Book Review:
Venu Bharati
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Promoting the Beauty and Utility of Bamboo

Venu Bharati, Wabi Sabi and IL31

How to talk about books which come to hand feeling so satisfying? Design and content meld. Cover, paper, text and illustrations are one. From India, the late Vinoo Kaley has given us Venu Bharati, a comprehensive volume on Bamboo. Venu is one of Sanskrit’s words for bamboo, Vinoo Kaley practiced as an architect. In his last twenty years, he enmeshed himself in bamboo totally enamored with its beauty and utility. Working with village bamboo craftspeople, he learned the hand of bamboo as is rarely known today. His book is his testament, his hand, his being with bamboo, put into graphic and textual forms.

In Japanese, wabi-sabi would fit Vinoo Kaley and his most humbling book of bamboo. Why humbling? For one, his approach to bamboo is as a friend, a compatriot, a peer, some one who shares being here at this time.

Much of bamboo literature published in English, however beautiful and expensive to produce, however hefty to hold and rich with quality four or more color pictures is, I fear, condescending, obeying, perhaps unconsciously, the injunctions to dominate and to subjugate the non-human world. Those books are about bamboo, Vinoo Kaley writes with and from bamboo.

The Japanese aesthetic named wabi-sabi, according to author Leonard Koren, “ a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.” Bamboo, in essence.

When we try to make bamboo something permanent, we lose some of its essence. When we try to make dimensional wood of bamboo, we lose some of its essence. When we take the randomness of bamboo and attempt to grow it with production and engineering technicalities in mind, we lose the essence of bamboo. Melding his heart and moving with bamboo, Vinoo Kaley enhances our interrelationships with bamboo, acknowledges our long and deep symbiosis with bamboo.

The spirit of bamboo is also well represented in IL 31 Bambus - Bamboo, from the Lightweight Structures Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. This book show that humankind has worked with bamboo primarily by lashing, carving, splitting, weaving, pegging - that is, by hand. Vinoo Kaley determined to learn those skills while there were still local people who could teach him. He went to a village and spent long months, years apprenticing himself, a graduate architect, to village craftspeople. He came not as an anthropologist to study, to objectify, to report. He melded with village and bamboo. Hence, his book, Venu Bharati, a comprehensive volume on Bamboo, may be in a class by itself.

In terms of wabi-sabi, as defined by Leonard Koren, Kaley’s efforts are sensible, modest and reasonably comprehensive from the perspectives of symbiosis. After placing bamboo in Asian history, he carefully sets his stage by reciting the details of bamboo as a plant. The key bamboo of India are shown along with the names given them by the various peoples of India. The coming of the British with exploitive ideas dominating their processes, set up conflicts with historical appreciation and uses of bamboo. Bamboo, to them, is a junk commodity to be shoved aside to get at the more valuable teak and other forests products.

Vinoo Kaley tells us why, when and how local people harvested bamboo. How they preserved it, as much by careful harvesting as other practices. He writes about the complex reproductive processes adopted by bamboo, perhaps in response to human attempts to dominate and to change it nature.

He shows us the tools used by Indian artisans and how they use them. Invaluable! He shows us the food value of bamboo shoots and goes on to describe some of the many uses for bamboo which have evolved in northeast India (incidentally the area in which the Seventh International Congress will take place next year).

For craftspeople, Kaley shows us how to work bamboo, For those focused on impersonal technical aspects, he reproduces engineering tables. He covers preservation methods from harvesting process through Boucherie machines, including discussion of preservation chemicals. Want to dye bamboo, naturally or using chemicals, Kaley tells ways to do it.

His section on bamboo farming is, what?, sensible, reasonably scaled, manageable, practical, locally focused. You may find suggestions and hints unavailable elsewhere.

Pondering Artisanry and The Changing Times, Kaley shows and knows that neither India nor elsewhere can necessarily go back in time much less back to the earth. Skills lost may, however, be recovered and reinterpreted to present conditions.

Gandhi, experienced in suit as well as dhoti, understood the imperatives driving the British masters of India. Making a commodity of anything and then attempting to control the commodity denigrates all including those who believe themselves profiting by doing so.

Vinoo Kaley in Venu Bharati, a comprehensive book on Bamboo shows a firm understanding of an enduring symbiotic relationship which may carry a higher probability of mutual profit than global economics, exploitation and attempting to make bamboo a commodity. My paraphrase would be: Local resources processed by local people primarily for local uses in ways which foster community and generate economic surpluses for local reinvestment. Try it on for size!

Milo G. Clark
Pacific Bamboo Council
P. O. Box 454
Pahoa HI 96778-0454 USA
+808 965-7182

Venu Bharati, a comprehensive volume on Bamboo, Kaley, Vinoo, Aproop Nirman, B 2, Pushpagandha, Dharampeth, Nagpu 440010, Maharastra, INDIA, 2001.

Wabi Sabi, Koren, Leonard, Stone Bridge Press, P. O. Box 8208, Berkeley CA 94707 USA. 1994, ISBN 1-880656-12-4 [You may note similarities in book design, paper use, etc. with Venu Bharati]

IL 31 Bambus - Bamboo, Institute for Lightweight Structures, University of Stuttgart, 1985, ISBN 3-7828-2031-2


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