love, sharing and co-creation
Anil K Gupta
Marianne Esders Chetan Patel
Unnikrishnan Nair R Baskaran
If I feed the birds in my garden in the morning and try to prevent them from
perching on the air conditioner outside my window in the office in daytime...
I am trying to find coherence
in a contradictory behavior
Why wouldn’t many architects learn from the communities which have tried to
integrate nature in urban spaces ?
Narrow corridor, one of the many secret shortcuts
Ahmedabad, old city
Fragile Thread : Strong trunk
Will you protect me, O tree?
In Ahmedabad, we have sacred trees being worshipped by the people who tie a
fragile thread around a strong trunk of tree seeking solace, safety and strength.
Ahmedabad, old city
Keep our prayers safe
O’tree, we go now
Fragility is actually the foundation of love.
Without being vulnerable, we are seldom able to access feelings in our own inner
recess. The authenticity, so fundamental to make a breakthrough, requires a close
sync between the inner and the outer of our being. The built environment, urban
landscape, narrow corridors, common spaces and intertwining of nature and
human habitations call in question the degree of such sync we have.
The Honey Bee Network began 25 years ago...
...to connect creativity and innovation at community level with formal systems.
The challenge was to make this connection reciprocal, respectful and restorative of
mutual trust. For a long time, the formal system had exploited the knowledge and
resources of the informal system by not acknowledging or attributing the learning
and also without fulfilling the responsibility of sharing benefits in a fair and just
manner. The focus for the first 25 years has been primarily rural, but for the last
few years, effort has been made to look at urban common property management,
innovations, institutions and educational networks to leverage their resourcefulness
while connecting them with material resource inadequacies of the rural areas.
In a course on understanding Creativity, Innovation, Knowledge Networks and
Entrepreneurship [CINE], I take students for an urban walk to observe, listen, learn
and share the spirit with the roadside vendors, fabricators, service providers and
children. In addition, I also encourage students to join a Shodhyatra – learning walk
– course in which students go to Himalayas. In addition, SRISTI organizes such walks
twice a year to learn from four teachers viz., the teacher within, the teacher around,
i.e., among peers, nature as a teacher and common people as a teacher
But, as a teacher, it will be difficult for me to
advise empathy and persuade young minds to be
compassionate, curious, creative and collaborative
without pursuing all these values in my own life.
The Honey Bee Network has been pursuing Shodhyatras for the last 16 years. In
summer, we go to the places which are hot and in the winter to the places which are
cold. Voluntary suffering – if one can say so – conveys the ethos far more precisely
than the words would ever suffice. These walks help in uncovering the local talent
and also in sharing what we have learnt from other places and people. Cross-
pollination of knowledge takes place enriching the innovation ecosystem.
Flutter your wings, soothen the breeze
During the Shodhyatra walk in Purulia, West Bengal, we came across a practice of
hanging earthen pots outside the home and also sometimes inside the house for
pigeons to make their nests. The local people believe that the breeze triggered
by the fluttering of the wings of the pigeons is very healthy for the people living
there. What a way of sheltering birds. In Jharkhand, a tribal area, we came a across
Purulia, West Bengal
lest we forget, designs that conserve
In Gujarat, we have found hundreds of villages and also some urban settlements
having bird feeding platforms. Many communities in dry regions brought their
values of animal care to the urban settlements. The regions prone to drought and
thus having periodic scarcity of grains have invariably been found to have more
places for feeding birds than the more developed regions.
The less you have, the more you share
And not just with human beings but also with the non-human sentient beings.
Ahmedabad, High Court
Chabutra, a traditional bird feeding platform, Ahmedabad , old city
O Birds, you are a
part of our family
A cycle of nature : Squirrels, birds
and search for a common ground
The same rule applies to the management of common property resources. Surviving
collectively presupposes scarcity, requiring interdependence. The trick is that even
in the regions of material abundance, we can create scarcity through institutional
Cooperation thus becomes inevitable
During the spawning period, the fish become very dull. They move towards shallow
waters. It is very easy to catch them. But, most cultures around the world have a
taboo against catching fish during this period. It makes sense from the point of view
of reproductive dynamics of the fish.
But, persuading people to observe self-restraint during the period of abundance
and negotiate the common spaces of collective responsibility.
Bridging technology, institutions and culture
in Cherapunji, Meghalaya is an ultimate testimony of sustainability, renewability
and collective action. The technology of pulling the roots from two sides of the river
and layering the path with stones and pebbles embedded in due course around the
roots is important. If people did not cooperate, the technology would not work. Its
institutional context provides continuity. Both of these would prove inadequate if the
culture of creativity, cooperation and co-creation was not there. The dissemination
of this culture would require an informal educational system such that children
imbibe this spirit and sustain this approach to solving problems in the long term.
