An August of Houses across Tamilnadu
While it is true that all of us have navels and thus temporal and spatial origins it is also true that there are many amongst us who have lost sight of who we are. Even more disturbing is the thought that these latter groups – who are largely based in towns and cities and who are inordinately influential – are wholly oblivious to this fact in their championing of the Modernist Project.
The greater the distance between ourselves and our histories, the greater the burden on our limited conscious abilities to develop the responses demanded of us on a day-to-day basis in an increasingly complex world, and the greater the risk that these responses will focus on serving short-run and symptomatic objectives only. Regardless of the field of our endeavour therefore, it is imperative that we reclaim our cultural memories through sustained and conscious exploratory efforts in order to avoid the continuing pitfalls dictated by contingency while securing for ourselves – however gradually – the benefits of these evolutionary outcomes.
It is for this reason that the commons are an invaluable repository of collective wisdom, expressed widely and repeatedly in examples that speak to us of communities rooted in their contexts and possessed of more finely inter-related perspectives than those we are familiar with, leading to relatively more saner choices and actions. This is not to say that the commons is free of the distortions of expedient behaviour imposed by the dominant world-view of the time, but is in fact to emphasise the danger that small groups of people who become disconnected from their roots can pose to their communities at large.
Now, evermore than at any time before, the commons are under threat of imminent extinction, brought on by the neo-liberal – neither new nor liberal – surge to exploit the natural wealth of forests, rivers, land and mineral resources of the planet, or the very life-blood of the creative-productive commons. Indigenous communities everywhere and their homelands are among those most seriously at risk, while agricultural and craft societies are not far behind, both disappearing at an alarming rate. It is a measure of our lack in breadth or depth of understanding of our world that we see these developments as the necessary price of progress rather than as a threat to the survival of our species.
As a step in the direction of acknowledging the seminal role of the commons – and primarily intended to gather images of peoples efforts to house themselves in Tamilnadu – Maya and Leela set out from the Commonweal, with cameras in hand and trepidation in heart, to record as representative a sample of the surviving attempts as they could access. They made 13 trips in all, over a period of 8 weeks beginning in late July, extending over August and culminating in late September 2011. Though aware of the obvious limitations of this exercise, we hope the results – which are contained in the following pages – will spur others like ourselves to both extend and intensify the search for our roots.