Sunday, 8 April 2007

How bamboo is neglected in India

How bamboo is neglected in India
by Remigius de Souza

Urban elite Indian is familiar with bamboo: a decorative garden plant. The slum dwellers use bamboo household implements brought from their native villages. The children, perhaps, due to the sticks fixed on the kites.

It is said that there are 1000 uses of bamboo. But, knowingly or unknowingly, we, the educated, come in contact with bamboo through its product – paper.

In this conference (see the note bellow) the major emphasis is on economics, commerce and trade of bamboo, and botany for its mass plantation. We, however, have not paid much attention to the uses of bamboo. We take them for granted.

A house – shelter – though a basic need, where bamboo has contributed to a great extend, throughout ages, we take for granted its use in housing. The statistics, whether real or on paper, of housing shortage in India, and the housing action to remove the shortage have never matched until now. This, however, being a departmental issue, may not be ‘our’ concern!

Few institutions have started to make bamboo articles for useful or decorative purposes mainly to appeal the urban elite, for example, a bamboo briefcase. We don’t see them in use except sometimes in the handicrafts emporiums.

For centuries the majority – more than 80 percent – in India use it for houses and equipments for the household, farming and family vocations. The number of uses if counted will go in several thousands in all the regions in India.

Why then bamboo remains neglected in India? Why it has now attracted their attention? These are two sides of the same coin: the one is ‘they’, and the other is ‘we’. They use it for the ‘shelter’; we use it for the paper. These interests are at the cross-purposes.

The ‘heads’ for the ruling class, the ‘tails’ for the skeletons of the Western Ghats or Sahyadri, Satpura, Vindhya, Nilgiris, Himalayas and the lakhs of square kilometres of the countryside, which is devalued in the inflationary market.

If ‘they’ have to be motivated to plant bamboo, then ‘we’ must have to study with ‘Riyaz’ – rigorous practice – to learn what bamboo is, and its many thousand uses in the interest of people and the country’s economy.

The coconut is ‘Kalpavriksha’ – wish tree – for us, and has its place in our culture; it’s more than just a commodity!

The bamboo is the God-blessed plant, ‘Jeevan Sangeet’ – music of life – symbolized by Krishna’s primeval flute, a part of our culture; though it may not so for the western culture. In China, Japan… the whole of Southeast Asia bamboo has reached higher levels in arts and handicrafts.

We in general, and the architects and engineers in particular, are not sufficiently familiar with bamboo, perhaps except as scaffolding material that is now being replaced by steel.

Though bamboo (and soil too), are universal building materials in India, the professionals call them ‘non-conventional’. Why? Because it doesn’t grow in Britain / Europe. The cement, steel, aluminium… are ‘conventional’ for us ever since they were imported, along with their education system, by the British.

Ironically, for the last two centuries, and even after the Independence, the majority of the Indian people have been following sustainable living; thankfully they have been kept away, or deprived of, and exploited by this imported education. The time only can tell us if it is for the better or worst ends!

Bamboo remains neglected because it is ‘their’ material. Because it is neither the part of our education curriculum nor their. Europeans, however, recognise humble ‘thatch’ as a building material in their education and practice, and is use by the very rich as well as the poor. If anything, we should blame our slave mentality or snobbery for the neglect of bamboo.

Now that the western people are doing research, and even tried bamboo plantation in the gardens (under artificial conditions), we too must recognise bamboo, otherwise we shall be called backward.

Certainly there is research going on, for example, in Deharadoon, besides elsewhere, but unfortunately it doesn’t reach the masses. Bollywood gossip about its stars, and their styles, even information about their under-garments, reach the masses more efficiently!

It is indeed nice of Maharashtra Education Department now to include bamboo in the primary and secondary school textbooks. But the lessons also must be taught and learnt in the out-side-class-rooms on the ground.

It is still more important to include bamboo and soil in the curriculum of architecture and engineering. On one side we talk-talk-talk of housing shortage, on the other side the education of the professionals is not people-oriented. The rational behind the talk, policy and practice is lame, is in partisan interest that amounts to hypocrisy.

I, therefore, suggest two resolutions before the conference:

1. Bamboo and soil must be included in the education curriculum of higher / technical education in architecture and engineering.

2. Bamboo must be brought under regulation and rationing as an essential commodity for distribution for various uses – industry, handicrafts and housing. It should be made available to the forest dwellers, villagers, and the slum dwellers in cities and towns for self-help housing, and the artisans (who generally belong to the SCs – the schedule castes) at fair price.

(Note: This is a translation of the talk given by the author in Marathi on 23 April 1995 at the First Bamboo Conference (in Marathi) held at Narayangaon, District Pune, on April 22-23, 1995. The elite and the rich farmers attended the conference. Predictably the suggestions were not adopted in the resolution.)

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

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