectively – have only one option left to our discretion. It is to sift, screen, and select between the needs and wants: personal, social and beyond personal. While the needs are permanent, universal and timeless, the wants always remain transient, temporary and passing fads. No one ever needs to justify needs. But the wants, now and then, need justifications. Manufacturers and traders tell us what we must want and have. Architects are not far behind them to advocate through their products and designs to tell people how they must live in a mass society. This is a joint venture to make people opt for the ways of industrial society.

All products (and ideas) supplied and sold, or even donated, by the industrial society in the name of needs, wants, conveniences, or altruism, must be tasted in the laboratories of environment, ecology and energy for health of man and nature, and scrutinise their price, cost, benefit and value. But it may not be our priority, not being a profitable venture.

Science, religion or philosophy, unless responsible for the sustenance of all the living beings, may remain a dead irrelevant matter. In spite of all the glamour, the Einstein and the Nobel Prizes are irrelevant, even irresponsible to the large majority of the needy. Perhaps that is why mythologies have lasting value for people. Sooner or later we, and the future generations, may even loose them, or get them distorted. Why does an arrow (archery) have a symbolic meaning and not the ICBM? Why does ‘Hermit’s Hut’ come in the discussion on architecture? Is there any example of mythical value in the modern architecture?

Modern architecture is a by-product of industrial revolution, and born in city. A city has always been a symbol of power. In modern times, Metropolitan City has emerged not only as a symbol of unlimited centralised power but also as a parasite on the planet. It has extended its footprint beyond its physical boundaries for its sustenance into the regions near and far. It extends even beyond the sovereign state and beyond continents. This (globalisation) does not mean that any place should adopt the dictate of International Style of architecture. It is not obligatory.

Regional planning becomes a pressing problem in India due to the accelerated mechanisation and industrialisation, migration and the neglect of hinterland, large population and biological diversity of the country. We must note the difference between the conditions of developed countries and India. In the West the urban population is about 80%, while in India it is about 30% that includes a large number of slums. In 1890 almost 30% of entire US population was living in the cities.

Environmental awareness has brought up the grave issue of destruction of biological diversity and the need to conserve it. It is time now for architecture or the built environment to bring biodiversity into its discipline. Or revive itself in the realms of biodiversity instead of becoming an instrument or expression of inequity and exploitation of people, land and waters. This revival, having sufficient understanding of the Indian agrarian society, should bring forth the ethical and new aesthetic values; their roots are already in the land and her people.

But who will bell the Cat?

THE LAWS AND ACTS that affect built environment must first understand the aesthetics of biodiversity. They were made to venerate industrial civilisation. In the wake of biodiversity, it is not only the prevailing standard building bylaws but also the development plans and the development control rules of towns and cities will need to be overhauled and changed. They were devised for the delight of the regimental officials of the departments. Every town and city – old or new – and the region will have to device their own codes based on its people and the region, i.e. its bioregion. The same should apply also to the “ghettos of development” that mushroom in the rural areas as public or private development projects.

Look at any development plan. It typically shows land-use zones, floor space indices (FSI), and road network for automobiles and centres for services/ shopping. Of course the grey zones of the existing slums are not visible. People rarely figure in except as population densities or numbers, which mostly go topsy-turvy. The boundaries show as if there exists nothing beyond the city – an island in ocean. There is hardly any thought given to the ergonomics in social, economic, political and physical context of a person and the society, land and waters, flora and fauna, and biotic and abiotic nature. Sanjay Gandhi National Park at Borivali in Mumbai is a classic example. The panthers at SGNP recently started attacking humans. So the easiest ‘curative’ measure devised by the ‘authority’ was to deport the panthers to other place. Ironically the Warli tribe living in this forest for ages venerate their ‘Vaghdeo’ – tiger god – as a keeper of the forest.

Typically the regional plans look like replicated, enlarged city plan. The major features indicate more industries, services and infrastructure, of course, to serve the main cities. These do not offer any solace to the locals, particularly the weaker sections – children, women, the poor and the marginalized. The rich elite, industrialists and the real estate developers purchase large tracts of land in these regions. One could hardly imagine the plight of the small farmers, the landless labourers, and the tribal. There is no succour for the land and water from pollution or deforestation. The consequence is that the diversity of the region turns into despair.

In the preparation and execution of any plan or law, the following important and most essential issues emerge.

