An MVH or a Minimum Viable Home is the minimum essential habitable setup that allows you to grow your ideal home around you, and while living in it. As you begin to organise your life in the MVH, you modify, add to or delete parts of it. This organically iterative living leads to you building a home that’s uniquely you.
Reva Malik, Ranjan Malik
Amla is our home – a small piece of land (50ft x 60ft) on which we – Reva and Ranjan, live in a mudhouse. We are attempting to go back to being natives of nature. To reconnect with the elements and mend the broken energy cycles.
We run our firm, Primalise from here. The firm helps businesses and institutions find congruence. Congruence between their purpose and their pursuits – conceiving innovative strategies that are rooted in their cultural ethos.
‘Living your being’ is how we describe the Primalise philosophy. And that’s what we are attempting to follow in this house. We are working towards making this small dwelling completely self-sustaining – growing our own food, harvesting our own water and being part of the nature’s magical cycles.
We follow the circadian rhythm and do not use usual conveniences that are considered standard in a modern urban household. There is no electric wiring or plumbing in our house and most things are operated manually. In terms of resource usage, our aim is to be net zero, if not net positive.
The modern home is too full of stuff. Many years ago when we began simplifying our life we decided to get rid of things that were space and time hogs; or conveniences that were not allowing us to lead a wholesome human life. Television went away, and then the microwave, the dining table and so on. But then we realised we were sitting on a pile of stuff that was considered normal. Like it is normal to have multiple rooms in a house; each room has its own kind of stuff. This definitely wasn’t our normal. But our normal was buried deep under the stuff-pile. That’s when we decided to walk away from the pile, and into an almost ‘zero space’, an MVH.
What is a Minimum Viable Home?
Definition: An MVH or a Minimum Viable Home is the minimum essential habitable setup that allows you to grow your ideal home around you, and while living in it. As you begin to organise your life in the MVH, you modify, add to or delete parts of it. This organically iterative living leads to you building a home that’s uniquely you.
We want to arrive at that magical figure – the minimum resources that a home needs to keep a family in vibrant health. We are sure it is very little compared to what an average modern family uses up.
Our guiding philosophy while setting up our home has been: everyday living must nourish us enough physically, mentally and socially, so that we aren’t dependent on artificial supplements like gyms and other such deliberate wellbeing related interventions.
For us, our home must help us connect with the elements meaningfully, rather than insulate and distance us us from them.
In this chronicle we record our everyday experiences and realisations.
Amla is a small house on a small piece of land in the city of Bangalore.
We named it Amla after the Nellikai tree that we planted here before we began building the mud-house; the tree has been thriving and doing really well.
So well that we have had to find ingenious ways to preserve the bounty – we’ve been making pickles, nellekai arishtham – traditional wine and dehydrated amla.
A third of this 50ft x 60ft area is built and the rest is green thanks to fruit trees and vegetable plants.
The house is essentially just one space. Call it whatever-room – we relax, work, cook and just be in this area; the mezzanine is our ‘office’.
A pinewood staircase is our commute to the office. The mezzanine opens up into a little terrace that offers us a vantage bird’s eye view of most of Amla. It also has a critical function – helping us harness the sun for our cooking. The solar cooker, together with our chulha – the wood-stove, is our primary mode of cooking.
The only other built areas are the two gravel beds that treat our grey water and produce nourishing, value added water for our plants, complete with rich fish excreta. Guppies and algae eaters live in the treated grey water reservoir. Enriching it and also performing the critical ecosystem service of keeping mosquitos and algae in check. Before the water reaches the fish tanks, it goes through gravel, the cattail-canna root zones and coal.
Life in Amla mostly happens, not indoors but in the agla and pichhla vedas – open areas in the front and the back. Or next to the chicken coop and pen under the gasagase hannina mara – Jam Fruit tree, bonding with Kaali, Chitti, our hens and the four chicks. The pichhla veda has our hand-pump – the only source of water, that pumps harvested rainwater from our sump. This part of Amla gets the morning sun rays and we often sit here to prepare for the two cooked meals of the day.
Circadian cycling at Amla
In our attempt at living in tune with nature, here’s how a typical day at Amla gets spent:
4:30am: The day begins before daybreak. Our roosters are too young and haven’t begun to crow yet; the hens take their time and begin clucking only post six. It is that typical sound that the undomesticated nature makes at this hour that wakes us up. We have now begun to tell sounds of different phases of the night.
The water in the bucket under the handpump still retains the night chill. Nothing like a cool splash to wake your face up.
The electric kettle takes just 5 minutes to brew our Darjeeling. Longer if we have to move the kettle to the sole power point we have for our Atmospheric Water Generator. This happens when our solar battery is out of juice.
