Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thoughts on (and after) Moving..

We don’t usually believe it, or rather, we are dismissive of this simple fact – that so much of how we live and work is influenced by the environment we live in.

Recently I moved to another part of town. And in three weeks I see many changes. I do not need to turn on the lights till after sunset. I don’t use more than a fan on most days. And, well I just feel rather happy and excited to wake up on most days and get on the job. (Of course it helps that I am an architect.) I don’t need to keep running off to a coffee shop to feel at home and peace from the everyday chores of living and working in a mad city called New Delhi.

When I look out I see lush green forest, rain washed and fresh. No traffic noise, and I can keep the windows open at most times. Fresh air, a light breeze, and that famed notion of a crowded city, with people locked inside their concrete cubicles just fades away.

I walk to the local market in the evenings and the mornings some times. And when the rains pour down, it’s nice to sit in the balcony. I can imagine winter already, morning sunlight streaming into my east facing bedroom, and fog.

When I sit at my desk, beside a floor to ceiling window that can be collapsed to take in the balcony, I don’t think, “another day at work”, its just another wonderful day, to play with paper, pens, drawings, colour, working on projects where you try to bring some of that easy lightness to everything.

And as I write I recall the office of the Architect, Ashish Ganju ,on a farm called Eco Options in Aya Nagar - sunlit in winter, shaded in summer, a beautiful illuminated and inspiring space.  You could hear and see the rain, the winter ‘s cold dim fog and its wonderful sunshine. Not air-conditioned, but comfortable at all times and not large by any standard yet sufficient. It used to be a joy to ride the 18 km to work at that studio.

These thoughts are what brought me to write this. We have come to live in a construct, where the sun, the rain and the wind are to be shunned - kept out of doors, and barred from ever entering the places we live and work in. Akin to some unwanted disturbance.  And that takes a toll: on energy to keep them out, on the planet and system that we continually modify to enable that control and on ourselves. Our bodies are intrinsically linked to the winder systems, (every holiday you take, every trek, every trip to pristine “natural beauty” is ramification of that fact). If nothing else it is unhealthy.

Unhealthy for many reasons - removing and distancing oneself from the ecological and physical construct that you participate in is one reason. The other is the huge dependencies we come to internalize – on power, on sterilsation, on preserving physical and mental health.

A large part of the ecological mess we continue to perpetuate is fuelled by choices guided by these dependencies. We continue to reduce, and diminish our capacity to assimilate and engage with the environments around us. And this does two things-

1. It makes us irresponsible. You only have to step outside your gate, to the street with its piled garbage, broken footpath, and waterlogged roads to see the connection. We don’t care for what is outside our castle.
2. We invariably want and thus possess (if the means permit) more than we would actually need.

More and more we try to include or contain all that we need or desire for living within the confines of our private worlds, each sealed from the other and from the larger picture that we engage with less and less over time. This is frightening, and if it were to operate at the scale of the 1 billion plus population we have it would be a sheer environmental disaster.

But that’s a much huger picture than I started off with. Where I was headed out to was the simple idea that so much depends on how we choose to engage or dis-engage with the environments we live in.  The wind, the rain, sunlight – sustainability isn’t about E-rated glass, and LEEDS ratings and GRIHA, or water harvesting, it is about an attitude of how you live and where you live. Like all things, it starts at what we all call home.

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