A little away from the city enclosed within the honey coloured walls of the Jaiselmer fort, Rajasthan, lie tiny little villages lost in the desert wilderness. As opposed to the opulent havelis of the city- some of which are said to be among the most ostentatious in all of Rajasthan - these villages house the local peasant and pastoral communities. In a sharp contrast to most newly built, modern habitats that scar the landscape of urban India - ugly haphazard concretized neighbourhoods- these villages with their little mud houses offer quality housing in resonance with the local climate and needs.
The womenfolk take particular pride in their houses, painting the exterior walls and adorning the interiors with elaborate patterns and designs drawn from local experience. The paint and pattern is renewed each year during the festive season, ensuring bright and beautified neighbourhoods.
With time however, the popularity of adobe is waning. Each village comprises of a cluster of houses usually interspersed by an odd flat roofed, concrete structure, called a pucca or permanent dwelling. In the recent years, concrete- a material neither suitable for the climate, less eco-friendly and sorely lacking in the aesthetic quality of mud- has gained favour with the local population that sees it as a status symbol.
Even as concrete cubes proliferate the rural landscape, it is interesting to note that most of these constructions mimic their mud counterparts in essential features (the square house with ample open to sky spaces around) and external adornment !
|A cement- brick structure adorned to look like its mud counterparts in Sam village 40 kms from Jaiselmer.|
Humble and non-aspirational as they may be, the mud huts represent an ancient way of life, living within the environment rather than challenge it. Built by the home owners themselves without formal architectural inputs, using locally available materials, these lend a distinct character to the villages. A factor that attracts tourists, students of architecture, designers and artists alike.
With the change over to modern sensibility, age old techniques and traditional know how are fading from memory. Its a tragedy. Compared to busy, bustling chaotic modern developments, old habitats such as the mud houses of Jaiselmer exhibit a shared aesthetic and love for elegance and beauty. The visuality of such a neighbourhood is more in the form of a collective choice, creativity and consciousness. Is it these choices that reflect in how clean most of these neighborhoods are..?
An interesting term coined by architect Charles Correa comes to mind. Describing rural habitats such as the mud houses, he uses the words: ' Low energy-high visual'. That is succinct. Responding to the position that -an aesthetic sense is something the poor cannot afford- he says-
“Nothing could be further from the truth! Improving our habitats requires visual skills. The poor have always understood this. With one stroke of a pink brush, a Mexican artist transforms a clay pot. It costs him nothing… And the Arab had only the simplest tools: mud and sky- so he had to be inventive! In the process producing the most glorious oasis towns ever seen. And it is not a coincidence that the best handicraft comes from the poorest countries of the world.”