//In search of a sustainable lifestyle

In search of a sustainable lifestyle

Deccan Herald, April 25, 2006

Prasanna’s Desi Jeevana Paddati is both a critique of modern lifestyle and an attempt to evolve an alternative, sustainable lifestyle, writes Ramesh Mysore.
There are hardly any books in Kannada on lifestyle. Kannada writer, playwright and theatre personality Prasanna has now come up with a book on indigenous lifestyle (‘Desi Jeevana Paddati’, Ontidani Prakashana). In the book, Prasanna weaves a web of ideas and insights that is not only a critique of modern lifestyle but also an attempt to evolve an alternative, sustainable lifestyle in India.

Prasanna is critical of consumerist lifestyle. He gives the example of detergents, which he persuasively argues are totally unnecessary for us. There is no need for ‘sparkling whiteness’ for our clothes that detergent ads promise. We should only expect soaps to remove ordinary dirt and keep the clothes soft. The modern industry, through its marketing departments and advertising, creates such false needs.

He says the Desi movement is not an attempt to roll history back. But he argues that while evolving a life style, there is need to deconstruct certain unhealthy growth in society. The writer, who was once a staunch Marxist, now argues that it is not so much the political order, laws or religious diktats that change the world as changes in personal lifestyle. Gandhi acquired his authority and power to change things by changing his lifestyle. Prasanna makes a distinction between the Desi movement of the Sangh Parivar elements and the people who are trying to evolve alternative lifestyles all over the world. He exposes the hollowness of the rightist swadeshi movement by giving the example of a list of ‘buyables’ and ‘non-buyables’ put out by a Sangh Parivar organisation. While the list puts a detergent made by an Indian company in the ‘buyable’ category, it places a detergent washing powder made by a multinational in the ‘non-buyable’ list. This is ridiculous as all detergents contain chemicals and cause pollution of water resources and the earth, besides being not healthy for the people who wear clothes washed with detergents.

Prasanna is no armchair desi thinker. He was involved in Sagar taluk’s Kavi Kavya Trust, which, as its name indicates, was involved in a cultural activity. But Prasanna and other Kavi Kavya activists turned their attention to the social reality around them. They saw that people were encroaching on forest land and felling trees. There simply isn’t enough arable land for the people of Malnad. So there is need to create alternative livelihoods for the people. Prasanna and others started Charaka, a women’s co-operative weaving handloom cloth and making garments in Bheemanakone village. To market the garments made by Charaka, Prasanna founded the Desi trust, which now has two showrooms in Bangalore.

Prasanna stresses the need to reduce dependence on machines, particularly those consuming oil, as far as possible. In his home in Heggodu village, he has a TV, a tape-recorder and suchlike. But he does not have a vehicle, and walks seven to eight kms while in Heggodu — to the Charaka factory, to the Heggodu market and so on. He rarely relies on autorickshaws to go to places.

While the first half of the book deals with what Desi life style is, the second part contains articles and notes (with photos and illustrations) on the recent breakthroughs in reality and the semiotics of politics. One essay is about new-age plastics, virtual reality and cloning — all developments which man does not seem to be capable of controlling in his present socio-economic context. He notes what a dramatic change in human relations condoms have brought about by facilitating casual sex.

In another essay, he compares the lifestyles of saints like Ramana and Narayana Guru with the jetsetting swamijis of today. The message of the saints — or for that matter anyone — is in the way they live. There is another essay on the backyard of yakshagana with K G Somashekhar’s brilliant pictures. Prasanna deals here with the reasons for the enduring integrity of yakshagana while other folk art forms like jatra have been transformed beyond recognition due to modernising influences.

In another essay, Prasanna compares the images of Gandhi and Ambedkar. While Gandhi is in loin cloth, Ambedkar is in a suit. Just interchange the clothes of the two and they would not be noticed at all, says Prasanna. Ambedkar in loin cloth would be among the countless dalits nobody takes note of. Gandhi in a suit would be indistinguishable in a crowd of lawyers.

The book is full of such insights and written in a lucid style.