Bridge made of tree roots Cherapunji, Megalaya
Nature finding its way and crafting its own
spaces of conservation
Nature is not only crafting spaces of conservation. It is grafting the values of
conservation. The crafting is like creating new structures and spaces, generally
ahistorical. The grafting assumes existence of a stock on which a scion is embedded.
There is no place in the world, which does not have some institutions. The challenge
is to discover them and build upon them.
Ahmedabad, old city
Learning to care and share
Educating Children by feeding birds
Our job is not to make people innovative. Our challenge is to build upon the creative
and innovative spirit every child is born with. But, in the process of growing up,
we cover this spirit with so many layers of habits and etiquettes that even we do
not know that we have this capability. Unfolding the creative potential of society
is uncovering the nature within so that resonance with the nature outside can be
Almost in every Shodhyatra, we discover unique nuances of cultural expressions of
different coping strategies. During the Shodhyatra in Dahod District, we discovered
a family wows to get a wall painted by a local
tribal artist if a sick person recovered fast
People who did not have much in their home in terms of any asset or any sign of
wealth would spend a few thousand rupees to engage an artist to paint a wall to
celebrate the recovery of the sick kith and kin. These paintings also called Pithora
paintings have an underlying narrative. One does not wish that people should fall
sick for an artist to get work. And not everybody follows this rule. But so long as
some people do it to celebrate recovery in this way, the Pithora art survives and the
Image: Pratapbhai Likhabhai Lakhara, Japatia, Dahod Distt. Gujarat; Pithora painting
Discourse takes place about why artists incorporated different forms and shapes
in the narrative. For art being metaphorical in nature, full meaning is never
accessible. The local communities have discovered that metaphorically embedded
messages have very low entropy. In our digital age, wouldn’t this be a worthwhile
lesson? What Schuman called memory scape, is actually an inversion of landscape
in our minds. Paul Basu calls it, so aptly, palimpsest memory scape.
a lady, who had nothing much in her house but
had a great deal of meaning on her wall
In Bengal, we came across beautiful three-dimensional artwork on a wall by Bhabi
Glass bottle wall from inside, created by Yatin Pandya, Ahmedabad
In Nandor, Madhya Pradesh, a wall full of color would make any one passing by to
stop and pause, reflect and reposition one’s compass of creativity.
Why did Jam Singh Jhiri decide to paint his
house in such daring colors?
What else could he/she have done, is the answer we often get from creative people.
Art is imperative for them. And we still call them unskilled laborers. Let the world’s
largest employment guarantee program (MGNREGA) treat 250 million people as
unskilled, let the sculptors break stones into pebbles instead of shaping them into
art and meanings.
Jam Singh Jhiri’s house in Nandor, Madhya Pradesh
how could she...would not breath
then become burden?
How many people have been misled by Maslowian philosophy to assume that one
could aspire for higher order goals only after meeting basic needs, how wrong. A
creative soul, even if not assured of the next bread, would not abandon pursuit of
Bhabi Mahato and her work of art, Purulia, West Bengal
During the period of economic transition from material to knowledge-based
economy, the education systems became far more fragmented, quantitative in
their treatment of subjects and much more divorced from real life conditions.
Countability or measurability became important, any thing that could not be
measured, was considered not worth the effort. Variance was sought to be
explained only by what was measured. How to measure the feeling that motivates
a person to collect food and milk to feed the dogs?
How to measure the look and feel of parrot
feeding hangers in a balcony.
Parrot feeding platforms hanging in a balcony in Ahmedabad
The pursuit of specialization was inevitable when it was an instrument of
differentiation in the knowledge economy. With the advent of social media, the
attention span of students became smaller and lots of information and knowledge
began to be packaged and encapsulated in digestible formats. The disconnect
from the social sciences and social reality became intense. This disconnect has led
to a demand for rethinking education in a manner that cognition, contradiction,
commensuration , co-evolutionary empathy or samvedana ke Sanskar and
empathetic innovations, and emotive convolution are aspects that aesthetics
may amplify in our consciousness. No need to paint a simple, smooth, convergent
picture of the world and then create dissonance in the minds of learners, observers
and explorers. Though, some dissonance can indeed be a source of inspiration
and creativity. Surprise is the salt of a meaningful life. The day I have not been
surprised, I have not lived fully.
Honorable President of India has given a call for National Innovation Clubs to be
created in all the universities to search, spread, sense and celebrate innovations.
