Monday, January 18, 2010
Prakop (of holy forces and progress)
With roads come displacement, villages leave their well watered fields in the valley and gather at the narrow edges of the highways of progress. Narrow edges that offer the new world’s promise of the big city life. And with the promise come steel and cement and brick, to build that dream.
I was at the village of Saur, in Uttarkhand, a village still de-peopled, but with all the reasons for its abandonment 20 years ago now removed. It now had a road, it had electricity and it had a natural source of water.
Walking around, we found a mistry (stone mason)repairing his house. He squatted, painfully assembling stone chip and large slabs in to a coursed stone masonry practiced for generations as the accepted building method. We struck up a conversation around the appropriateness of vernacular building methods, the inherent climatic suitability as compared to the newer age materials of concrete and brick in cold climates. And were quite pleased to find a general agreement from him.
A statement that followed ended all conversation, “Yes, the buildings of our fore-fathers suit the climate, but if I had the money I’d build a house with a linter (colloquial for reinforced concrete). I am poor so I just repair and maintain this house of my father.”
The idea of progress seems to have completely bypassed any comment/reflection on appropriateness, value or quality. Progress seems to have translated into the capacity to attain what previously was not attained. Reason seems of little consequence. Somehow the notion of education of an Imperialistic Britain which sought largely to devalue/destroy any idea of anything “local” ( for altogether anti-educational purposes) seems to continue in our way of thinking.
The idea of progress seems now to be, to move as far from ones roots or cultural markings as possible. Progress seems synonymous with abandoning where we came from in favour of where someone else( not us!) has come from or gone to. For us it is wearing suits, writing English literature, and speaking with an accent, not to mention the overarching desire to become London or New York. It doesn’t end there we live in swanky 21st Century condominiums, that go by names of Richmond Park, The Aralias, Regent Park, and you can just go on. Some would say, “What’s in a name?”. Everything, if you go by the branding experts for car manufacturers in India.
Forward seems to be an idea of escape from what is, a continuous adoption of alien referances, in a continued and almost internalised desire to achieve the empires approval. So much so that our education system largely continues to value what an antiquated and sub standard british education (for its colonies) left behind, opposed to 5000 years of earlier wisdom. To an extent that even in the face of irrefutable logic this desire for progress seems to cause a sort of anomalous behavior across our cultures.
I remember about two and half years ago a young man at Kalpa, in Himachal Pradesh telling me of the Devi ka Prakop (the Devi’s holy force) that was causing them to shift to new concrete structures. (He said it was so strong that he remained sick till he had built and shifted in the new-age building.)
Prakop seems to be guise for an inherent psychological or peer pressure to progress, in the eyes of a multitude. To establish ones relevance. It is fascinating to think of at times, but one realises it is much in keeping with the ideological dream of New and Modern India. Very much in the intellectual tradition of the man after whom is named the Nehru-topi,“unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation's faith in the future” as he described the icon of the new and free India. One wonders what prakop pushed for a whole new city, by a French architect on a vast people-less plain, but it did, so there! Chandigarh was thereby progress to India, and that Prakop has remained so, ever since.
I just stood there, looking at the dam (no doubt an enormous mass of concrete) and Nehru's statue, and I felt nothing. One of the greatest "Temples of Modern India" didn't have any effect on me.
The water was lovely, though, clear and green.