Friday, 22 April 2011

Minimal, Minimalist, Minimalism Defined

Key Words: Minimal, Minimalist, Minimalism, Environmentally Sustainable, Art, Science

Minimalism started as a trend in art and design in the west. However, minimalist way of living, objects or artefacts have been existing from unknown times. Customarily it refers to art and design, which puts it in a box of a fashion, where a person may not 'walk the talk'.

Minimal is not minimum, but is to go beyond or achieve the best within minimum in living, thought and action. Minimal implies essential; it is not merely simple. It is neither junk or trash nor extravaganza.

Definitions, however, limit the scope of the defined. We, therefore, start with examples, and arrive at our definitions according to our perceptions. There is no formula! However, it may not be out of place here to add Universal Definition of Design by Nature written by Martin Jones, bio-archaeologist.

Let us start with primary and most familiar examples: Water (by Mother Nature) and Food: Roti – 'bread' (home made – by Mom).

Water is one of the minimalist creations by Mother Nature

WATER is fascinating Element: It soft, malleable, takes the shape of a container, always goes down the soil or to meet the sea, in heat vaporizes, moves meekly around obstacles on the way, cuts through rocks, mixes salts-minerals of soils… 70% of our body is water.

But there comes a time, when this taken-for-granted and often ignored element dances Shiva's Tandav of tsunami!

Water in Science
Water (defined as: 'H2O') is one of all the expressions, creations of Mother Nature! As a matter of fact, all her creations – from microbes to mammals, from algae to giant banyan – are minimal events. This sets an example and also a definition of 'minimal'. Mother Nature is our first and the last Guru!

Such tsunamis also happen in civilized societies. Whenever the arrogant and powerful classes / castes exploit and push the lowly – the sea of people – to the brink of subsistence, the waves of tsunami arise. This is the power within 'minimal'!

Roti as food is minimalist act

FOOD: vegetables, roots, tubers, grains, fruits... each of these have their unique taste, flavour and nutrition. They are also revealed by minimal process and in eating them fresh.

But having four meals a day, on full stomach, we can't fancy their tastes and nourishment; we find it ordinary. We become imaginative and add embellishments, decorations, ornaments... new experiments, processes in preparations of food.

There begins a market competition and struggle to make tasty exotic foods. It is just as we try to beautify our body as if... in this extraordinary creation by Mother Nature was incomplete!

Most elementary food is Roti – flat round Indian bread, and its regional variations. It is by now known in many parts of the world. Roti is made of flour of different grains: maize, rice, millet, finger millet, bulrush millet, barley or wheat. Rich Indian biodiversity also offers variety in various grains.

To make Roti all that you need are: Tava - a concave plate of clay or iron to bake, a wooden or metal plate to knead flour, salt, Chulah – hearth – of clay or just three stones, brush wood for fire  and, of course, water. I believed Roti is indeed a 'minimal' food, until I tasted baked maize loaf made by Bhill aborigines.

Henry D. Thoreau in 'Walden' (pp 99-101) writes about bread by Red Indians, which may not be different from maize Roti made by Bhill and other aborigines and peasants in India. Thoreau writes by experiments and experience of Indian bread, not by impressions.

Minimalist maize loaf by Bhill aborigines

Bhill Festival at Mahi River, Kadana, Gujarat

It was three day annual fair during spring on Chaitri Poonam (full moon day: this year on 18-04-2011). Bhills from Gujarat, MP and Rajasthan states had gathered on the white sands on bank of Mahi River among hills near village Kadana.

I camped there for three days and nights in the open (no bed, no sleeping bag) among Bhill families. At night all would sleep around campfires. They get up at an early hour. First the women take bath in the river, and then men follow. As I come out of warm water I felt thousand pin pricks. No sooner the Sun appears the water becomes very cold. After bathing it is time for breakfast.

Adivasi women started to prepare breakfast, before daybreak. They made balls of kneaded maize flour, wrapped each in the leaves of a specific plant and put them in the campfire. By the time bathing is over the freshly baked maize loaves are ready for breakfast.

The taste, flavour and nutrition of the maize loaf were extraordinary. It remained in my memory as unique and only experience of lifetime. And also the memory of their warm hospitality, though I was a total stranger.

Ingredients of maize loaf are flour, salt, river water, wooden bowl, leaves and brushwood fire; that's all. This could truly be called ‘minimal’ and 'environmentally sustainable' food and way of living, both.

'It is Walking, not the Way' — Vatsyayana      

Hunger is basic to body and mind. Food nourishes both, body and mind. Yet we are only custodians of our body and mind. In transplant operations heart is kept alive outside of body by supplying energy. Why boast it is my heart?

Minimal object is possible when one follows minimal 'way of living', which can't be called 'life-style': No compromises.
Ancient flute of bone 30000 ybp (Credits: NYTimes)

Note: There are number of "minimal" artefacts people use. Bamboo flute is has ancient origine. Archaeologists have discovered 30,000 years old bone flute some time back. I took my lesson on slate. People still take lessons on slate; Rangoli is another ancient example of "minimal" (land) art.Traditional nine yard Sari in India is single piece dress for women, which is a minimal artefact; many do not even wear a blouse. However a bikini, which is displayed on a fashion ramp, is only a minimum object, and must not be mistaken as minimal. In his paintings Raja Ravi Varma uses Sari for his female subjects. Haiku in poetry is indeed minimalist.