He has given a new meaning and push to the mission of the Honey Bee Network to
A lot of innovations are needed to bring these connections in the cognitive, emotive
and reflective space of students. SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives
for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions – www.sristi.org) has designed
techpedia.in, a portal for linking students with each other as well as with small
entrepreneurs, grassroots innovators and other parts of the informal sector. It also
helps in enabling students to know what has been already done. With a pool of
157,000 projects pursued by 400,000 students from 600 institutions, it is nearly
impossible for a student to do something that has already been done. Apart from
promoting originality, it also connects the students with the real life problems of
various user segments. In due course, it will make it possible for more and more
inter-institutional and inter-disciplinary cooperation to take place. But where are
the urban spaces where these spatial, sectorial, seasonal and social boundaries are
concurrently crossed without feeling timid and helpless?
A large number of small entrepreneurs and other innovators need support from
the formal sector but cannot afford to pay the market cost of the time of experts.
Such a chasm can be bridged with the help of students, who have not yet become
a cog in the wheel. Rescue them.
Involving norms, which create new parameters for making a trade off, say between
accuracy and affordability is not easy. If a drug costing 100 dollars a month provides
90 - 95 per cent assurance of healing, then it is unlikely that a drug providing 80 per
cent healing will ever get through the screen. Even if the latter alternative costs only
ten dollars, the regulatory agencies will not approve it. We don’t let nature’s own
healing system take over the management of a disease after it has been brought
below the threshold level. There are deep-rooted institutional structures, which
have created habits of thought and action. One cannot bring about change without
identifying these habits and stressing the need to overcome them.
Urban spaces have ignored commons
at the cost of individual privileges
Cycle and pedestrian lanes are missing in India but about 25 per cent growth of
the auto sector during the last decade has mesmerised growth planners about
dispensability of what a common person needs: a little space to walk, a safe lane
for a child to go to school.
Crowded road, Ahmedabad
There are a huge number of technological innovations and traditional knowledge
practices displayed at www.nifindia.org and www.sristi.org. People who are
disadvantaged in terms of material resources, invariably leverage the resources in
which they are rich, i.e., knowledge, values, and institutional networks. Many of
them don’t share their ideas with outsiders. But some do.
A frugal, flexible, friendly innovation conveys
what grassroots innovation is all about.
Pressure cooker based coffee maker by Mohammed Rozadeen, Bihar
The urban areas have become the suction pumps for the rural talent. With
the increasing rate of urbanization, migration of youth is inevitable. The more
accomplished a rural youth is, the higher is the chance that he would not stay in
a village. Unless we create sufficiently inclusive opportunities for them, the scope
for experimentation and innovation may come down. Distributed facilities for in-
situ incubation of ideas are necessary. The concept of incubation itself needs to
undergo a shift. For innovations that have to be fine-tuned for known markets
and through known alternatives, the conventional incubation system may work.
But for those ideas, which have to grow in unknown markets and through yet
unknown innovations, one may need a sanctuary model. In the first case, the
chaos is outside and the order is inside. In the second case, it is the opposite, the
chaos is inside and the order is outside. There are not many avenues of this kind
available for urban innovation to evolve and progress.
MittiCool clay refrigerator by Mansukhbhai Prajapati, Rajkot, Gujarat
In this paper, I tried to argue that
urban renewal and rejuvenation requires synergy
among technology, institution, culture and
It is obvious that platforms that will strive for this synergy have not yet evolved. The
municipal authorities are too bogged down with providing services using age-old
models. Rarely if ever, new models are experimented with in a diversified manner.
The arena for discourse, diversity and inclusive development has to expand. Public
places, particularly roadsides, will become more and more critical in future.
Urban vegetable baskets on roadside, Jama Masjid area, Prayas.in, Delhi
Where do street children figure in our vision of order and beauty? Look at a
bamboo structure created by Prayas in Bangalore where street children can sleep
on the roof in the night, take locally grown medicinal plants when they are sick
and a teashop vendor at the bottom takes care of them when needed. Urban
empty spaces can become ground for collective action through art and culture.
Sustainable alternatives will require collective action without squeezing space for
individual entrepreneurial and empathetic creativity. The paradox of individual
aspirations being met through collective consent can be resolved through creation
of new meeting ground between formal and informal sector.
Spinach in a basket tree farm
Open innovation platforms are a means in this direction. But, the openness of
these platforms will depend upon legitimacy provided by popular participation.
That will require trust and vigorous growth of social and ethical capital.
Landscapes of love require
lighthouses of a sharing spirit
Then the waves of collaboration will deliver various boats to their sought out
shores. Even if they fail in some cases, the journey will have been worthwhile.
Urban regions can aggregate intimate spaces through a collaborative and creative
spirit for an inclusive future.
Your Time Club – first meeting of people who had all the time during 2009 economic crisis, redundancy and lay off,