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Landscapes of Love

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Contribution to SLUM Magazine, 2013

Published in: Art & Photos
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Landscapes of Love

  1. 1. Landscapes of love, sharing and co-creation Anil K Gupta Marianne Esders Chetan Patel Unnikrishnan Nair R Baskaran
  2. 2. 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 ?
  3. 3. Narrow corridor, one of the many secret shortcuts Ahmedabad, old city
  4. 4. 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
  5. 5. 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.
  6. 6. 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.
  7. 7. Embedding nature 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 similar practice. Purulia, West Bengal
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. Chabutra, a traditional bird feeding platform, Ahmedabad , old city O Birds, you are a part of our family
  10. 10. 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 constraints. 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. Ahmedabad, Gujarat
  11. 11. But, persuading people to observe self-restraint during the period of abundance requiresinstitutionbuilding.Weprobablyhavenotspentasmuchtimetounderstand and negotiate the common spaces of collective responsibility. Bridging technology, institutions and culture Thedoubledeckerbridgegrownfromtreerootsdrawnfromthetwosidesoftheriver 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
  12. 12. 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
  13. 13. 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 forged. Ahmedabad
  14. 14. Cultural creativity Almost in every Shodhyatra, we discover unique nuances of cultural expressions of different coping strategies. During the Shodhyatra in Dahod District, we discovered that 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 narrative continues. Image: Pratapbhai Likhabhai Lakhara, Japatia, Dahod Distt. Gujarat; Pithora painting
  15. 15. 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 Mahato Glass bottle wall from inside, created by Yatin Pandya, Ahmedabad
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. 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 enlightenment Bhabi Mahato and her work of art, Purulia, West Bengal
  18. 18. Educational innovation 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
  19. 19. 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 makenotjustIndiabutthewholeworldacreative,collaborativeandcompassionate society. 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.
  20. 20. Institutional innovation 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
  21. 21. Technological innovation 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
  22. 22. 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
  23. 23. In this paper, I tried to argue that urban renewal and rejuvenation requires synergy among technology, institution, culture and educational processes 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
  24. 24. 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
  25. 25. 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, Prayas.in, Bangalore

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