Friday, 22 June 2007

Collecting cow dung for energy 2

The Family of Man
Collecting cow dung for energy 2

by Remigius de Souza

SOON AFTER I came to Mumbai, it was monsoon and the schools reopened after “summer” vacation. At our village, we had “monsoon vacation”. Now there too it has changed to “summer vacation”. Once I went walking in search of Jahangir Art Gallery. On my way I was twice wet, and dry. When I reached the gallery I was soaked and shivering. However, as soon as I entered I forgot all about it.

A great photographic exhibition – “The Family of Man” – was on. There were small and life-size photographs from all over the world. It was an amazing spectacle for a boy who was collecting cow dung until a few days ago. After many hours, and many times going around the exhibits, I walked back home – the commune. Nobody at school ever mentioned about the exhibition; perhaps they didn’t know about it.

After the high school, it was my first year at Sir J. J. College of Architecture located near Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). Daily I took a tram at one Anna (1/16th of a Rupee) fare to college. It passed through Gol Pitha – Mumbai’s infamous area of brothels – a city within the city; perhaps the British, along with Bombay, founded it.

While returning from the college, I walked back through different roads, through different localities: markets of various goods and commodities, Gol Pitha, Chor Bazaar (literally market of stolen goods, where old goods and antiques are available on Fridays), and the areas of mixed land uses.

This is an old part of Mumbai. I walked from six to ten kilometres on different routes. Once, at “Chor Bazaar” I found a copy of pocket size catalogue of “The Family of Man”. I still have it. Then I noticed the exhibition was designed by Marcel Breuer, architect. It was to travel all over the world.
Such errands, of course, did not pay at the college, or I did not know ‘how to make it pay’. They had no place in the curriculum or in the lectures throughout all five years. But I neither did bother nor thought about it. Well, there was a subject of town planning. There also was a ritual provision of annual study tours, which very few would take.

After decades, when I was a visiting faculty, I sent out my students to make surveys and documentation to various places. I took freedom to use curriculum within its limits and my possibilities. One group reported that they noticed the high tide (low tide), for the first time.

During the excursions I saw “Kanchanjungha” peak and part of
Himalayas, besides architecture of past and present. I also noticed the villages in Orissa and Bengal while passing by train; since then I have been in love with them. Now they are facing natural/ man-made disasters.

I joined the course of architecture by my choice. It was perhaps because I was involved in the construction of our mud house, from the foundation to roof, and later its maintenance. As the time went by, I was disappointed with the education system. On the first day of final exam, I walked out of the examination hall. I returned to finish it after seven years, just to acquire a certificate; the others concerned valued it.

In the mid-1960s, I went to Baroda (now Vadodara) to work on the Development Plan and Town Planning Schemes for the city. Of course, I was/am not a qualified town planner. Here I took to walking in and around the city to get acquainted with the people, culture and place. I also went almost all over Gujarat Sate, its cities, towns, villages, tribal areas, pilgrim places, historical places, ruins, rivers and dams that were in progress at rivers Tapi, Narmada and Mahi, and of course its riot hit areas. The riots had started in the cities and did spread in the villages. It was time to leave Baroda.

Baroda once was fondly called “Sanskar Nagari” – city of culture. I wonder what they call it now with increasing events of riots and attacks on the artists and artwork. Who could have predicted the boy, who was collecting cow dung at his native village, would work on a development plan of a city, some day?

Later I took to self-employed practice. It took me to villages and towns and tribal areas in Maharashtra and Gujarat. I was mostly working for NGOs, which are run by the elite urbanites. I was also visiting faculty in the colleges of architecture at Mumbai for a decade.

There is nothing spectacular about my academic studies, practice as employed and self-employed, practice as a town planner at Baroda, and ‘teaching’ architecture. There is nothing to display or to take pride. I used architecture as a means to earn livelihood.

From childhood I have been living, working, moving at different houses, places, villages, cities. Primarily it has been a question of survival (to live sanely). Hence there is no room for loose talk, gossip, hypocrisy. During all these years I have been collecting cow dung from the fields, later the shit of the civilised society – urbanity – city.

