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Letting Nature build a cosy home

SWETHA KANNAN | Updated on: Aug 04, 2011

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Trade an errant lifestyle for eco-friendly living at a ‘model dwelling' near Bangalore.

For someone who raids the refrigerator several times a day, for junk food obviously, and channel-surfs almost every waking moment, spending a day without either of these and more was, surprisingly, not as tough as I had imagined. In fact, it was refreshing. Of course, the real challenge is in sustaining it on a daily basis!

A day spent at Navadarshanam, a model dwelling 50 km from Bangalore, near Anekal, was an eye-opener of sorts. Set up by a motley bunch of people who gave up fancy jobs in multinational companies and the city life to live close to Nature, it made me resolve to be conscious of the power I use and eat only healthy food.

But back in the city, it's a return to the old ways — the bag of red rice bought in a fit of health-conscious fervour lies unused; after the initial watchfulness, it's back to indiscriminate use of electronic gadgets, and drive I can't without the air-conditioner on.

Of course, one may argue that these comforts and luxuries are bought with one's hard-earned money, and there is little to feel guilty about. In fact my aunt and mother, who had accompanied me to Navadarshanam, declared that while it may be fine to follow such eco-style living, it isn't practical at all.

Well , point taken. But then, don't we crib about the polluted air, frequent power cuts, skyrocketing power bills and a host of lifestyle diseases that strike even before one turns 40? Luxuries come with their own trappings. And many of us don't even realise it is all of our doing. Plus, there is the responsibility of leaving a clean and safe planet for the coming generations.

The founders of Navadarshanam have been attempting to make a difference for over 20 years now, and they are more than happy to share their experience with those interested.

Mind you, this is not a tourist spot, but the place does welcome visitors to explore the concept for themselves and take home important learnings, if they wish to. The people at Navadarshanam — whether it is the genial Padmini or the ever-smiling Murthy — don't preach or believe in evangelising. They are happy leading their quiet, unhurried lives and leaving the city-dwellers to themselves.

In fact, it was only after much prodding that one could get the publicity-shy T.S. Ananthu, an engineer from IIT-Madras and Stanford, to talk about the place and the idea behind it: “The idea was to explore possible ways of living and thinking that are different from the modern ways, and revive the spiritual and ecological basis of life,” he says.

After a stint with Xerox and Exxon in the US, followed by IBM in India, he had set up his own software business in Delhi together with friends. He left that, too, to join the Gandhi Peace Foundation, before setting up Navadarshanam along with his wife Jyothi and friends Partap Agarwal, Sudesh Agarwal and O. Bagaria.

Spread over 115 acres, Navadarshanam was initially a wasteland, which was magically transformed into a nascent forest merely by preventing grazing on it. On this improved soil, using organic farming practices, fruit saplings, vegetables and cereals/pulses have been planted without disturbing the surrounding flora.

We arrived at Navadarshanam on a Saturday evening and spent the night at a simple yet elegant cottage, with only a candle to light our way. The place relies primarily on solar power for its energy needs and encourages visitors to also avoid wasting water.

The eco-friendly units have been built using compressed mud blocks and only a minimal amount of cement and steel. The house design maximises the use of natural air and light. In fact, no fans are needed even in summer.

Sunday morning woke us to the sound of birds and, as we stepped out, the morning chill took us by surprise.

It was May and we wished we had shawls! We spent the morning strolling leisurely around the campus, watching the cows being milked in their sheds, the soil worked upon for cultivation and mangoes sun-dried for making pickles, which are sold in Bangalore.

The trustees of Navadarshanam have organised the local village women (and a few men) into a self-help group and trained them in the making of over 40 health-food items, which are sold in Bangalore at retail outlets such as Namdhari and Mother Earth.

When it was time for breakfast we entered the kitchen with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation, for we were spoilt city-dwellers reluctant to give up taste for health.

But the breakfast of jaggery with roasted gram proved delicious. Gobar gas, charcoal and wood stoves are used for cooking simple, nutritious and tasty meals.

After breakfast, some of us lounged around in the cottage while a few others decided to walk around the place, in the hope of spotting a deer or elephant that are said to inhabit the surrounding greenery.

For lunch, we had sambhar and rasam teamed with brown and red rice.

All too soon it was time to leave. How we wished we could stay longer! Those staying longer are encouraged to join in the farming activities or even help out with household chores.

Fast facts

Navadarshanam is not a tourist spot and you will not find luxuries such as air-conditioning, hot water or room service. There are no fixed tariffs for the rooms/cottages. Guests can instead donate a token amount in appreciation for the hospitality on offer. For more information visit http://www.navadarshanam.org/ 

Published on August 04, 2011
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