Back to basics

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By: Tinky Ningombam

There are a lot of good things that post-modernism has brought into our lives. Human endeavor has brought about many reforms in our lives, from tech, trade to toys. But somehow, somewhere, we still have to pay back for a lot of the things that we enjoy for granted.

Many a times, we have been guinea pigs to a lot of human experiments even without us knowing it. We need not look further than our increasing similar aspiration of a wealthy lifestyle. 8 out of ten teenagers picks a flat screen TV to a year’s supply of books. Our modern lifestyle is not only highly dependent on modern man-made possessions but it also entails a mimicry of unfounded glories that developed societies have showcased.

And in this light, while people in the developing countries are still aspiring to skyscrape every single piece of land, people in developed countries are trying to allow nature back into their city lives. But it is true that more and more people have come to discover that humans are indeed the most thriving when they are connected to their basic nature and ancient roots.

We normally covet things that looks lucrative. And we always forget that all that glitters is not always gold. It is human nature to stop seeing beauty in something that we see every day and desire new things that we do not own. Most of the time, succumbing to what we can deem as an inevitable upgrade of our lifestyle.

In all my travels to small towns, I have noticed one thing that is changing every day, day by day inching us closer to a uniform landmass with identical landscape. Whether I go to Jaipur or Musoorie, from Guwahati to West Bengal, to Bangalore or Mumbai, every city is turning into similar landscapes. Similar concrete buildings, similar roadside hoardings, similar malls. And year after year, I struggled to get away from the concrete cages to reach nature, to find traditional cottages, to local bed and breakfasts, things that still had the essence of the place, architecture that is their own, landscapes that was moulded for their clime. And every year such places are shrinking.

Then I come back to Imphal. In each visit, I see a new concrete building, a new shop with a hoarding. But what can we do? Our architecture cannot accommodate modern demands. For instance, our Meetei yumjaos were not smart enough. Besides the present dis-regard for a bamboo and thatched house, it cannot accommodate multiple floors or attached bathrooms or a modular kitchen besides other luxuries that we demand in our living quarters. But can anything else beat the aesthetic of a traditional house? Perhaps nothing will. In a hundred years, will we still be able to differentiate between a brick and mortar dwelling of a metropolitan city and the charm of a traditional cottage?

A lot can be related to our modern pragmatism. Increasingly a modern contemporary house will ignore the aesthetics of a traditional architecture or landscape because it is more practical to design according to convenience. Starting from sourcing longer lasting iron instead of using wood. Why spend a thousand rupees more in adding a traditional wooden carving window when I can buy an identical looking assembly line attachment much cheaper in the market? Day by day we destroy one old home and replace them with stacked up brick boxes fenced up asymmetrical walls because it is more convenient and it will last them years even though it may look only like a box. But a house alone, does not a home make.

I am not sure how much we are trying to retain traditional designs with our urban demands. As a matter of fact, I am not sure if there is an effort to revive traditional architecture and landscaping at all except for small artificial parks that keep coming up time and again. But how do we adapt our craft in architecture in our modern landscape? How do we preserve our traditional ponds and vegetable gardens in our households? Why would it not be a good idea to use our old traditions of constructing intricate wooden and bamboo structures without nails? Shouldn’t that be a major state agenda? Because it is not in one’s person’s hand to rebuild their traditional home, it is a neighbourhood effort, a community effort, an entire state’s effort to retain our traditional architectural aesthetics. In the end, it does come down to money, are we wealthy enough to go back to basics? To start from scratch, to undo our misdoing.

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