What We Stand For

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Interview: Culture is important for Sustainability - Prof. S. Swaminathan

18th October 2016, Bharat Niwas. 

How can you disconnect sustainability with culture and heritage, is Sustainability disassociated from Culture, what is sustainability? It is not only about living being, plants and so on. Sustainability also confers to family, which is broken now.How do we attain sustainability for celebration of life? My simple answer to this is: Take life seriously and enjoy yourself.
                                                                                                                             -Prof. S. Swaminathan

An interview with Prof. S. Swaminathan, co-founder of Tamil Heritage Group and director of Centre for Arts and Culture- Sudharsanam, Pudukkottai. Prof Swaminathan is a qualified mechanical engineer and a retired Prof. from IIT Delhi where he taught for over 3 decades. A man of many pursuits; his interests vary from science, architecture, literature to Art, music and developmental issues. He believes in cultural route to development and holds that understanding and exposure to cultural heritage could help people to enjoy and understand life better; he has beautifully tried to bring this idea into action through Sudharsanam. For further details please visit www.pudukkottai.org.

You have been advocating 'culture-scaping' for quiet sometime, can you elaborate the concept?

'Cultural-scaping', it is like land scaping, when I am sitting here I should know that I am in Tamil Nadu, in Auroville and within India. The things around you, the environment should make you feel that way. For example: if you go down, in the ground floor, the architecture is not Indian; nothing on the way tells me that we are in India. What I say is –we must have culture scaping. Why the pillar here cannot be similar to what it is in Ajanta? Our surrounding can tell a lot about our culture. For example each tree tells something about our culture. For instance if we take Saptaparni, it is mentioned in the Vedas and has medicinal values- this is mentioned in Sakuntalam. If we disseminate these information, people will know the significance of what is around us and the culture behind.

How would you brief the relevance of Cultural scaping?

This is an idea that you have got to feel and adopt on your own way. In your state, you are and should be surrounded by what your state can offer and not what London offers. But it is going in the different direction. For example where you come from has lots of Bamboo. In Bamboo what you see is the branches, the tree is underground and it had many values. The things around you should be able to make you feel and realize where you are. One should also understand the ramification of it.

What is the status of heritage and culture in today’s society?

Nobody bothers, now it is only something that is fashionable to talk in particular society, nobody bothers beyond that. All of us have accepted that anything foreign and western is supposed to be good. Our present civilisation has got numerous problems that we are realising now, for example global warming and so on, but there are other things as well: broken families which are also corresponding problems.

We have accepted certain things. For example we don’t bother if the lights or fans are running and no one is using them, we have learnt to live with it. In my time: we got electricity in our house only when I was in 8th standard and we had very little things. We used to get a set of dress only on the occasion of Diwali. Both the rich and the poor person used to get same thing, the richer person will get slightly costlier dress but the difference was very minimal, one of the reason being that nothing very costly was available. But if you give me 2 lakh rupees today, I can spend it all within 5 minutes and from tomorrow onward I will ask you Rs 1000 a day to maintain those things- this is the kind of situation we are living in today. So, first of all we must understand- what are values in life today, contemplation which is absent today should be there. In the present society, everywhere there is crowd but everyone is lonely.

What are the types of initiatives and institutions that you would like to see that is required for understanding of culture and heritage?

Don’t you think you can imagine it yourself? Why should somebody like me, who is almost reaching 80 tell you what is needed. You know it better; you should decide what is better for you. You should not bother with experience and so on. For example: 40 years experience may not be any more than 1 year repeated 40 times. But the point is: are we able to think for our self. First of all, take life seriously and taking life seriously means, I can be happy provided my family is happy, my family is going to happy if my community is happy, my community will be happy if my town is happy, my town will be happy if my state is happy and so on. It is what Gandhi said “Oceanic circle”. People now-a-days should be able to take life seriously and think for sensible solution for all the problems.  

Where do you see the role of cultural understanding in sustainability?

How can you disconnect sustainability with culture and heritage: Is sustainability disassociated from culture; What is sustainability? It is not only about living being, plant and so on. Sustainability also confers to family, which is broken now. For example: today husband and wife don't talk to with each other because they don't find time for each other. Sustainability starts form the family- at present , the children do not have time to spend with their parents and the parents do not have time to guide them, provide them company, celebrate life- sustainability of family is important and needs to be acknowledged. If we can have fossil fuel forever or not is important but a different matter, what is important is how do we attain sustainability for celebration of life? My simple answer to this is: Take life seriously and enjoy yourself. You don’t have to except what I say. You got to contemplate on it, find out your own solution, read books, have discussions and have your opinion. I want the people to think for themselves. 


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