Life is larger than all Arts, Sciences, Religions, Philosophies, trade, techs, States... through times and places.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Food for Work or Work for Food

Taxing Survival in Mumbai | Photo by Remigius de Souza
 About 60 percent people in Mumbai are slums-dwellers and squatters. 
They are displaced and marginalized mainly due to so-called development projects.

(The strike by the wholesale traders was going on a couple of months ago, when I met two friends who are highly educated professionals. One was visitor from other state. The strike was a major event then. The commodities were in short-supply. My friends are interested in ecology. Their input mainly comes from workshops, seminars, books etc. They, hoever, did not mention the strike during our talk. So I asked, “Do you know what 'Food for Work' is?” No, they didn't know. This incident made me write this post.)

Food for Work

'Food for Work': I heard this benevolent concept a few decades back. I was in contact with some NGOs working in the villages. The work involved 'Conservation of Water' in drought stricken rural areas for peasants. It was bunding the farms, deepening the silted village water tanks etc. so that the rain water is retained in the scanty rainfall regions.

The 'bunding' and ‘de-silting’ of wells and village tanks is an ancient skill, still practiced by peasants by 'Community Participation' in many parts of the country. Since the Industrialization infiltrated it is getting lost. Or is it already lost?

The Concept, 'Food for Work' originated in the West; it is anybody's guess. It, perhaps, came from some foreign Funding NGOs / Agencies.

I found something amiss in their activities. Plants — grasses, shrubs, trees — also help water conservation, besides they stop soil erosion, add mulch / fertilizer to the soil. But it was not on their agenda. This aspect was either ignored, forgotten, or was unknown to NGOs or the concerned departments.

Plants, however, were a part of another programme for ‘Reforestation’, in another package, in other regions. Perhaps they did not see that plants also conserve water… hence they did not combine it with ‘Conservation of Water’.

Work for Food

Paddy Farming in Konkan | Photo by Pooja Rani

Peasants 'Work for Food' all their life to 'produce food' for self and others. It is most unfortunate they are now 'Beneficiaries' in the times of Development. In 65 years the conditions have worsened. Incidentally the term ‘Beneficiaries’, also, is imported.

I recall a conversation from a novel by Sharat Chandra Chatarji: “First you cut the limbs of a person, and then carry him on your shoulder; that is your idea of charity”. 

None of the so-called leaders thought of taking them along on the path of inclusive development, from the beginning of Independence.

On the contrary they – the peasants – being Unorganized Sector of the Indian society, became a soft target of exploitation, in the name of development, in creating and accelerating economic disparity, in depriving social services - healthcare, literacy, appropriate education, communications… this is a long list.

Ghettos of Development

They targeted peasants’ lands for creating the “Ghettos of Development” in the rural areas; they were displaced and marginalized, without their justified Rehabilitation. It took sixty five years for India to change, not scrap, the draconian law: The Land Acquisition Act. That too is an amendment, with loopholes and ambiguities that will be revealed when it is implemented.

Unfortunately, the managers – the elite ruling minority – of the country's affairs are shining with reflected light. They, in the heat of the powers in hands, conveniently forget the majority of 900 plus million peasants are actually running (feeding) this nation.

Otherwise why the ‘Rupee’ should fall in International Market? All efforts by RBI, FM have failed, so far! Actually it has been sliding down for decades, if any of the senior citizens do remember! I don't see any other rationale for the 'fall' of the Rupee.
In his recent article in The New York Times, 'Why India Trails China', Amartya Sen says, 'China, which during the Mao era made advances in land reform and basic education and health care, embarked on market reforms in early 1980s; its huge success changed the shape of the world economy. India has paid inadequate attention to these lessons.'

He ends the article, 'For India to match China... It needs a better-educated and healthier labor-force at all levels of society. What it needs most is more knowledge and public discussion about the nature and the huge extent of inequality and its damaging consequences, including for economic growth.'

I do not compare India with other nations like Amartya Sen or others. India, as well as each of her regions, is unique, because of the natural and cultural biodiversity. Each region, within country or each state, is capable of solving its problems with cooperation of the people, they having deep perceptions of land-water-life. Government is merely a tool to provide facilities, not a ruler to coerce people to drive economic growth for a few.

Each Place is Unique

Once I had spent almost a decade to motivate someone in a NGO to dig pond of about 20 ft x 40 ft size, in their land in the dry-arid region. During monsoon it was full with water; it attracted water-loving wildlife. Even if it dries after a few months, it will get refilled.

