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Back to the basics

Back to the basics
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First Published: Mon, Feb 25 2008. 12 42 AM IST

Updated: Mon, Feb 25 2008. 12 42 AM IST
The idea of Navadarshanam was born in the Study Circle that used to meet at the Gandhi Peace Foundation and the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi in the 1970s and 1980s. A few like-minded individuals decided to create a community that would use technology to enhance rather than destroy the ecological balance.
We are told that the Navadarshanam Trust, which now has more than 1,700 members, was created in 1990 and the community came up on 115 acres of barren land bordering the Thally reserve forest 50km south of Bangalore.
Years later, this sprawling wasteland has come to life simply by preventing grazing. T.S. Ananthu, a member of the Trust, says: “Thousands of trees have appeared on their own and soil conditions have improved dramatically. There are around 30,000 sandalwood trees. We have planted very carefully so as not to disturb what has come up naturally. No chemicals and pesticides are used. Mulching around the plants takes care of their nutrition. All power requirements, including that for pumping water and lighting, is generated through solar panels, wind power and also from oil made from the seeds of the Honge tree. Gobar gas (methane emitted by cow dung), charcoal and wood stoves are used for cooking.”
We notice there are no TVs, refrigerators or washing machines. The community kitchen has large open shelves, red-oxide flooring, and an almost monastic appeal. A built-in bench runs around the kitchen, and villagers come here to have a cup of tea at the end of the day. Water is sparingly used and recycled wherever possible.
Ananthu and his wife Jyoti live in a house designed by architect Ramu Katakam. It is a linear structure, which houses a library, an open kitchen, and rooms for the couple and Ananthu’s mother. “We don’t need fans in these houses because of the open plan and ventilation,” says Ananthu, adding, “there was no architect supervising the buildings as they came up. Villagers helped us. As most of the houses had no load-bearing beams, there was minimal use of cement and steel.”
The first house built here belongs to Partap Aggarwal, another member. He designed it like a jungle lodge with a loft and a high roof with rafters, and banisters of recycled wood.
Om Bagaria built his on a crested plot. Pink and white bougainvillea blossoms spill over onto a cobblestone pathway leading to the house. Shahnaz and Naozer Kothawala’s house has smoothly contoured, compressed brick walls; arches embellished with embedded wine and flavoured milk bottles and natural cement flooring. Bamboo banisters and a verandah with built-in seats overlooks the grounds.
The house is on two levels, with a big hall and an open kitchen. Two bedrooms flank the hall and a staircase made of jackfruit and neem wood leads to a loft and a study. The roof has Mangalore tiles and rafters made of wood from the coconut trees. Galvanized steel gutters running down the slope of the roof collect rainwater for recycling. Cement jaalis embedded in the walls are both functional and decorative windows.
In the community kitchen, a village woman makes fresh lime juice flavoured with cardamom and jaggery. For first-time visitors like us, the journey back to the city, just 50km away, suddenly seems a bit too long.
Some people behind the community
Om Bagaria, a mechanical engineer from IIT Kharagpur and his wife Pushpa have built a home for themselves at Navadarshanam.
T.S. Ananthu has a BTech in electrical engineering and an MS from Stanford University. His wife Jyoti has a PhD in sociology, and taught at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai and IIT Delhi. She started the Study Circle with Ananthu, which eventually gave birth to Navadarshanam.
Rama Pai is a botanist who has turned to organic farming.
Dr Partap Aggarwal has a PhD from Cornell University and taught Anthropology at Colgate University before returning to India. He and wife Sudesh were the first tobuild a home in Navadarshanam.
R. Rajagopalan taught at IIT Kanpur and IIT Madras and believes strongly in Navadarshanam’s ideology.
It was natural for Atmaram Saraogi to gravitate towards Navadarshanam. He is a trustee of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi.
Fourteen villagers have also become part of the Navadarshanam core team.
Many of those who own houses in the community do not live here all the time, they come and go but work towards keeping the spirit of Navadarshanam alive
In Om Bagaria’s house, accessorization is achieved by the various textures of materials and the play of light and shadow. The only concession to decorative beauty is the hand-painted glass panel arch above the door.
An open verandah with built-in seating in the Kothawala’s house.
The Bagaria home crests a small hill. The inexpensive terracotta ‘jaali’ is a distinct aspect of the small verandah
The Navadarshanam Trust was formed in April 1990. The aim was to create a space that would facilitate an alternative way of living and working for a group of people who dared to translate their ecologically sensitive ideas into a way of life. Of the 115 acres of hilly land bordering the Thally reserve forest (50km south of Bangalore along the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border), 35 acres were bought with Trust funds and the remaining by individuals who share the Trust’s vision and aims.
Sun-baked mud blocks for walls, terracotta tiles, red oxide and cement for flooring.
Terracotta and cement ‘jaalis’, recycled wood and bottles used as design accents.
(Text by: Reema Moudgil)
(Photographs: Claire Arni)
(Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com)
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First Published: Mon, Feb 25 2008. 12 42 AM IST