I witness the great chasm between city and village, a great gulf between urban society and ethnic communities… and the modern city has become a parasite growing wild on the region, a cancer that constantly devours lifeblood of the regions near and far; architecture included.

Modern architecture and planning, like other disciplines, are handmaidens of the industrial society. Whatever Gandhi might have said about villages as ‘dung-hills’, the cities are the hub of deceases – physical / social/ economic / political / environmental – at personal and collective as well as regional level. New Towns in the UK built around mid-20th century surprised people by the “New Town Neurosis Syndrome”; the “Sick Building Syndrome” in modern architecture is known.

The invisible powers (the capitalist) of industrial society, unlike feudal powers of the past, control even the governments – democratic/ totalitarian, socialist / fascist, fundamentalist / communal, leftist / rightist… – to turn them into brands; patronise fossils of monarchies – living aborigine communities, terrorism – counter-terrorism; capitalise even on poverty, not only technology; turn the cohesive communities into zombie of mass society that practically lives in virtual reality; and finally play havoc on environment – ecology – energy to the detriment of Land (and Water) and Life.

At societal level, the feudal mentality has been penetrating from top to the down-rungs, in the public institutions as well as governmental organisations. They behave as if "Maharajas" of princely states of yesteryears.

In the “Tales of Hatim”, on one occasion Hatim tells his companion, “What you are seeing is not a reality. Wait, have patience, and after some they will vanish.” They were in search of “the key to the gate of time”.
Now, “The Family of Man” – a utopian concept in virtual reality – also vanished in the river of time.
What I write now – in any form – amounts to burning that shit of civilised society – urbanity – city; in summery it is dissipation of energy. Until now, that collected shit had helped me to liberate myself from it. Now this very act of writing, and of making it known to others, has entrapped me, making me also a part of it.

I have a wishful thinking:
May everyone of the 900 million citizens of the Third World India and the Fourth World India do write – at least on paper – the testimonies of their real-life reminiscences, even if it may exhaust the entire tree-cover, the remaining woods and forests of India to make paper for them. That would, hopefully, save the people from the authority of the State and the experts, the planners and professional, and show the world the first-hand information of ground-realities in India. Certainly I do not represent a billion-plus population of India; I’m only a drop in the ocean.

(Image: Source, Google Images)
Remigius de Souza
(24 March 2004, Updated: 30 June 2007)

Monday, 11 June 2007

Collecting cow dung for energy

Collecting cow dung for energy

by Remigius de Souza

COLLECTING COW DUNG! Can it be either a hobby or work? How could a hobby be so dirty, messy and stinking? It’s not ‘work’: work, by common sense, is that pays in currency. But I had started doing it six decades ago. That coincides with Sixty Years of India’s Independence!

Collecting cow dung is not ‘work’. See, for example, the Census Survey of India, Section 10.2, which says: ‘Persons engaged in household duties, students, dependants, retired persons, rentiers, beggars are some of the categories grouped as non-workers.’ That is, women and the school-drop-out are included in the above categories. This is outrageous, and derogatory and insulting to millions of peasant women and children. And the peasants never retire unless invalid.

As a boy, besides the study at primary school and working at paddy and vegetable farms during monsoon, I collected cowdung. I walked barefoot carrying a bamboo basket to collect cow dung from the fields where the cattle grazed, during the dry seasons. To do that one has to walk a lot.

I would then help my mother to make “sheni” from the heap of dung collected in the field. “Sheni” is/are about 30 cm in diameter, 3 cm thick disc made by mixing water, rice husk and chopped rice straw, pulverized by feet, and the balls of mix are pressed flat by hand, and sun dried. These were stacked and stored mainly for monsoon. It was a “free” energy – fuel – for cooking; this practice still continues.

We periodically gave a cow dung slurry wash to the mud floor of our mud house. Walls too received external dung wash before monsoon. Some of dung was put in the compost pit in our yard for the use during monsoon in the farms that we took on rent. Even the ashes from the “Chulha” – cooking hearth – collected round the year, went to the farm to rejuvenate the soil.