In another barren land, in the same region, I had suggested to dig a large tank to take advantage of its natural slope of the land. I advised not to go deeper than 5-6 ft. as there was possibility of salinity in the subsoil. I also advised them to plant thick cuttings of banyan branches in the land! In the first monsoon (15-20 inches annual rainfall) some of them had roots and leaves sprouting. In this land the NGO had started a Vocational Training Institute.

Could this example of conservation/ restoration of Land–Water–Plants be a part of curriculum in villages, in schools, colleges, or vocational schools? It never occurred to the people who were running the NGO.

Each place is unique. Here, in the realms of Nature, regimentation and compartmentalization as in the civilized societies doesn't work. It needs unique corrective measures in harmony with Nature.
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© Remigius de Souza. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The White Man's Burden

The White Man’s Burden

Rudyard Kipling by Remigius de Souza

My information about Rudyard Kipling was limited only to:
  1. He was born in the campus of Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai, where I was studying architecture;
  2. He was a British poet.
I was doing my first year in architecture when I made this portrait. I copied a picture in pencil on handmade paper, taken from some book or magazine. That was years ago. I wanted to sell it. Thankfully it didn’t work.

Later I read a couple of his poems, but couldn’t stick any more. Decades later I saw an animated cartoon series, “Mogali”, or Jungle Book, on TV, once in a while. I was more interested in graphics, not the story.

The story is disappointing because the animals were made to talk and behave like humans; that’s an insult to animals. It was neither a work of imagination nor for the love of animals. Even to abuse any person by a name of any animal is an insult to that animal.

Kipling was an imperialist, that’s known. But whatever I learnt from the textbooks in school that projected Britain is a democratic country, which I could never believe.

Britain and its government and the people may be anything else, which is their right, but to call them democratic is preposterous. Certainly there may be few persons who believed in democracy and lived in democratic spirit and values, but that cannot be generalized.

Any country or society may be a superpower, which doesn’t mean it is superior to any other country or society or people.

How could any democratic society enslave or colonize or invade other people - other countries?
How could any country and its citizens go to the polar uninhabited region, put their flag there, and claim it is their land?
Such a civilization is a curse to the land and waters. Animals are better.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t refer to any country and/or its people in the place of their government – democratic, or fundamentalist, or totalitarian, or monarchy.
Better say, Indian government instead of India or Indian people. Better say Chinese government rather than China or Chinese people. Better say British government, neither Britain nor British people. That’s how I should address an issue if it refers to any government.

It is our present predicament that we are such weaklings.

Is there democracy in true sense anywhere? May be there is. I have heard about Vermont, but I don’t know anything about the place.
Certainly there is democracy: It is among the tribal – adivasi – aborigine communities, which still prevails in spite of onslaught by the civilized societies.
They are in fact the WORLD HERITAGE, which needs to be treated with care and caution.

DEMOCRACY can function only at a community level, small nations at human scale. Then we will not need any governments that exist in present forms, and we will not need cities – the symbol of centralized power.

NOTE: The White Man's Burden, poem by Kipling
Remigius de Souza | Mumbai

© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A perpetual state of trauma

People Energy

In your society or high-class society or classless society,
of Industrial Civilisation, comprised of individuals,
as if no one is born of biological parents,
but everyone is a product of high-class-culture
of science–technology–trade–consumption,
laced with aesthetics of hedonism by your overbearing senses;
touch, hearing, taste, vision, smell, sex and terror (fear).

For you the rest of humanity just belongs to the Underclass Incognito.

And your high-class-culture (or dharma!) turns everything –
Earth, Waters, Air, Life at large… including Other Humans – into a commodity
for the consumption for your high-class-society,
and for the display extravagance of your high-class-culture.

Your high-class-culture developed (but never evolved?)
out of five thousand years of civilised society,
knows no option
either for the revival of Life,
which, of course, is not in your hands,
or you allow anyone or anything but a natural death,

but is left to live a life of an invalid,
by benevolently pumping drugs and chemicals
to leave a body —
from the Earth and Waters to Plants, Animals and Other Humans —
in a perpetual state of trauma.

Note: Sadly, fragmented split personality that I am, I address this to myself though a negligible fragment that I am of Industrial Civilisation. Originally published in blog ARCHETYPES INDIA

© Remigius de Souza. all rights reserved.

