Pinakin Patel, engaged in creating a sustainable existence for himself over the past decade, believes one must understand life to add value to design.
Value-added Design: Towards Responsible Sustainability. That’s a rather long sentence, loaded and complex – if I may say so! Design lives only on the peripheries of life; so I feel that if we were to add value to design, we should first understand life.
Design by itself is becoming a very weak word. A few years ago, it had to take the support of the word “luxury”; and when that failed, there was an attempt to make things “bespoke”. This could go on forever, till we run out of more honourable words for our own weaknesses. So it’s better to change our perspective.
There is one simple word for it in our own culture: “Aesthetics” – which is the appreciation, understanding and judgement of matters concerning good taste and beauty, to be studied as a branch of philosophy rather than in an art or design school. This study was complemented by a good upbringing and sound education.
The “guru” who imparted this knowledge generally knew subjects as diverse as science and mathematics. More importantly, he knew life, which was his religion. Therefore, the knowledge that one acquired was a wide, all-encompassing knowledge of life – not just of one small aspect of that life.
The social, cultural as well as economic aspects of life were learnt simultaneously, interwoven into one curriculum that highlighted the interconnectivity of the many as one. That acknowledgement was an affirmation by which the Hindu led his life. That affirmation of life was his reverence, his acknowledgement of the one common spirit in the many.
There could be billions of material manifestations and forms, but the sustaining force for all is not material but spiritual. Everything had life, so all of life was reverent and had to be protected, upheld or sustained. This is when economics wasn’t divorced from ethics, when religion was not dogmatic and science was not irreverent.
Respect for the environment was part of this philosophy – so the earth was your mother, the mountains were the abodes of Gods, trees sacred, rivers holy, animals were vehicles of the Gods, and man’s sustenance had to be ecological.
What is the essence of vegetarianism? The holy cow? No. The religious doctrine? No! Hinduism has no do’s and don’t’s. The Gods gambled, drank, had many wives, had children by remote control, and were just as human as any of us. So that we would be as godly as them!
Vegetarianism was about eco-consciousness. There was no absolute truth in Hinduism. Truth was relative, and so was your diet.
The consumption of animal flesh itself was not non-vegetarian. If an eskimo killed an animal and ate its meat to survive, or in the dessert you killed something for its flesh, it was still vegetarian. Because, in the food chain, you consumed the least life form for your own survival.
But in tropical India, where there is plenty of vegetation, kill only the vegetable, because it has a lesser life quantum than an animal. Don’t consume more than necessary. There is enough for everyone’s need, but hardly anything left for even a few people’s greed!
Sustainability, to me, is essentially a dialogue of values that defies consensual definition. Add to that the fact that I am not educated in design or architecture, or the fact that since the last ten years I have been living and working from a village 130kms outside Mumbai!
My response to today’s subject is going to be more from a spiritual viewpoint than a physical or material one.
In the year 2000, I left the city of my birth, education, growth and success for the quiet of nature. I had outgrown all the physical pleasures of the city, and still wanted more! My life has been a constant search for beauty – in art, design, music… whatever.
But at one stage I realised that, by my western education and understanding of beauty, my will would never be quenched. When I shifted that search from things beautiful towards things sublime, my will was quenched. I had found myself amidst nature.
As I draw from my own heritage, I realise that even my own religion is not a religion.
Hinduism is not a religion. It is actually a way of life that, quite simply and effectively, conveys everything concerning life on this planet.
Life form emanates as a microcosm from the boundless energy field of the macrocosm, in grades of life content: as the four kingdoms of mineral, plant, animal and human. The cycles of birth and rebirth start with low life content as in a mineral and gradually go up the ladder of evolution until one achieves the human form.
After 84,00,000 cycles, if I were to rise up to the human form, I should lead a conscious life, because the only unique attribute I acquire through this evolution is this conscious discernment.
A lion’s cub will be born a lion in the jungle, evolve to the fullest in a couple of years from its birth, and by virtue of its birth cannot do anything else — such as becoming a cow to just graze in the plains, instead of hunting.
Whereas as a human being, I take many more years to reach adulthood and maturity; but once I reach that stage, I can change the course of my life, and maybe that of a few others around me too.
Through this presentation, I have attempted to highlight only one aspect of sustainability – through spirituality. This is the strength of this country. Through the recognition of the one common spirit that binds us all with each other and the other kingdoms on this planet, this path will reveal a permanent plan for sustainability.