Is it possible for us to give back to nature as much as we take from it?
For the last 9 years, Hari and Asha, a couple from Kerala's Kannur district, have been living the answer to this question, with their near perfect sustainable lifestyle involving a mud house and a 34-acre lush forest which they grew themselves.
Hari, a retired employee of the Kerala Water Authority in Kannur and Asha, who works for a community propagating natural farming methods, married in 2007. Even before the wedding, it was Asha's long cherished dream to build a dream forest and live in a small house inside it. Post their wedding, the couple actively began realising Asha's dream.
"Even when I was in college, my professors used to say that if you are building a house, build one that is eco-friendly. They said that mud/clay houses are ideal. After graduating, I began planning on how to build this house and post my wedding Hari and I actively began consulting architects and executing the plan," Asha told Down To Earth in a video.
The couple say that their dream house not only took less than Rs 4 lakh to build (most of which went for labour charges), it has all the amenities of a modern house save a refrigerator and yet uses less than 4 units of power every months. (For context: An average middle class household in a city uses more than 4 units of power in a day).
Named 'Nanavu' or moisture, the house was inspired by architect Laurie Baker's cost effective architecture techniques. Mud was taken from deep inside the earth and solidified using traditional techniques to build the walls of the house. Nanavu is constructed on 960 square feet on land in a little over 10 days. According to Hari, the couple have not used fans or coolers since they moved into the house as the mud walls of the house absorb moisture and cool down the house.
The wood used in the house was taken from trees growing in the forest. Nanavu's floors and roof were created with locally made terracotta tiles and painted with natural clay based pigments.
"Any kind of electricity derived by harming the environment - such as hydro power projects, nuclear fission and damming of rivers is really bad. It is better if we can produce the energy ourselves," Hari says in the video.
The couple have set up a 1.15 kilowatt rooftop solar panel and a bio gas plant which covers most of their electricity needs. The plant turns all kinds of organic waste, including faecal waste, into biogas.
"There is a direct connection from the toilet to the biogas plant. Once our energy demands are met, the rest of the biogas waste and slurry acts as natural fertilisers for the forest," Asha added. While the house contains most modern amenities such as a television, a computer and electric kitchen equipment such as mixers, a noticeable omission is the refrigerators, possibly due to the CFC emissions which harms the environment.
Instead, the couple use an earthen cooler to store their food.
Pointing to the cooler, Asha explains that an earthen pot is sunken into the soil and sand is sprinkled around it.
"The moisture from the soil will ensure that the pot is at around 10 degrees and this helps the food stay fresh. However, whenever we see the sand drying up, we need to pour water as the cooler will not work if there is no moisture," she adds.
Staunch practitioners of the Gandhian values of self-sufficient living, Hari and Asha also grow their food in the 34-acre forest. In growing their food too, the couple practice natural farming, with minimum human interference.
"If you need to learn to farm, you must observe the forest first. Nobody needs to water a plant in the forest or fertilise the soil. But the plant grows healthily," Asha, who is a proponent of natural farming, says.
As a result their mode of farming is similar to a zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) - a practice which believes in natural growth of crops without adding any fertiliser or pesticides.
"What we do here is also very close to zero budget farming. We use negligible levels of fertilisers such as cow dung and the biogas slurry if necessary. We let the plants and fruit grow naturally and as a result, it tastes better," she adds.
Watch the video here: