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)

No comments:

Post a Comment