We also gave the wash to bamboo equipments: a sturdy bamboo mat silo to store rice, a delicate finely woven bamboo mat used for seating and sleeping, the bamboo baskets of various sizes, on the unused side.

If you have heard or read the elite – Indians or foreigners – who say, with authority, that the poor and the peasants in India cut trees for firewood, it is a lie. Don’t trust them. They cut brushwood or branches, and of course, use “sheni”, for fuel. The rich in the village purchased firewood from the poor peasant women who carried the head loads during weekly bazaar to earn some cash for use in need; they came from the nearby hills.

In my village, Hindus cut select / reserved trees to cremate the dead, and Catholics burry the dead without timber coffins. Compare this with the western and the westernised societies who use timber coffins with decorations and embellishments.

The major consumers of wood are the rich and the rich nations of the world. They, of course, never pay the right price for the wood they consume, or never use their resources to replace it from where it comes, even within their own country. They pay only to the middle persons or agencies and the transport, and the industrial processes. Though they may be knowledgeable, they conveniently ignore that wood could be replenished.

GANDHI DESCRIBES the typical Indian village as a ‘dung-hill’, writes Ajit K. Dasgupta (‘A history of Indian economic thought’, Routledge, 1993, p.161). It refers to ‘foreign rule, unclean and insanitary living conditions and habits’ of village people. Dasgupta didn’t mention what was Gandhi’s opinion about cities.

However, it fails to notice that dung is a vital energy source. It fails to see that energy sources and consumption in any form are directly connected to ecology and environment of land (and waters) and life. It also fails to learn this very basic and universal principle from the villages and villagers, who have been practicing it for millennia without being verbose.

I visited Gandhi’s Ashram at Wardha in 1990s to attend a conference. It is a most urbanised place with rural look, but very few inmates, perhaps the caretakers. Right along its border fencing is a small village. I took a long walk at both places: just looking – no talk.

The village – people and houses looked poor – was full of life and activity. A single road passes through it; at both ends there were heaps of cow dung that belongs to various families. The Ashram looked abandoned, like any other monument, like, for example, Fatehpur Sikri.

It seemed both the neighbours remained alien to each other for more than sixty years, or since Gandhi founded the Ashram. Neither of them, it seemed, had any positive or creative influence on the other.

THE UK’s first dung-fired power station opened in Devon in 2002. The £7.7 million facility processes up to 150,000 tonnes of slurry each year from 30 local farms (Jeremy Smith & Jon Hughes, ‘Less waste, more speed’, Ecologist, March 2007). Such a speed and centralised production suits an industrial society, where 80 percent people live and urban areas and where cattle/bird farming is on mass scale. It cannot, or does not want to, think in terms of decentralisation. They would see how to hold centralised power, even if an issue is local.

Like British Raj (rule) then, if the Swa-Raj (Self-rule), following the colonial policies, continues to curb, control, crush people’s autonomy by various legal means then there is no salvation for the majority i.e. peasants. One cannot stop at what Gandhi said in the past.

The prime topic of the day – economy – is already a past; it’s now time for environment–ecology–energy and for democracy democracy — human rights and freedom. Whatever may be the implications, the British have finally recognised cow dung. Now let us see how our Indian Masters take it!

There is much more to cow dung related activities, and other hundreds of such actions that peasants take that are not recognised by the authority. These involve Environment – Ecology – Energy, which include labour of the peasant family. Is this taken into account by the economists and the government? If they don’t then they are ignorant of ground reality. If they do, then why the peasants don’t get a fair deal at par with industrial products? You don’t need great intelligence to know the answer. The simple answer is the industrial product is related to economy, neither for survival nor for the people.

EVEN SCHOOLING, then, was not a ‘work’, for us, as we were not crazy for marks and ranks, as it is now, mostly among the urbanites and the elite. Besides collecting cow dung, I was also involved in many other errands, like any other village kids.

However, as we were a landless farming family, and there were no adequate education facilities, I migrated to Mumbai for high school education. I lived at a commune near Bombay Central Station. Being a student I paid rent of Rupee 1/- per month.