  • To ascertain the likely fall out due to a plan or a law in the affected areas – people, land and waters, flora and fauna – directly or indirectly, in the near or distant future, and within and outside the planned area.
  • To prepare appropriate policy, infrastructure and measures for implementation to preserve, conserve, rehabilitate and restore the affected areas mentioned above, as an essential part of the compe4nsation package.

  • To create and use appropriate means of communications to inform the citizens – the starving, the illiterate, the half-naked, and the elite – of the planning action at every stage of its process, from the inception to after-implementation of the plan or a law.

  • These measures should be taken before the plan or law is sanctioned and enacted.

  • To file regular returns to the public of the planning and implementation actions, the success and failures, and functioning of the project every year till the end of the project period.
We are in the age of information and communications. We have made large investments in satellite and other technologies. These should offer the means of direct communication to inform and educate people about the planning process. It is the first step towards the “public participation” and “transparency”. It is as worthy as, even more than, any election at a national or state level.
The issue of biodiversity needs to be taken up on emergency basis before it is totally destroyed. (Here biodiversity is not limited to plants and animals only, but also include people and their cultural sub-groups.) The world has seen the worst effects of industrialisation. Now under the auspices of biotechnology the GM foods are already taking the world by storm. No one knows its full implications. Experiments on the dumb animals for cloning are already on the way, which may facilitate the powerful to start with human cloning, though, of course, not without a strong opposition.

It is high time the legislators, policymakers, lawmakers, executives, architects and planners educate themselves in biodiversity and ecosystems at the ground level, and then evolve the plans and designs. Even the Supreme Court (SC) has admitted at one stage (‘Clean Ganga Project’) that it had to educate itself on ‘environment’. But SC should note that it is only a beginning.

Learning is possible with the help of the locals. Planning and designing without user participation amounts only to self-glorification. The so-called masses are the people with body mind intelligence and creative ability. Anonymous people in millions have understood biodiversity over millennia in its multiple dimensions for their sustenance.

We are thousand millions now, and that’s our strength. For example, there are about hundred colleges of architecture in the country; of course this is a negligible number. Unfortunately even they are ill equipped in the domain of biodiversity. India will require over one thousand colleges of architecture to work with biodiversity on their agenda.

We are not talking here of any established theories of aesthetics. The essential action first, theories will follow as has been happening throughout the history of mankind. There is no hope of help from the foreign consultants. It is also not possible with bureaucratic, regimental mindset. The volumes of information must be tested at the ground realities, because every place is unique. The planning ‘authority’ then cannot be a dictator or demigod but is only a facilitator.

We are looking down to earth, as is, where is, for help and succor, here and now. Biodiversity-oriented architecture and planning is a collective action; it anticipates people’s autonomy and participation, decentralization of power, human scale and collective creativity.

Epilogue: Architecture of Diatoms

DIATOMS – microscopic algae – are known for their beautiful and elaborate glass shells, each with uniquely shaped shell. Nanotechnologists are interested for their several commercial applications rather than their aesthetic merits. Our challenge is what wonders we – the hundred crore people, particularly the silent majority – could work in harmony with nature in true freedom when we look up to humble algae!

We end, or rather begin, with optimistic note by quoting Ben Okari, Nigerian writer: “The full potential of human creativity has not yet been tapped. Along with the ever-increasing miracle of love, this fact is one of the brightest hopes for human race.” (Ben Okri, A way of Being Free, 1999, p 28).


Remigius de Souza
Postal Address: 69, 3rd flr. 243, S.B. Marg, Mumbai 400028, India.
16-11-2002 (23-8-2004)


1 Biodiversity: ‘Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from al sources, including interallia, terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species; between species and the ecosystems.’ (Article 2 of the Convention of Biological Diversity, UNEP 1992)
2 Biotechnology: (a). Biotechnology is the application of biological organisms, systems or processes to manufacturing and service industries (Spinks, A. ‘Biotechnology’ report of a Joint Working Party, HMSO, London 1980).
(b) ‘Biotechnology is the art of manufacturing living forms as though they were machines’ (Stephan R. L., and Clark K. “Modern Errors and Ancient Virtues” in Ethics and Biotechnology, Eds. Anthony Dyson and John Harris, Routledge, London, 1994)

(Note: This paper was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004: Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture: Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala. December 16 – 18, 2004)