Rangoli inscribed on Mumbai's roadside pavement
Swastika in the centre of this image is repeated for ages
  a million times by women in India.
It is believed this action draws Cosmic Energies.
Remigius de Souza | Mumbai

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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Indian Schooling

In the year 1947 India's population was about 400 millions, and 60% to 70% persons were illiterate. Presently there are 400 millions illiterate persons. What at the beginning of 20th century G. K. Gokhale attempted, to bring 'free and compulsory education to all, is still not fulfilled.

Indian Schooling

I HAD AN OPPORTUNITY to watch a short play on Door Darshan (DD), India's State TV channel, on 21-09-1989, in the afternoon transmission. It was on the occasion of International Year of Literacy. The play was about schooling. Now I, sort of, admire its main actors, Sulabha Deshpande and A. K. Hangal. I consider them to be respectable artists in the Indian cinema, TV and theater.

The play is obviously propaganda for the good cause of the spread of education by schooling. In the play an old lady (Sulabha Deshpande) wants the little boy to go to school so that he does not remain stupid like her old man (A. K. Hangal).

The boy looks after the goats and does not want to go to school. At last the old lady sells the goats. But the boy is upset. He refuses to go to school. He even attacks the other boys who come to take him bodily to school.

I wondered if Hangal and Sulabha pondered for a while over the treatment of the theme!
Here the goats are projected as the pets in the affluent families like pedigree dogs, horses, cats etc. For a villager a goat, cow, buffalo or hen is a means of livelihood.

Why then is the old man said to be stupid? Is it because he is poor? He is poor perhaps because he has been exploited first by British rulers and now by the industrialized society in India?

Why is schooling so important that one should give up the very means of livelihood – goats? Why is the rearing of animal so inferior? (Well. Some people consider that the goat is an enemy of forestation. Forestation means left over — whatever that is left after modern man — has eaten away the forest. Otherwise the goat is a sturdy animal which can live in the deserts as well as mountains, in hot as well as cold climate and is most economical to maintain for the poor. Its milk is medicinal.)

I wondered, couldn’t a goat, a tree, a paddy field, the making of an earthen pot, or moving of a plough in the field be part of schooling in India?

Why can’t actual cooking or preparing food, treating the sick, growing a kitchen garden, Milking a goat or a cow (the method of milking is different for each of these animals), making a toilet, urinal, treating garbage in the village, potatoes and onions, water and washing, sand dunes and ravines, cyclones and floods be part of schooling — actually, not merely verbally — not merely on the blackboard — either inside or outside the school building?

But the system the British started is so powerful that there is not much change except in nomenclature and timings.The so-called educationalists are still in the grip of the system started by the British. The play that was shown on DD is typical of the way the educated, the urban elite project schooling and education.

What if 5.57 lakhs of villages in India gave up rearing animals?

What if every family of 557 thousand households brings up graduates, masters and doctorates? Then, perhaps, those sitting in the chairs will lose the power game, of musical chairs; they play with lives of poor people. Finally, what is the relevance of present day English-made schooling in the eyes of these villages where 70% of the population is still illiterate?

This English-made system of education has not much changed since it started in this vast country made up of villages having a variety of landscapes, regions, climates, dresses, tongues, topography.

I take a little time off to ponder meanwhile this ‘natak’ (play or Tamasha) of Door Darshan brings insult and humiliation to realities of living in an Indian village!

For further reading: 1. Politics of Literacy in India; 2. Farming and the Politics of Education in India; 3. One Step Quantum Jump in Education; 4. Letters and Numbers, plus ‘Things to Make': Restructuring (Indian) Education 

Note: After twenty years I find this note is still valid. It has not changed the situation other than few numbers, while the population is growing. I republish it.

[Published in (1) GOGRAS, publishers Akhil Bharat Krishi Goseva Sangh, Vardha, India 442001, March 1990, year 14, issue 5, p. 236-7; (2) FOURTH WORLD REVIEW, Issue 44, p 14, The Close, 26 High Street, Purton, Wiltshire SN5 9AE, UK. 1990]
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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

Friday, 1 April 2011

All Fools’ Day

All Fools’ Day 

Whatever may be, it’s my doing,
by choice or by force, that I forget;
my rush ends it in half-hearted doing
and in endless strife I am caught.

In my fear of loosing my doing
no moment spared to stop and look
from all sides around, inside out,
at all levels, in all dimensions:

much of it I am ignorant.
On the fast track of one dimension
never knew when I lost myself;
never realised I am the means;

and I am the end. A product, an idea,
a thought, an act, or a concept
in time is perishable and transient:
no sooner born belongs to the past.

In stagnant water all actions stink.
But waters of life are always flowing,
condensing, evaporating, raining,
reflecting; that’s the nature of water,

of life born in water, but not my doing.
In looking at doing, the doing ceases.
At the core of ocean prevails
Silence pregnant with new life.

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Remigius de Souza | Mumbai | 26 March 2004
NOTE: 1. Image "The Fool" from Tarot pack is occult system, and has no connection to western custom of "April Fools' Day".
2. Image credits- "The Fool" from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck.
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©Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.