As I landed in Mumbai I continued walking, and collecting dung. This time it is different: the dung – the shit of civilised society – urbanity – city.

Walking for kids, perhaps even for the grown-up, in the landscape is not a passive action. Landscape is dynamic entity and not a passive object as is treated by the modern aesthetics. It changes with time and seasons, and with changing focal point. It enriches perception of reality through all the senses. The words come later.

Action first, the theories follow. It is not the same as reading a book, looking at a picture of landscape, watching a TV programme even if it is ‘natural history’. Nowadays children (who have an access) are glued to TV. However what matters most is the scale and reality. But this is not the department of the economists.

The cow dung helped us to help grow food in the farms, helped to cook our food, and helped us to maintain our mud house; thus helped us to sustain. And finally the used cow dung in – all forms – went to the soil.

Could modern technology, which learns from the nature and exploits it for the benefit of industrial society, replicate this cycle of process? At least I am not aware of any, with my limited resources.

Also, by now the sources of energy have changed, and the production and consumption patterns of energy have changed for the insatiable wants of the capitalist, which have created destruction and disparity at unprecedented scale and rate among the peoples as never before.

This microscopic case study of a single person – one from 1000 millions – cannot be generalised. There may be million different examples in several bioregions and climatic and topographic regions of 600,000 villages of India. Any mighty centralised power with all its mighty resources and infrastructure, cannot event comprehend the facts – the ground realities.
This very article too is not a ‘work’; it’s burning that cow dung and that shit collected over six decades, on my last lap.
I shall be back with more on the subject.
(For Ecologist article, "Less waste, more speed" see link: )

Remigius de Souza
69-243, S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028 India
Copyright Remigius de Souza © 2004
(24 March 2004, Upadated 18-06-2007)

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Jesus and World Environment Day

Jesus and World Environment Day

by Remigius de Souza

Jesus’ public life – ministry – was perhaps the shortest among the dead and the living that may include incarnations, prophets, god persons, statesmen etc. But surely he must have lived the fastest life during this period than any other man or woman in the history of civilised world including that of 20th and now 21st century. His fast life was brought to, perhaps, inevitable end for his confrontation with the powers in religion and the state.

The faithful all over the world and others do celebrate Jesus’ birthday [night] and the day of His Resurrection. Is it because of his miracles, preaching, his way of life or his confrontation with religion and the state that resulted in his death [or murder] by these powers? In worldly sense he was only a son of a humble carpenter. I wonder if he ever attended a school or a seminary.

How would he do in the present times? While Jesus now a virtual reality may allow us new modes of ideas and actions on love, peace, war, progress, development, trade and treachery. Jesus has been capitalised by individuals/institutions like major/ minor gods everywhere. How would real life Jesus fare now? I wonder.

Who is that in the plant – animal – human
worlds whose life itself is prayer
and sacrifice and celebration?
Who does want prayers, rites and rituals other
than the hypocrites and liars and deceivers
when religions are brand names?

I, now, can’t separate Jesus’ birth and death as is customarily done, as is known that death has been haunting him even before his birth.

Lord’s Prayer that Jesus has given is enough for lifetime for anyone in right context intrinsic with love. Then why separate a prayer from life? Does a prayer need words, and mechanical chanting? Can a prayer be an act, an action, any act – humble or great – sleep, work, walk, sit, eat, drink, f**k…, or an annual budget for a country, a science project, designing and building a town or dam on a river…?

An act as a prayer without abuse of other, of man or matter, of the Earth as Mother (if Father is in heaven), directly or by proxy, is for anyone, everyone, may one belong to a faith or a sect, or be even an atheist.

Then even Lord’s Prayer would become ‘People’s Prayer”, and not a camouflage or absolution! But the problem with action as a prayer is it eliminates most of the ‘work’ that offers power, and profit in any tangible form that civilised societies invented over millennia. Work - all work- is dissipation of energy, which is beyond for the basic needs - food, shelter, clothing. Indeed an unprofitable proposition?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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