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Thursday, 22 August 2013


People Energy
Soil Unknown-Undiscovered Indian
INDICA: I deliberately use the word ‘Indica’, a biological term, instead of ‘India’. It is precisely to indicate a ‘region’ and not political boundaries that associate with the State. In the historical time political boundaries have been subjected to change, anywhere.
TERRA: literally ‘soil’, which I refer to ‘Land and Waters and People, and Biotic and Abiotic Nature’. The biotic and abiotic nature is intrinsic in the life, therefore also in their culture, of the people – the daughters and the sons of the soil.
INCOGNITA: the literal meaning is ‘unknown – unexplored – unrecognized’ alike the medieval (European) map showed the known world encircled by ‘Terra incognita’ where monsters roam.
Indeed even in the twenty-first century, the ‘soil’, in my way of comprehensive meaning, still remains ‘unknown (to the world) – unexplored (by the pundits) – unrecognized (by the so-called Authority or the State)’, whom I fondly call my ‘anonymous’ kin, from whatever glimpse I have had through my six decade journey in the Third World India and the Fourth World India.
Social and Cultural Sub-groups of India
INDIA has almost a continental size. Broadly there are about 50 – 60 cultural and social sub-groups (as illustrated). No. We are not referring to the castes or cults or the creeds. We are not taking of, in American lingo, of the Class or 'the classless society'. We are speaking of the ethnic and adivasi – tribal – communities (that is the cohesive collectives), not the civilized advance societies (that is the fragmented collectives in the modern times).

She indeed is a thousand-petal lotus, our national flower. There have been as many topographic and climatic regions – bio-regions – that have great hand in shaping the culture, expressed in food, clothing, shelter (or architecture!), visual and performing arts and crafts, languages an folklore… and thus as a result a superior quality of sustainable living. I call it a model for the modern world, a world heritage, now facing a wipe-out.
Unfortunately in the global race to make India an industrial power by the petty imitators – the ruling minority – comes at cross-purposes with the survival of the agrarian society and the diverse bio-regions. The petty imitators are out to homogenize them with monoculture of industrial civilization. The industrialization here, so far, only helps the power mongers and profiteers through their invisible tentacles.

Indeed one lifetime is not enough to see and to assimilate and to understand this phenomenon for any person or even a group of persons. Any documentation, even a fraction, would reveal great treasures of wisdom and knowledge and skills, across these diverse bio-regions, accumulated over generations of anonymous People of India. 

India is such a vast country with diversity that it is impossible to manage even the welfare of the people (for the lack of understanding) for any centralized power, even with an iron hand. This is true of any region in the world which has been proved time to time. Decentralization of powers, down to earth in practice, (power in the hands of peasants) is the only answer to this malady; M. K. Gandhi came very close to it in his concept of Panchayati Raj – power to village self-rule.

Note: Map- Social and cultural sub-groups of India, after the cover page of 'Seminar', Issue 226, 1978, New Delhi.
© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.
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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Problem of "scale-up" in architecture education

DURING MY STINT WITH TEACHING ARCHITECTURE, I wouldn’t loose an opportunity to bring up the issue of “scale-up”, a major lacuna here in architecture education. It was no different forty years ago when I was a student. Obviously the problem of scale up continues in architecture and planning.

Once I gave a curtsy call to A’s town planning class. They were discussing on the drawings of a large housing project in Mumbai. It was for a few thousand residential units of various standard sizes, in high-rise buildings with roads, open spaces, amenities, FSI (Floor Space Index) and so on.

I thank them all for sharing, and asked, ‘Whatever may be the numbers and statistics, how do you deal with the toddlers, children, youth, working and non-working women, the aged and the unemployed?’ 
Of course, none, including A, had thought about it. I asked A, ‘What kind of poison are you giving the students?’ They were treating people as if objects.

I once asked my final years students in design studio, ‘You are working at 1:100 scales. Tell me, how much the thickness of one of the wall lines will amount to actually on site?’ Predictably they were harassed at the bizarre question and fumbled at calculations: 0.5 mm lead line 100 times.

WE GO BY CONVENTIONS, perhaps, without stopping once to question, even though the social, economic, political, environmental conditions keep changing, now at a faster pace. Slowly, imperceptibly, a bureaucratic attitude of "status quo" and to treat "people as objects" creeps in the students.

Students live, go in and around, and work at buildings, like all others. Do they notice how the lines on the drawings get translated at the work site? Yes, of course. There must be workshop facilities at some of the colleges. Some students document the existing buildings in drawings for the NASA (National Association of Students of Architecture) Conventions.

They draw and see pictures on flat paper, or on the screen: cinema/TV/computer, which are either stills or moving in frames by selection. They make paper/wood/plastic models at a sale to fit standard size sheets. A project may be worth a few lakhs or crores of rupees.

THE QUESTION IS, whether the project is scaled-up on their mental screen to its real size on the ground? What and how many dimensions of architecture would they notice, or assimilate, or explore during the learning period, and thereafter?

