A friend of mine once said, what differentiates a home from a house is that food is always cooked in the former. 2010 saw our kitchen fire lit every day. For Karpagam and Sriram, food is central to their being; they bring care, labour and deep thought to it. We have therefore enjoyed good meals, although so far it’s invariably south Indian fare. Siddarth too is a food enthusiast and can work the kitchen solo.
Our rocket stove has been reliable. We tried a charcoal cooker and a wood gasifier but these haven’t displaced the wood fired stove. It takes some skill to get it going but that art has become commonplace.
We completed building a solar box cooker. It took quite a while and the second redesign, with many corrections and adjustments finally gave us a working cooker. But we have had only about three runs on using it, before the cloudy days were upon us. 2011 will gain us more experience in using it.
In 2010, starting from count zero, on lands that had never before been cultivated because it had been eroded, we produced 130 kg of vegetables, 20 kg of grains and 3kg of sesame. Bah, did I hear you say? You should have seen the time and sweat that went into coaxing that from the dormant land and you would exhaust yourself applauding. About 6000 square feet of land is all that has been in play this year. Starting as gravely sterile patches the area has been invested with biomass and care. They are responding slowly and steadily.
Our electrical energy comes from 4 solar PV panels totaling 320 watts. With increased numbers in the campus, continuous residence and the electric scooter requiring regular charging, the inadequacy of and the mismatch in the installation have come to surface.
We consumed about 110kWH of electricity and may the nation know we did not draw any of that from the grid! However, we consumed about 1,400 litres of diesel for commuting [always in a car packed to the gills with inputs for the project] and for digging the swales. We shall be repaying our diesel debt from about 2016.
We installed a new wind driven charger to augment supply. This alas proved to be an ill considered exercise and wasted money. The problem may not be in the wind-charger itself but in the inexperience of the supplier and my own lack of knowledge. Between these two, and the unprofessional wind survey the experiment can be declared a failure.
The project hopes to have, one day, up to ten residents and a similar number of short term volunteers. This is many years away and depends on the work available to engage them, and just as importantly, the facilities required for their stay. We have begun discussing the matter and planning a measured incremental programme.
One of the initiatives in this direction is a second toilet. A second urine diverting, composting toilet is functional at a very basic level. It requires to be finished.
Living in the Pavilion has been a pleasure but also opened many areas for debate. What is the recurring cost of maintaining it in the long run and what are the acceptable alternatives to its roof, currently made of coconut leaf mats?
Carrying of food or any edibles to the floor upstairs is banned so as not to attract rats; but still they came. We did once -reluctantly- use rat poison to bring down their number but the rat pack was soon ahead of us. We can claim victory now because Appudu has arrived and is part of the pointReturn team now. He is the blackest cat with the greenest eyes that you ever saw. He has become everyone’s darling and dispenses his favours and affections all around.
Mosquitos alas have finally made an appearance. Increased human activity, inevitable clutter in living spaces, water collection in the garden nearby all add up as circumstances for their increase. So far after the happy hour early in the evening, they depart but their activity could increase and one day mosquito nets may become necessary.
That is a quick round-up of the year gone by. What is planned for the year ahead? We had a long meeting in January and evolved a list.
Twin cottage: We plan to build two private spaces for residents who have completed an year at pointReturn. The two will share a wall and enclose 300sq.ft each. We discussed two methods of building: rammed earth and burnt bricks laid in cement mortar. After many discussions, as I write we have agreed that sun dried adobe bricks were the most doable and environment friendly.
Pavilion upkeep: The pavilion is where everyone lives their first year at pointReturn. Lovely though the space is, the coconut mat roof has begun to leak in quite a few places. Before the next NW monsoon we need to repair this. We have decided to explore local skills for this job instead of depending on Auroville workers. We need the twin cottage up quickly before we undertake renovation of pavilion.