Design & People identify how design can intervene to make a contribution to the ongoing efforts to improve the lives of people disadvantaged by war, disability, and political and environmental conditions. We unite and encourage graphic, industrial and architectural designers to use their experience and skills towards social and humanitarian projects. Mission: Design For People In Need.
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Prof Kirti Trivedi on
Eldtho Mathew reports on the talk by Prof Kirti Trivedi of IIT Mumbai on "Sustainable Rich Life For All" organised by Design & People on June 19, 2011 at Kochi. (Photos: Prince Prabhakaran)
A talk was arranged by Design and People for select audience. All except a few like me were from the field of Design. I got the opportunity to be among the experts by a curious design by my friend Sethu Das, Co-founder of Design & People who thought me worthy of being in the crème audience. It evolved that the talk was more about Right Living where the design concepts can and should play a pivotal role. This report is not a verbatim reproduction of the talk, but is the inspired derivative of the talk.
Objects Rooted in Soil: Objects of Value.
It is a simple sounding but profound statement. We are surrounded by objects of desire which necessarily may not be rooted in soil and we are bombarded by advertisements driving us to chase and own them. According to Prof Trivedi, this is sharply in contradiction to the sustainability in its real meaning.
The way of life as we have now is not sustainable, even for the rich. The simple statistics that against a population increase by 50% over the past 50 years, the corresponding resource utilisation has increased by 1000% means that we are eating up all that is there at such speed that there won't be much left for the coming generations.
There have been experiments in certain countries like Singapore for sustainable economy. The conclusion was to encourage and promote more and more consumerism. This means, the sustainability they were worried about was from the view point of the manufacturers and the rich, not about the overall sustainability of the mankind, the resources, the earth, etc. Hence such experiments have no relevance to the subject matter.
There is a notion that the material goods consumption is a driver of economy. So it is necessary to encourage the consumption. The growth and development of a country is gauged by its goods consumption. The terms GDP, PPP (Purchase Power Parity), etc used to assess how developed a nation is, are not realistic ones. A major portion of the consumption of goods is by a miniscule section of society because wealth is concentrated in this small section and thus arriving at a per capita figure with this kind of data would be totally misleading, especially in a country like India where the per capita earning is said to be hardly Rs 20 per day. As Gandhiji taught and as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam commented, so long as the benefits of the so-called development do not reach the ordinary citizen living in the remotest villages, such development has no real worth.
India used to follow a tradition and economy based on preservation, conservation and mutual support, different from the later shift towards the one based on consumerism, wealth accumulation and selfishness, a change fueled by the industrial revolution.
The life cycle of a product (of the resource used for it) is getting shorter and shorter. Earlier one radio or a cycle or any other useful possession used to serve one generation and was then passed on to the next and so on, meanwhile undergoing repairs and maintenances until at last they can no longer serve the purpose. In resource utilisation of yonder time there really was no 'cycle' but an ever progressing straight line. Buy --> Use --> Repair --> Use -> Repair --> Use --> ... --> Recycle Unusable Parts --> Use the remaining parts for other use -> so and on and on until over a long time it disintegrates into the five elements. Now there is a clearly defined cycle: Buy --> Use --> Throw Away --> Buy. Alarmingly the cycle is getting shorter and shorter. Estimate is that the resource taken from earth becomes waste in just three months!
This trend can be traced back to Industrial Revolution. The face marks of the subsequent economy were:
Role of Design Profession
Prof Trivedi explained all these, citing one small but powerful advertisement of iPhone (Finally! iPhone4 is now in white!). It will appear as though the main reason for all the miseries and chaos in the world was because iPhone was not in white. And anyone who buys it will gain, now that it is available in the market. There are advertisements which drive us to buy certain TV not to watch it, but to generate envy in your neighbour. Soft drinks advertisements teach us that girls will flock around you, if only you drink these soft drinks! Thus the design profession has a lot to do with the current order of things.
Knowledge & Creative Economy
Traditional Asian Way of Life
There were no chairs and all were squatting on the floor which gave a semblance of equality. There were not many furniture at home, multiplying the usability of space. Intellect and creativity were accorded highest priority. Thousands of years ago, clad in tattered robes, our Rishis (seers) could dwell in the highest realm of intellect and creativity. Many sciences reached glorious levels during this time. Great souls like Charaka, Susruta, Vagbhata, Agatsya and other performed their Karma based on the tradition they practiced.
The Tea Ceremony in Japan has less to do with the act of preparing and drinking tea (though these are performed in a ceremonial manner) than about contemplation and intellectual discussions. This again reflects the traditional Asian way of life. But upon our blind adoption of all that is western, we lost many things, including our self-sustained economy. A Promising economy 'Sarvodaya welfare of all' Go back to the villages There is enough to meet everyone's need but enough to meet even a single person's greed, Gandhiji said. Gandhiji always had an answer to any question, simple or complex. He had an alternative to the self-destructing, unsustainable, consumption-based economy. He postulated the same and called it 'Sarvodaya the welfare of all'. The world is waking up to the realisation that probably his economic principles would be an answer to the challenges faced by the other economies. He evolved his principles from the ancient village republics of India. Each village, while being self-sustaining, was also to support its neighbor. None was expected to consume or own beyond one's need. Each article produced was to be used to its last. The story about Gandhiji searching of a 3 centimeter long pencil, while he should have been busy with the freedom struggle is a glimpse to show how much importance he accorded to maximising the utilisation of resources which translates as minimal exploitation of the same.
Prof Trivedi was referring to this maximisation when he was talking about restrictive designs in constructing a house. It was not our tradition to construct different spaces for different purposes. Now we have a drawing room, a dining room, an office, few bed rooms, etc. Now there is even an acclimatising room before entering the drawing room! This is amounting to limiting the usability of space which, without the paraphernalia and furniture associated with the such designated rooms, could have been transformed to suit many purposes. This is maximisation of resource. Instead of having drawing rooms, dining rooms, halls, bed rooms, etc, the same space could serve all their purposes. But one sofa, few chairs, one table, lo, the usability has reduced from inifinity to one. Our ancient builders were experts in space optimisation.
They had the supreme knowledge that the more one identifies with small things the more she/he diminishes herself/himself.
As to the consumerism, Gandhiji says that intelligent curbing of one's wants is the key to freedom. Instead of each time buying a new piece, he insisted on mending the old one. Unfortunately today, as HD Thoreau remarked, it is not a mark of a respectable person to move around in patched clothes. The very society accepts a person in 'respectable' clothes even if his conscience is tattered.
India is in its villages. We need to go back. We need to revisit our traditions. Sustainable economy was a treasure we gave up once. We need to claim it and own it and guard it. We need to re-learn the sitting-posture-culture. We need to root ourselves on earth.
Because, Objects rooted in soil objects of value!
"The world human society will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual, always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units."