Once the cool canopy of a coconut mat roof is in place, work on the deck begins. Recall that sturdy poles resting horizontally on the granite pillars form a strong mutually reinforcing grid. On this, a decking is formed by laying Arecanut palm slats stripped from old palm barks. The strips are a roughly 2″ wide and 12′ long. The hard smoother side is placed facing up; the underside seen from below is fibrous. Six men sit on their haunches, 2′ apart with balls of coir cords in their hands. They pull a new slat against the previous one and in a co-ordinated drill tie the slat down to the deck of poles. When cord runs out a new ball is tied to the tail of the previous one and the work continues. The cord in effect is a continuous one. The width of a capsule is ideally in multiples of 12′, which is the standard slat length. The resulting decking is quite springy but not dead even. It will be wise to lay a thick fabric cover over the decking, both to get a softer feel underfoot and to protect the tie-cord from chafing.
Shutters are made for windows and fitted with rope and pulley systems. Where the window joins the slope, a valley is formed which is vulnerable to leaks. Galvanised iron sheet is cut and lined to prevent leaks. The sheet is overlaid with coconut mat. Incidentally there is only one other place where steel -or any other industrially manufactured product, for that matter- is used: that is at the ridge where the two slopes of the A-Frame meet at the top. Steel wire is used to fasten down the mats covering the gap. Ladders are made from round pole. Treads are wrapped with cord for a softer feel underfoot. There are three ladders in all: one to lead up from the ground level to the first level about 8′ off the ground, and each for the lofts above Level-1. Once the crew left the place I fitted a trap door to the hatch opening in the first level. As I write, rest of the finishing work like ground level flooring, dwarf perimeter wall etc are underway.
The story would be incomplete without narrating the hard time we had of it. Consultations with Ravi, an experienced builder from Auroville, began in February, 2009. I visited a few of his projects, he visited the site and gave me a bill of materials. He said once the materials were ready, he needed just a fortnight to finish the building. He would bring about 13 people and set up camp at the site.
As I went through the bill of materials I found the price of casuarina poles and the cost of skinning them was a major chunk of the building cost. Enquiry showed I would save quite a bit if I bought locally; I’d be also be burning lot less diesel in transportation. Ravi was agreeable and said he’d be arriving with all materials by the 7th of March and that I should be ready with 10 tonnes of skinned poles. And thereby hangs a cautionary tale.