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The Message of Bapu's Hut
By Ivan Illich
[In January 1978, The famous thinker and man revolutionary ideas, Ivan Illich came to Sevagram to inaugurate a conference. During the stay he spent his maximum time sitting in Gandhiji’s hut. He tried to imbibe the spirit of peace and expressed it in his inimitable style in his inaugural speech to the conference. Here is a unique tribute to the hut and what it stands for.]
Today in the morning while I was sitting in this hut where Mahatma Gandhi lived, I was trying to absorb the spirit of this concept and imbibe in me its message. There are two things about the hut which have impressed me greatly. One is its spiritual aspect and the other is the aspect of his amenities. I was trying to understand Gandhi’s point of view in regard to making the hut, I very much liked its simplicity, beauty and neatness. The hut proclaims the principle of love and equality with everybody. Since the house which has been provided to me in Mexico is in many ways like this hut, I could understand its spirit.
Here I found that the hut has seven kinds of places. As you enter, there is a place where you put down your shoes and prepare yourself physically and mentally to go into hut. Then comes the central room which is big enough to accommodate a big family. Today in the morning at four when I was sitting there for prayer, four people along with me were sitting by supporting themselves to one wall and on the other side also there was place enough for as many people if they sit together. This room is where everybody can go and join others. The third space is where Gandhiji himself sat and worked. There are two more room – one for the guest and the for the sick. There is an open verandah and also commodious bath room. All of these places have a very organic relationship.
I feel that if rich people come to this hut they must be making fun of it. When I look from the point of view of a simple Indian, I do not see why there should be a house bigger than this. This house is made of wood and mud. In its making, it is not the machine but the hands of man which have worked. I call it a hut but it is really a home. There is a difference between a house and a home. The house is where man keeps his luggage and furniture. It is meant more for the security and convenience of the furniture, than of the man himself. In Delhi, where I had been put up it was a house where there are many conveniences. The building is constructed from the point of view of these conveniences. It is made of cement and bricks and is like a box where the furniture and other conveniences can fit in well. We must understand that all the furniture and other articles that we go on colleting in our lives will never give us the inner strength. These are, so to say, the crutches of a cripple. The more of such conveniences we have, the more our dependence on them increases and our life gets restrictive. On the contrary, the kind of furniture I find in Gandhiji’s hut, is of a different order as there is very little cause of being dependent on them. A house fitted with all kinds of conveniences shows that we have become weak. The more we lose the power to live, the greater we depend upon the goods we acquire. It is like our depending upon the hospitals for the health of the people and upon the schools for the education of our children. Unfortunately both hospitals and schools are not an index of the health or the intelligence of a nation. Actually, the number of hospitals in indicative of the ill health of the people and schools of their ignorance. Similarly, the multiplicity of the facilities for living minimizes the expression of creativity in human life.
Unfortunately, the paradox of the situation is that those who have more such conveniences are regarded as superior creatures. Will it not be considered an immoral society where illness is given more importance and those who use artificial legs are considered superior. While sitting in Gandhiji’s hut I was grieved to ponder over this perversity. I have come to the conclusion that it is wrong to think of the industrial civilization as a road leading towards development of man. It has been proved that for our economic development, bigger and bigger machines of production and larger and larger number of engineers, doctors and professors are not necessary. I am convinced that such people are poor in mind, body and life-style who would want to have a place bigger than this hut where Gandhi lived. I have pity for them. By doing this they surrender themselves and their animate self to the inanimate structure. In the process they lose the elasticity of their body and vitality of their life, they have little relationship with nature and closeness with their fellowmen.
When I ask the planners of the day, why they do not understand this simple approach which Gandhiji taught us, they say that Gandhiji’s way is very difficult and that the people will not be able to follow it. But the reality of the situation is that since Gandhiji’s principles do not tolerate the presence of any middleman or that of a centralized system, the planners and managers and politicians have very little attraction towards it. How is not being understood? Is it because people feel that untruth and violence will take them to the desired objective? No. This is not so. The common man fully understands that right means will take him to the right end. It is only the people who have some vested interest who refuse to understand it. The rich do not want to understand. When I say rich, I mean all those people who have got conveniences of life which are not available to everybody in common. These are in living, eating and going about. Their modes of consumption are such that they have been deprived of the power to understand the truth. It is to these that Gandhi becomes a difficult proposition to understand and assimilate. They are the ones to whom simplicity does not make any sense. Their circumstances unfortunately do not allow them to see the truth. Their lives have become too complicated to enable them to get out of trap they are in. Fortunately, for the largest number of people there is neither so much of wealth that they become immune to the truth of simplicity nor are they in such penury that they lack the capacity to understand. Even if the rich see the truth they refuse to understand it. It is because they have lost their contact with the soul of this country.
It should be very clear that the dignity of man is possible only in a self sufficient society and that it suffers as they move towards progressive industrialization. This hut connotes the pleasures that are possible through being at par with society. Here, self sufficiency is the keynote. We must understand that unnecessary articles and goods that a man possesses reduce his power to imbibe happiness from the surroundings. Therefore, Gandhi repeatedly said that productivity should be kept within the limits of wants. Today’s mode of production is such that it finds no limit and goes on increasing uninhibited. All these we have been tolerating so far but the time has come when man must understand that by depending more and more on machines he is moving towards his own suicide. The civilized world, whether it is China or America has begun to understand that if we want to progress, this is not the way. Man should realize that for the good of the individual as well as of the society, it is best that people keep for themselves only as much as is sufficient for their immediate needs. We have to find a method by which this thinking finds expression in changing the values of today’s world. This change can not be brought about by the pressure of the governments or through centralized institutions. A climate of public opinion has to be created to make people understand that which constitutes the basic society. Today the man with a motor car thinks himself superior to the man with a bicycle though, when we look at it from the point of view of the common norm, it is the bicycle which is the vehicle of the masses. The cycle, therefore, must be given the prime importance and all the planning in roads and transport should be done on the basis of the bicycle, whereas the motor car should get a secondary place. The actual situation, however, is the reverse and all plans are made for the benefit of the motor car giving a second place to the bicycle. Common man’s requirements are thus disregarded in comparison with those of the higher ups.
This hut of Gandhi demonstrates to the world how the dignity of the common man can be brought up. It is also a symbol of happiness which we can derive from practicing the principles of simplicity, service and truthfulness. I hope that in the conference that you are going to hold on Techniques for the Third World Poor, you will try to keep this message before you.