Me Ol' Bamboo - The Grass that's Greener than Wood
Still from the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in which Dick Van Dyke sings a light-hearted song about how handy and useful his bamboo stick is
The Poor Man's Walking Stick No More
The poor man’s staff, the fisherman’s raft, the farmer’s thatched hut, the construction workers’ scaffolding – the stuff made of bamboo – this simple folks’ grass has been underrated and under-utilized in India until very recently. For the longest time bamboo was considered a “wood” and not a grass. The 1927 Forest Act categorized bamboo as a tree and made it difficult to cut, transport, export, and work with in any capacity… like most trees in India. After 90 years of research and lobbying by activists, the 2017 Forest Amendment Bill finally removed bamboo from the “tree category.” This one Amendment has unleashed a flurry of economic activity especially in the North East where rural workers in Tripura and Assam can finally cultivate and sell bamboo and use it for the economic resource that it is. From paper and furniture and stationary to building pre-fabricated housing and brewing beer, bamboo can replace wood, metal, and even plastic in many cases, as a material. Today, up to 35% of Northeastern tribal communities derive their household income from bamboo cultivation and sale.
Bamboo has been avoided in furniture and interiors until recently because it has always been associated as the poor folks' material for building and survival - perceptions are now changing
Eco-friendly luxury resorts and mansions are cropping up all over the place like this gem in Bali, Indonesia, Bambu Indah, the brainchild of celebrated designers and visionaries John and Cynthia Hardy who have also built the local 'Green School' [Photo Credit: Bambu Indah website: https://www.bambuindah.com/]
Greener than Wood, Cleaner than Metal - Bamboo is the Future of Furniture
There are something like 1,575 species of bamboo in the world out of which 149 are found in India. Bamboo grows naturally all over India except in the state of Kashmir. Rattan cane grows naturally in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and along the Western Ghats. Sihasn's ‘Mowgli,’ an adorable swing for children, has been crafted out of bamboo cane from the Indian state of Kerala, a state which itself has 28 different species of bamboo. Bamboo undergoes similar treatment to that of wood to protect against insect infestation, fungus, and degradation. It is cheaper than wood and metal and has a lower carbon footprint than any crafting material – wood, metal, or plastic – as it can be easily re-cultivated unlike trees which take a longer time to grow, it is biodegradable unlike plastic, and it doesn’t undergo carbon dioxide emitting processing unlike metal.
Sihasn's children's swing, Mowgli, made of bamboo cane structure and upholstered in khadi cotton
A Zulu Day Bed by Luxury Design Marketplace that makes and sells niche products with the principles of Sustainability and Minimizing Carbon Footprint [Photo Credit: greendesigngallery.com]
There are no restrictions on the export of bamboo. Presently handicraft items – many of them made by tribals – mats, baskets, and toys are the hot-selling export products, but cane swings, papasans, and outdoor rattan furniture are causing a stir in the export market where they are now considered bespoke, high-end products. The design history of bamboo is similar to the azulejo tiles of Portugal, which were originally the poor man’s craft but grew to be the favourite in design and aesthetic in the most luxurious palaces, ostentatious cathedrals, and lavish mansions of Portugal. Bamboo, now, has the potential to and is set to command the same sophisticated and coveted position that azulejo tiles do. Like cannabis, making bamboo freely available and easy to cultivate and sell has created a plethora of opportunities in the market in everything from paper and fabrics to cosmetics. Unlike cannabis, there is no controversy surrounding the use of bamboo as a drug…!
Like the commercial rage over CBD (since the legalization of marijuana), bamboo's potential for use and application across numerous industries is an economic blessing for India
Azulejo tiles were considered the poor man's material, but over centuries they came to bedeck every wall of the most resplendent churches, palaces, and mansions of Portugal; like Portuguese ceramics, bamboo is becoming a coveted, aspirational material and is most popularly employed in design styles having the 'Boho,' 'Shabby Chic,' 'Green,' and 'Beach Resort' aesthetics [Photo Credit: 'Wiki Loves Monuments in Portugal' in WikiCommons titled Azulejos (ca. 1760) of Igreja da Misericórdia, Tavira]