FORWORD to a book on some special houses of Mysore
A house is not just a cluster of rooms. Nor is it a physical object alone. It goes above the idea of an object or a tool to live with. It is created by the occupants with their dreams, even whimsical or too personal ones, their emotions and nostalgia of the past, their experiences and reactions to spaces they chanced upon and the values they want to project. More importantly it all depends on their financial means. Like clothes that project a personality beyond utility, a house too could be seen as a symbol of the occupants’ values. It even exhibits, though not overtly, the power relations within the family, relations with neighbours, the position of women and elders etc in shaping up the ‘show’.
Yes. The ‘show’ that takes expressions in variety of ways. In the details of attention on spaces of daily use or for showy occasions or by who use them most, on use of natural light and air as a value, stress on showy garden or trees or even organic horticulture of vogue, display of collected artefacts from far and near, pictures and photographs, furniture, their style over utility or their clutter or their absence, the material palette of walls, plaster, the colours, the flooring, mats, rugs, curtains on windows, the selection of fabric , and so on. Lately the attention is given to the “eco-friendliness” too in response to popular media, the news and views on climate change. Some of it may be genuinely informed but more often a need to belong to a group or simply what is in vogue. Often without a wholistic understanding and no commensurate change in the overall lifestyle.
However, utility as a tool to live with, in a hostile environment has been the primary purpose of a house; be it a cave, a hut, a bungalow, a small tenement in a small plot or an apartment in group housing, be it self-built or bought from a builder. But beyond brute survival, search for pleasure and meaning in every endeavour is a human nature. To make symbols and find a value seems to be a primordial instinct. Human is said to be a symbol making animal before being a tool making one. That thought leads to aesthetics. A human, even in animals too, urge to convert every need to be a source of sensuous appeal and further an appeal to cerebral intellectual sensibility. We call this artistic expression of our personal selves, though not necessarily an art by itself. We chose a house as a medium, to express our successes our uniqueness, our differences with others. This may be more pronounced in liberal societies than in conservative ones. As we live in a society, social sensibilities of time do influence the aesthetics. A house is a product resolving opposing aspects of socially evolved cultural values pitted against individual tastes as well as choices and limitations of geography, climate and physical environment against promises of technology, skills and resource availability in utilising them intelligently on the other. A good house, in an intellectual sense, thus is a goodness of fit in many of these dimensions. Cultural, technical and official norms, bye-laws and regulations are used to control the whims and deviations, often unsuccessfully in our city.
A house is not a beautiful object alone then. Its intellectual aesthetics does not confine to visual pulchritude or a novelty of shape or form alone. As a tool, it also embodies and come out as a sign of contemporary social values as well. Freedom to do anything is continuously shrinking with cultural evolution as the life’s choices become complex.
As a tool, and as a technological product, the beauty of a house can be seen from as that coming out of its , that is the interlinkage of geometric surfaces of walls, floors, roofs etc and the way they are joined together in construction with skills and technology. All these keep evolving with respects to social valuation of them and change in resources and environment.
Such an evolution comes from tradition of the place, the nostalgia of individual and yet adaptation to novelty as a need as well. It cannot be static with respect to technology or novelty of forms or materials. Neither blind following of any of these also would not have a meaningful evolution either. It all indicates to the complexity of human abode or human habitat, in its creation and impact on the city and the world.
This collection of essays by Sh. Prasannakumar makes an interesting compendium of several houses of Mysore. He chose many special ones, some idiosyncratic, some nostalgic and most having a personal underpinning single value. The city, as it grows like many other cities, finds itself in a situation of land scarcity and shrinking of sizes of plots and increase in cost of construction. The official reactions in planning and policy making and their implementation left little impact on the overall future. We seem to gloat more in its partially selected cultural past and ignored the trends underlying the growths. That makes the future more threatening to be replica of larger cities. The ingenuity of future generations cannot be predicted, but outcome will not be different from the past if responses to challenges continue to be as in the past.