With wooden tree houses and mud houses on the banks of a river, cattle, goats and hens, and evenings filled with arts and songs, this emerging village in Kerala’s Palakkad district seems something out of a dream.
And it perhaps is, since it is the fulfilment of a dream long held by Mohan Chavara and his family, and of a community for people committed to organic living. Built on the banks of the Bharathapuzha, a ten-minute walk from the Mannannur railway station in Palakkad, this village is nestled on two-and-a-half acres of picturesque land.
Mohan, a sculptor, and his wife Rukmini, the principal of a nursing college, nurtured a dream for many years of building a community of like-minded people committed to an organic way of life. Three years ago they gathered together 14 other families who wished a life away from concrete jungles overflowing with processed foods and assembly-line goods.
Together, the 15 families bought two-and-a-half acres of land on the banks of the Bharathapuzha river, each family possessing between 12 and 16 cents of land.
Simple mud or wooden houses, self-cultivated vegetables and pulses, fruit trees, cows, goats and many more domestic animals, a communal kitchen for all 15 families to gather together and share food, and a communal guest house to host visitors, are all planned for the village which is being constructed.
Simple community living
One year ago Mohan’s family was the first to shift into the upcoming village. Mohan, Rukmini and their two daughters – 11-year-old Sreya and 18-year-old Surya –have already built a tree house, while a mud house is under construction.
Before that though, they had to do substantial work on the land. “When we first reached here there was a rubber plantation here. The first thing we did was to chop them all down. Rubber is not good for the soil. Then we planted fruit trees and vegetable gardens,” Mohan says.
“One more family will move here in another six months, and the others will move in gradually. Here we follow an organic culture, pure natural living,” Mohan explains while watering his vegetable garden. “Last year the yield from the vegetable garden was unexpectedly high,” Mohan says.
Mohan and his family built their tree house and are building the mud house with their own hands. “We only hired a few people to help in roofing the mud house. All the other work we did ourselves,” he adds.
While the village hosts, and expects to host, many guests, says Mohan, there’s a fundamental principle of togetherness of the community behind the way construction is planned. “Once the village is established we will have a lot of visitors. So, we’ve planned for a guest house. We will also have a community kitchen so that all the families can cook together and eat together. Let the coming generation know the liberty of being with a community, rather than staying in flats,” Mohan smiles.
For Rukmini, it’s important to welcome every guest to the village with at least one meal cooked from the organic produce of the village. “Many people come here, some whom we meet for the first time, as well as some of our friends. We want all of them to have food at least once from here – a meal with organic vegetables and pulses that tastes completely different and fresh,” she says.
Mohan says that his family decided to build their village after many years of urban living with all its luxuries, when they realised they were still dissatisfied. “For some years we also lived with all facilities, house, car etc… But there is no point to it. We should have a community to live healthy. Children should grow up loving nature,” he explains.
Mohan says that he finds the culture of spending lakhs and crores to build concrete houses in urban centres untenable. “People take huge loans to build house and spend rest of their life repaying them. Better to build a comfortable home to stay peacefully close to nature,” he says.
The reason more people don’t adopt such a simple way of living, says Mohan, is because they fear that such lives are impractical. One of the goals of their village, he says, is to show that a group people can put such ideologies into practice
When activist Daya Bai viisted their village
Mohan and Rukmini’s daughters, Sreya and Surya, have dropped out of regular schools as their parents don’t see much point in present systems of public education.
“Surya was class topper, but she quit studies while she was in Class 8. Kids should have humanity, love and compassion towards nature. The formal education system doesn’t provide any of this. Now she is learning whatever she likes and is comfortable with it. Formal education is, in a way, a stress and strain on the kids,” Mohan says.
“My real education began when I left school. I learn practically now. This learning is amazing. I learn to think by knowing things through touch and sight,” Surya says.
Surya and Sreya learning Chenda (drum)
Sreya, who is dyslexic, was very stressed in school, as her teachers were unable to understand and work with her abilities. When her parents took her out of the classroom, a world of opportunities opened up to her.
She says she has learned a lot more now than what her school could teach her. “Now I know how to grow paddy and vegetables, rear cows, to stitch and many more traditional jobs too. In school, I was not able to learn all these,” says Sreya who excels at stitching and sewing.
Sreya and Surya also travel across Kerala to learn more about the different kinds of lives and cultures lived in the state.
“For us, a high position means living amidst nature and understanding the environment. Other white-collar jobs are not high profile according to us,” says Surya.
Learning under Mohan’s guidance, Surya and Sreya have also become practiced at sculpture and other art forms. Sreya points to a peacock sculpture on the mud wall of their house, and says, “ We all did this together. Doesn’t it look good?”
Many more sculptures dot the walls and pillars of their tiny mud house, which resembles a fairy tale home.
The community, as a whole, is also planning weekly art meets in the village, so that their kids can experience an aesthetic way of life.
“Every weekend classes in some art form will be conducted here, so that the kids here can learn many more arts,” Mohan says.
Mohan adds that all the education in the village is being planned such that it teaches the children to live together, rather than to compete with each other.
Edited by Rakesh Mehar