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Monday, 6 August 2012

South Asian Jazz (Review)

South Asian Jazz in Architecture (Event Review)

Event: disContinuous Threads: Memory, Freedom and Architecture in Contemporary India, Conference at National Centre for Performing Arts [NCPA], Mumbai, December 10–12, 1997

Traditional Warli House, Thane Dist. Maharashtra, India

Warli hut built by self-help and community participation; it is truly green, organic and sustainable; its technology standards are unsurpassed any civilized society until now.

What is Architecture

Architecture is Mother of All Arts(!)
Proverb among Indie-architects


Key Words: Indian Westernized Architecture, Contemporary Western Architecture, Biodiversity, Culture

‘THREADS’ certainly bring to our mind Kabir the weaver and Namdeo the tailor, and others of Indian high culture. This is in contrast to the present Western and contemporary westernized Indian notion of wealth, consumption and market economy.

EMPERORS PASSED AWAY, but Kabir, Tukaram likewise other saint-poets continue to rule for centuries. However, history books made by the British-made Indian schooling, are crammed with wars, murders and murderers. Even an unassuming village traditional doctor is cautious to give away his formulas of traditional herbal medicines to guard, of course, against misuse, namely by moneymaking, desecration, exploitation… This is in contrast to western culture of ‘Intellectual Property Rights’. A question of morality!

THE ARCHITECTS who gathered for the conference came from India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh and Sri Lanka. They belong to the First World of minority. We are well aware the architecture, modern architecture, in the subcontinent is an extension, a tail end of western architecture.

IN MODERN ARCHITECTURE there is neither North nor South, nor West or East. It is a one-dimensional world where the world is flat for the architects who struggle to create two-dimensional images of three-dimensional space, unaware that they are being manipulated by the Super-strings of Corporate Powers.

The professional ladies and gentlemen here, gathering and splitting threads at the conference, were speaking alien language, and referring to Kant, Kahn… aesthetics, technology… cults and post-modern-cults, and reflecting western concepts mostly at a gross level of existence.

Some tried typically to capitalize on poverty in fashion. Language matters when one speak of regions. Language and culture are so intimately entwined; they are “almost one and the same thing” (Pagel) [1]. Yet when we dig the buried past (Harappa etc.) we try to read cultures of the bygone times from its artefacts, architecture irrespective of its being good or bad.

IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT there are about fifty - sixty social and cultural sub-groups, a great warp and weft, and numerous mother tongues, many more times than the officially recognised and state-supported languages. As is said, the shades of languages change at ten miles.

As the ecologists have long known, that from the poles to the Equator the number of different species of flora and fauna increase… so also in the size of territory the species range over… both these ecological rules also apply to languages [2]. This is perfectly in harmony with rich biodiversity of land and waters of the sub-continent.

Now the folk languages, rich with traditional wisdom and knowledge accumulated over many lifetimes are on the way of extinction together with arts, crafts and indigenous architecture following the extinction of the plants, birds, animals, insects…following the extinction of indigenous food grains, replaced by hybrid culture.

“Languages began dying in droves from late 15th century onwards as the Europeans colonized the world. Some languages died because of mass killings of ethnic communities. Each time a language dies we lose something we do not even understand (Woodfield)…we loose a way of perceiving the world…a way of learning (Pagel) [3].

Only trade is global; culture and cultural expressions cannot be global. Even the currencies cannot be global. Then how could architecture be global? Architects may have to deliberately and constantly watch out how every point and line put on the paper or computer screen affects land and waters, and the people.

High on agenda of Western high culture of ‘development’ is to disintegrate and dis-empower the people and turn them into zombies – programmed robots of mono-culture of mass-type society for the greed of power and profit.

IS CREATIVITY A PREROGATIVE OF A FEW – Corbu, Kahn, Gehri…? Aesthetics for that matter is a clouded issue due to social-cultural-economic issues, geography, urbanism, high culture, mass culture, and Environment-Ecology-Energy crisis. Centuries ago Kabir – Tukaram – Chokhamela challenged the gross concept of aesthetics by giving examples of plants – sandalwood, clove, sugarcane etc.

Beauty – Truth – Bliss – Love is not the opposite of ugly – lie – pain – hate. But to speak of this area is a taboo. It is so, for simple reason that this area cannot be institutionalized. Discourses by gurus though are institutionalized.

Somewhere in the development process we have lost ‘rt’ – good – the noun was replaced by adjective. However ‘rt’ is beyond definition, though science is not. Science continues to discover the ‘Frontiers of Ignorance’ [4].

Architects of the sub-continent are still chained to, caught up in and victims of orthodox view of modern architecture. “Development of modern architecture suggests it has taken us about four thousand years to progress from pyramid to a box’ says Papworth [5]. While modern architecture seems to have lost direction and people all over the world are facing identity crisis, it displays architect’s signature, sometimes that of the corporate client, hardly of the user.

Merely adopting effects and epithets of vernacular is not enough. It was Einstein who said that you couldn’t expect to solve a problem within the mind that created it [6] (quoted by Edward Goldsmith).

Architecture today is a goldfish in a glass bowl. It is time now to let loose the goldfish into the stream. Rest will take care of itself. But that demands morality, dignity and integrity. Do architects and scientists perceive that they are tools in the hands of empires of development, which control the access to the resources? In search of architecture the major task is to humanize and democratize the community … ‘but you cannot have morality without community. Without community morality becomes humbug’ (John Papworth) [7].

THE CONCLUDING SESSION was a deflated event like afterbirth. It did not reflect the preceding part of this grand South Asian Jazz, which was coupled with occasional Shahanai – Pakhavaj of Shubhendu Kaushik.

There were no issue/s at stake at the event.

It is understood that the participants had to put their perceptions, experiences and references within the limitation of period of time, words and visuals in their presentations, discussions (and this review, too) cannot cover entire gamut of the theme of the conference.

THE MAJOR CHALLENGE today in the context of the theme is to free both, land and waters and community, which are shattered and disintegrated in the cobweb of market and its allies. Let loose the goldfish of architecture from the glass bowl into the stream of community.

Remigius de Souza
Referances and Notes

1 Vines, Gail. ‘Death of a mother tongue’ New Scientist, Jan 6, 1996, p.25
2 ibid. p 26
3 ibid. p.27
4 Theme of the 125th anniversary issue of Nature, 3.11.1994
5 Papworth, John. ‘Shut up and Listen – A new handbook for revolutionaries’, Academic Inn, London, 1997
6 ibid. Preface
7 ibid. p.4

[Published in Janata Weekly, Mumbai, March 15, 1998, P.11-14.]

© Remigius de Souza।, all rights reserved।
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