Mixed experiences of a city-dweller who chose to live a ‘romantic’ life in rural India
Almost every middle-aged person gets this idea once in a while: to chuck it all and leave stressful, polluted cities and live a semi-retired life in a calm, serene village somewhere deep inside rural India. We have come across hundreds of such dreams in novels, short stories, comic books and real life conversations.
Remember Raj and Deepa travelling by train to their old and loveable grandfather’s house in a remote village, almost always next to a small river, and invariably having an adventure along with their village bumpkin cousins during their vacations? And remember granny’s yummy dishes made from vegetables freshly harvested in their farms? And, ahem, them naughty squirrels?
Yes! Everyone wants to do that: grow some vegetables, beautiful flowers, have a chicken coop so we can get farm fresh eggs every day and then slaughter the chicken when some of our city friends arrive to see the glorious, healthy, self-sustaining lives we are living happily forever and ever...
We are actually living this dream on our own two-three acre farm, in our own village-type house (a compromise for a farmhouse or a bungalow), with the sounds of chirping birds and mooing cows from dawn to dusk; and fireflies lighting up our lives at nights; dinners under the glare of the full moon—forget the frequent power cuts—and kids dancing like peacocks in the monsoon.
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to bump into a high-flying, globe hopping director, energy, of a petroleum major based in a Gulf country and whose chairman was a member of the royal family.
The talks veered around to how I happened to reach this small town. After hearing me out, he said: “Aaaah! Wish even I could also retire to a village life”.
For good effect, he added: “That is my aim… maybe next year”.
At the very same time, he was working the phones and the internet to run his business, almost round the clock.
Being born and brought up in Bombay (it became Mumbai, after I left), having visited New Delhi quite often at an early age and having pursued my profession in Hyderabad and Dubai —I became ‘directionless’. Like any other hardworking, yet ‘suitably unrewarding’ professional I had raised stress, lipid and glycaemic levels: I decided, enough is enough. No more city life for me.
I had not been able to save anything in my low-paying profession earlier in my career. Moreover, senior professional positions meant glib-talking bank salesmen buzzed around me like bees and offers of ‘easy money’ in the form of credit cards and personal loans.
I fell hook, line and sinker into the trap. I availed of these and sank deeper into the debt swamp.
In Dubai, an international bank used to offer personal loans and credit cards on easy terms to anyone with a valid employment visa, who had just walked out of the airport for the first time; and there were the glamorous shopping malls. I took it.
The few years there, my wife and I saw our stress levels shoot up like a rocket and we had shouting matches over trivial issues. Once, she even threatened to leave me and go back to her parents’ house, taking the kids along with her. Ours was an arranged marriage, yet we were deeply in love with each other. But Tayyabali
, or the financial temptations, was the ‘pyar ka dushman
In my job, I got rewarded with promotions and salary hikes for a great performance. Often, over those who have been working with the publication for years. But soon things changed and came to a head one day, so I quit. We had about a month to pack up and leave. I used up all my employment benefits for the full and final settlement of my credit cards and loans.
We, along with our kids, landed in India, fresh and penniless. This was a moment of ‘realization’ for me!
No more the temptations of a city life!
As a heart patient with high sugar and cholesterol levels, I decided that I wanted a quiet, calm life in some green, dream heaven: A village in a remote part of rural India.
I compromised and chose a small town having fairly good educational institutions for the future of my children, a modern multi-specialty hospital, no tempting shopping malls and the rural life, I envisaged. Just three kilometers away from the educational, medical and banking hub of Manipal, I pitched my tents, so to say, in a village called Parkala!
We started using shovels and pickaxes, digging up trenches, growing vegetables like okra, beans, spinach and so on. We had our relatives, ‘them city dwellers’ come and visit us to savour our pollution-free rural ambience.
We took vicarious pleasure in talking about how we go for a picnic followed by a dip in the nearby river, how we work hard in our garden and how we get fresh vegetables.
But we realised that all our romantic dreams were just a mirage.
Simply put, farming is no easy job. Almost always, it was my wife who did all the dirty work: Digging, removing the weeds, setting up support for the creepers, chopping off tree branches, allowing me frequent respites because of my health condition.
Yet, she enjoyed all this and maintained a lovely figure. And I enjoyed helping her whenever possible. We also bumped into many people with farming as their ancestral and life-long occupation.
Hearing their woes, I realised, the village life is far, far from tranquil and definitely not as romantic as we have always imagined. I am frequently reminded of the proverb: The grass is greener on the other side.
Having narrated a part of my story, I will now write about how common folks go about their lives in rural India and the issues they face. Keep reading.
(Shrikant N Shenoy has been a journalist since 1980, having worked in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Dubai. He launched a news portal and an online Konkani language channel from Manipal, Udupi, but ran out of money. In 2011, he successfully launched an English newspaper with five editions simultaneously on a shoe-string budget. He tweets as @udupinet