Saturday, September 23, 2006

[09-20] Great Day

What a day. The day started off with Wednesday Meditation. I have not been good about meditating so it was very nice to be in a space conducive to meditation. Today we began our 36 week discussion on the Sarve Dharma prathna. Comprise of 36 words, the prathna is equivalent to doing jaap on a mala, each word has been carefully chosen and has immense meaning behind it. For the next 36 weeks, we are going to discuss one word. Today we began with word 1: Aum. We are considering putting up the discussion on e-seva and hoping others will share their thoughts on the word also.

After meditation, I headed with Brenda to Vastu Shilp Foundation. Brenda is a volunteer from Ireland who is in Ahmedabad for 8 weeks. For a long time she has had this desire to visit India and unexplicable connection to India. She cannot pinpoint where or when this desire came into being and that too is not important. One story I love to share about Brenda (since I heard it yesterday) is that she thought that everyone had this desire to visit India. When she found that that very few, in fact almost no one had this desire, she was extremely shocked. She is really enjoying her experience here and I have no doubts that she will be back for a longer period of time.

The Vastu Shilp Foundation is an organization started by Shri Balkrishna Doshi- India’s most famous architect. We had a pleasure of meeting Yatinbhai Pandya, who heads up the research side of the foundation. An absolutely incredible individual, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. He does research and interpretation of traditional Indian architecture and techniques to understand the reasoning behind the design of different built environments. India has incredible buildings that were built based on a science and understanding of the natural environment. There are many many practices that are good from traditional techniques and also those that are not good. The Vastu Shilp Foundation works to identify the good practices and implement them in the practice of design of built spaces. India is full of structures that work in harmony with the environment and there are countless design elements that have evolved and been honed to the local context. Yet soooo many modern structure mimic Western architecture and design features which are not conducive to the local context. For example, putting the long side of the building east-west makes sense in a cool environment as it increases the solar radiation received by the building, increasing internal temperature, but in a hot climate, you want to lower the inner temperature so such a design feature doesn’t make sense. They have examined many sustainable and green design features, old and new and try to incorporate them into the practice wherever appropriate. As Yatinbhai said, and I fully agree, the impetus is on the professional community to become raise an awareness of the importance of using appropriate technologies (suitable to local context) rarely that merely mimicking what one sees elsewhere. To raise another’s awareness, one must be educated oneself, so Vastu Shilp Foundation seeks out and/or develops locally appropriate alternatives, which are economically competitive with existing practices. The Vastu Shilp Foundation designed ESI-Sughad’s campus and the Manav Sadhna Community Center and has made both spaces demonstration units for various technologies and ideas.

ESI-Sughad is a very green building- a civil and environmental engineer’s ideal built space. Wastewater and sullage is reused. Organic waste is composted and/or turned into bio-gas. Rainwater is harvested. Water is recycled. Nature and built spaces live in harmony and co-exist. There is greenery, passive cooling and natural ventilation and the space is made from as much recycled material as possible.

For 1.5 years, Yatinbhai worked with two European organizations to make products from waste. They are created bricks from fly ash (a readily available waste product) that are stronger and financial equivalent to existing bricks, walls out of discarded glass bottles, tiles out of ceramic waste pieces, doors from vegetable crates and jute bags and soooooo much more. The products are very useful, financially affordable (or cheaper than equivalent products), do not require a large skill set to produce and are using what is currently considered waste. The work they have done can transform communities and provide alternative income sources for the poor. The opportunities are countless, now it’s a question of implementing the ideas and creating manufacturing and distribution systems. Some markets for the different products already exist, the supply must be created.

The principles and values with which the foundation operates are incredible. I can think of soooo many architecture students and/or green civil engineers who would love to see and hear all about their work. If you want to know more, def holler.

The thing that I really really enjoyed about the foundation is the fact that they are trying to close the gap between research and practice and incorporate so many ideas and concepts that are being researched and developed all over the country and world. For example, it was the foundation that told ESI about root system treatment of wastewater, etc and now Sughad transforms its WW into toilet flushing water. It is incredibly important to get the layperson motivated to go green and there are financial incentives to do so. By educating themselves about such options and presenting them to the clients, the foundation is slowly creating a green revolution in building design and at the same time transforming the way in which the built environment is looked at with regards to the natural environment.

In the afternoon, after spending some time with Brenda, I worked a bit with Karishma on a project she thought of yesterday. Last time Karishma volunteered at MS, she took back Gramshree and MS products to sell at the WashU diwali show. A bunch of us were sitting around and thinking how it would be a great thing to try again. Also so many volunteers come through MS, if they took back stuff to sell, the market that these products would reach would grow immensely. All of us volunteers sitting around could see these products doing really well in our college communities.

In the evening, I attended a Gujarati folk dance stage show that some family friends were participating in. It was my first exposure to traditional Gujrati folk dance in India. We def have made a lot of changes to real Gujarati folk dances in the US and Canada, particularly at the collegiate level. Fogana still remains traditional in many ways, but collegiate comp def not. I really enjoyed the show. Part of this was because of a new thing that I am trying to do in my life- which is trying to be a space of joy and happiness and as much as possible. The movements and more importantly the music was very vibrant. I really tried to put myself in a space of happiness, which isn’t that hard considering dance is involved. Not surprisingly, in light of this perspective or space, I wasn’t as critical as I usually am of the dances and really enjoyed myself.

The musicians are simply incredible. This group is always the one that performs at events with the Chokshi parivar and they are amazing. Just as I was transfixed at Manojkaka’s bhajan, I was transfixed by the music and musicians today. Very powerful.

The day was really powerful.

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