Everything was going as planned until Wednesday of the third week here at Maheshpur and then a storm suddenly hit us late at night. The change in the weather seemed to influence the minds of some of my team members. Though it was slushy underfoot, the weather could not be the prime reason for not wanting to work. This must be one of those inexplicable things that I have never been able to understand about the bucolic. This reminds me of an explanation offered to me by a truant worker in Shantiniketan whose alibi for not coming to work was a simple “Megher jol holo tai monta korlona” (The clouds burst and I did not feel like it). I had put it down to the influence of the cultural climate of Shantiniketan. But, here in Maheshpur I have found no evidence of such a ‘poetic’ connection.
The storm had broken a large branch of a flowering tree in the Ashram compound. This afforded the kids some amount of amusement – as “operation tree retrieval” was launched with gusto. The branch had fallen in the middle of the pond and the boys swam over to lug it to land. Their efforts were proving difficult and Haradhan Babu helped them tie it up with a rope and drag it to land.
That accomplished; the smaller branches were hacked off and each child bore a flower laden branch in an impromptu procession chanting “gachher dal, gachher dal” (tree branch, tree branch) mimicking the popular political exhortation “lal salaam, lal salaam”. The glee on their faces was enough to lighten up my day.
With all the two pronged and three pronged forks ready to take on the beams, not being able to install them was quite a shame. I rued the loss of photo ops. I had even decided on how to shoot them silhouetted against the sky like so many bamboo tridents. However, some workers chose to continue splitting bamboo for the basketry work of the dome. Should I be thankful for small consolations?
Walls of clay
With time on my hands I decided to explore the village and see how indigenous windows are designed and made of. Most houses had no window shutters. A blank space in the mud wall with bamboo staves served as windows and the weather is kept out by stuffing all kinds of packets, cloth and plastic sheets in the gaps. These designs are dictated by economics. The luxury of designer houses is not theirs. Even the houses designed by government agencies ignore the basic right to dignified living. Why should aesthetics be the preserve of the rich? Going by the accounts and documentation available, it seems that this was not so to begin with.
What went wrong and when did this all go wrong? Who decided that the economically challenged should live in miserable surroundings? Who said aesthetics costs money? What stops a government employed designer or architect to create low-cost, affordable homes that look good or dignified? Or is there a larger agenda, some master scheme that I am not aware of?
House of Bamboo
While discussing these issues with some of my team members and brain storming on how we could design strong yet cheap windows, Binoy Biswas (head carpenter) suggested we construct them in bamboo. “If this is going to be a house made of bamboo, we should make everything with it” he said. This reminded me of a song by Andy Williams that went:
“Number 54, House with the bamboo door,
Bamboo roof and bamboo walls,
Even got a bamboo floor…”
Check out the song at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqDYfnQ_n2Q
Canning Local Update
My friend Laurent has commented that “I always felt safe in a crowded local train. "Daily passengers" are so disciplined and helpful! There is a whole technique of boarding and alighting, a complex geography of where to stand depending on how far is the destination and how dense is the crowd... And there have always been people who give us seats when we travel with the children! I only regret not knowing better Bengali, and missing so many tender, colourful stories...”
I do agree with him. Last week the auto driver Apiluddin Laskar - barely got me to the Canning station and there was a long queue at the ticket counter. I knew I would miss the 4:18 train when, a stranger pushed a ticket into my hands and said “Dada run with this…I have a return ticket that I don’t need” and vanished into the crowd. I got on the train with seconds to spare.