A biotechnologist illustrates the problem of “scale-up” giving examples of a lion and a flea:

‘by comparison with its length, if a flea were the size of lion, it would be able to jump a mile. However, weight increases more rapidly with increasing size than strength, so that the scale-up flea would probably be unable to move. …It should be noted that such design is appropriate to its scale, and flea-sized lion is as impractical as lion-sized flea’ (‘Principles of Biotechnology’ Ed. Alan Wiseman, Urre University Press, 1983, p 96).

This classic problem of scale-up is faced when laboratory operations are to be carried out at industrial plant to process several hundred tons of material. This may be evident when the Regional Plans look like blown-up Land Use City Plans. It may also be evident in other areas such as, government policies, projects and laws, if examined without bias.

ONCE I GAVE A QUIZ to my students in final year.
By now they were familiar with Secretariat building at Chandigarh by Corbu. I told them to go to seashore at any of the bays in Mumbai. They should sketch the bay with two land ends and place the building floating on the sea at any distance they chose. I also gave them an option to place the building against the backdrop of any chosen mountain near Mumbai. Anyone could predict the result!

On the drawing board, straight lines follow the Tee and Triangles. Now erotic curves appear in fashion, perhaps without a thought to how sight – sound – light – air work.
Whispering galleries! 
Under the Millennium Dome everything is fitted in straight lines. 
A square peg in a round hole! 
Now computers draw the lines at a command.

Now there is CAD-CAM: a fine tool for multimillion rupee projects or for mass production of thousands of prototype units/buildings for the mass of people of the mass society, like china made at ceramic factory. 
This, of course, facilitates the centralization of power and monopoly and grandiose. Otherwise about 30000 architects in the country of a billion people would have enough work anyone for more than one lifetime. 
What happens to the growth and economics of people and buildings is another matter.

IN THE PROCESS OF DESIGNING, production, and also the maintenance, of a building, how does one read a fine print produced on a drawing board or by CAD-CAM? 
We are reminded, without malice, few classic examples. 
  1. Sydney Opera building languished for some time during its construction; not knowing how to make it on the site, leave aside the city coffers went dry.
  2. Engineering Building (by Sterling and Govan) at Leicester University, suffered freezing internal temperature in the winter of 1960, due to the glass curtain walling failure (Bill Holdsworth, Antony Sealey, ‘Healthy Buildings’, Longman, 1993). 
  3. The Pruit-Igeo flats in St. Louis, Missouri, which had won award from the American Institute of Architects only seventeen years before, were blown up in 1972 at the unanimous request of the residents, because they had proved impossible for daily living (Graham Green, ‘Philosophy of the Arts’, Routledge, 1997). 
We learn from mistakes. (Not being a celebrity I don’t quote my failures. However, one could guess they are embedded in here: the reason to write this paper.)

IS THERE A TOOL to blow a whistle time to time during the design process? 
Yes, there is a professor. 
Perhaps there may be such a software package for a learner. 
Or, a checklist! 
We, perhaps, learn from mistakes (if they are made public) rather than instructions, if it is a part of the discipline. 
How does one foresee a room or a city that gets cluttered, crowded and starts over spilling with people, goods, furniture, and garbage, in a few years time, or be dead?

EXPERIENCING ARCHITECTURE AND MEASURING ITS MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS at first hand can only be realized by ‘field-work’ at a real event. For this, one has to keep aside one’s judgement, prejudices, dogmas, status, and likes–dislikes; indeed they have no place in the public realm. More the dimensions more elegant and simple architecture is, like Kabir’s “Sakhi” – a verse form.

Starting to learn architecture at that age, however, has its own problem/s to negotiate. The curve of learning ability, which is upward from the birth as the brain is growing, sags substantially after the age of 17/18 years, and at the old age it either deteriorate or even picks up. Developing perception by “anushasan” – rigorous practice, however, could compensate the slow rate of learning, as if “Life” matters.

IT (Info Technology) and multimedia may pump up or dump as mush information as period of time allows. But validity of any information (including this paper) must be scrutinised at ground level. Besides there is need to ruminate the swallowed information. 
However looking at the present the trends, there is greater need to balance the quantity and quality, with major emphasis on quality, of the output and the reward – both in scholastic and profession areas, by popular demand.

THE ISSUE OF “SCALE-UP” BEGINS from the very inception of a thought /idea / concept that appears in our boundless inner space. Where does it come from? Does it come from within – mind – brain – conscience, or from outside – say, from some glossy magazine or an authority? But any thought / idea/ concept must be examined without believing, before it takes to a demonic scale, like Nazism, either directly or by proxy, and swallows or eats us away.
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I restore this article that was hacked sometime ago from other blog: ARCHETYPES INDIA.

Remigius de Souza
Mumbai (10-05-2007)

© Remigius de Souza. all rights reserved.
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