5:00am: The brew with half a lemon squeezed into it gives us an hour of talk time. We’ve been trying to replace the packaged tea with fresh leaves from our garden. Hope to get there some day.
6:00am: The hens are now calling. They have to be let out of their coop. Remember what they told us about the early bird getting the worm? Our Kaali and Chitti race each other to the worms that got late returning home. Till the time we totally redo our vegetable patch, the hens have the whole of Amla to treasure-hunt in. The four chicks, we haven’t given them formal names yet as we don’t know their genders but we call them by the way they look – saletu, the grey one, kala-chitta, the B&W one, chhutku and kaalu, are in the pen. Frolicking around in the pen they remind us of our schooldays; the day we would get a surprise ‘free period’.
6:15am: An early morning treat that our flock eagerly awaits, is termites. We have now begun to cultivate the ‘pests’ in their pen. It takes just a couple of days for a whole swarm of termites to raid the inverted broken matka – earthen pot filled with dry leaves, scraps of wood and some moisture. We just have to lift it a bit and the juicy treats begin trooping out.
After we have cleaned the coop, the car is cleaned, we must do it before the sun dries up the dew on it otherwise we end up wasting water for the purpose.
We are very frugal when it comes to water. 135 lpcd – litres per capita per day is what is considered the standard, we have been trying to use that quantity for the entire household, including the hens and the plants. So managing water is one of the more critical processes at Amla.
6:45am: The first water task is to ensure all containers are full. We (hand) pump out water from the sump and carry buckets to all parts of the house where water is used. Plants get the treated grey water. We have two gravel beds. One generates 35 litres and the other one around 70 litres. An old paint can with its top covered with a mesh ensures we don’t accidently remove the guppies and the algae-eaters with the water. This is our farming time too before the sun gets too hot.
8:00am: Our first meal of the day is fruit. This is the reason we have a large number of papaya and banana plants. We need large sized fruit that is filling too. In winters we sit in the pichhla veda next to the handpump. Fresh fruit and early morning sun somehow is a great combination. This must be primal, that’s why the same fruit and the same sun still feels exciting in the same way every day. In summers we sit on the manji – the cot in the agla veda, next to the chicken coop.
8:30am: Both of us pick up a broom each, start in different parts of the house and meet somewhere midway.
9:30am: The sun is up and the solar cooker which is already heated by now has to begin processing our first cooked meal of the day. This happens seamlessly. One chops this, the other soaks and mixes that. The planning for this usually happens at fruit time. Every once in a while we give the solar cooker a break and cook on our chulha. Those are the hot paratha days.
10:00am: Time for pocha – mopping. Just like jhaadu, with both of us doing it parallelly, this gets done in half an hour.
11:00am: We settle down for some ‘office’ work. This is usually the first available slot for calls or other sessions we offer our clients.
12:30pm: The aroma of the cooked meal reminds us that it is ready. We take a break from work. Steaming daal-chaawal-sabzi is brought down from the solar cooker on the terrace. We pick fresh tomatoes and green chillies, and sometimes fresh palak and spring onions too, for the salad. And yes, our own amla achaar. Work continues if needed or we just sit and chat. This is often the time we use for the big Amla DIY projects – like making pickles, wine, drying surplus fruit, building chicken coop, prototyping olla – pot irrigation method etc.
2:00pm: While the sun is still shining, we need to restack the solar cooker for the second meal. So in go three pans. Our solar cooker has a little extra room even after daal-chaawal-sabzi pans have been put in, we use it for something sweet – cakes or halwas; or even boiling eggs.
3:00pm: Do the bartans and dishes, wash clothes; and rest a bit.
4:30pm: Evening tea. Again black – we don’t have a fridge to preserve milk. No fridge means we are ‘forced’ to cook and eat fresh stuff. Friends and neighbours join in sometimes. As we sit outside in the agla veda, friends passing by come in unplanned; and we love it.
6:00pm: Time for the second meal.
6:30pm: Kaali and Chitti are our sunset clock – they walk into the coop, up the ramp that we built for them, by the clock, without a clock. Very casually, without the frantic pace that often accompanies chasing of deadlines in our world. We try and be there to watch this phenomenon. This is our TV and every episode has the same script, yet different.
This is also the time for us to light the diyas – oil lamps. We just sit around in the dim light, talk; or just be with each other and the nature around. Unless of course we have a pending argument; that generates some emotional intensity.
8:30pm: We begin winding down – cleaning up, putting things back in place, closing the coop to keep away the curious predators. Sit down with our laptops and phones. Occasionally, catch a show or movie on OTT. And call it a day.