Opinion and Editorial

KT Edit: Far from the madding crowd

Simran Sodhi/Dubai
Filed on September 24, 2021

Tired of the pulls and pushes of urban living, many are moving to smaller places, villages even, to get a breather from the rat race. And some are settling into ‘country living’ — and farming

Our modern-day lives see us existing in the format of a fast-forward movie of sorts. One is always in a rush: in a rush to go to office, to the grocery store, to a lunch meeting — and then back home. While in commute, it is the sound of loud honks that accompany one, adding to that sense of hurry and constant movement. Fast food, fast fashion and life in the fast lane have devolved into statements — and we’ve gotten used to them with time. But one now feels a quiet change taking place in many people’s mind spaces where they are questioning the daily mad rush.

While some of us are debating this and planning to move to quieter, smaller places after some more years in the city, there are some who have decided to take the plunge and take a step back. Many have quit jobs in cities and moved to a quieter village life doing farming, being at one with nature; and there are some are balancing this out with a few days in the city and a few in the village.

Gagandeep Singh Bajwa is a young man who did his Bachelors in technology in 2012 and then worked in Jalandhar, one of the big cities in the state of Punjab in India. About a year back, a medical emergency in the family made him move back to his village Sherowal, in Punjab, but now his mind is made up: he would rather stick to farming and living in his native village than return to a city life.

“I was and am doing well in my current business, However, last year, a medical emergency took place in our family. This emergency made me realise that somehow this city lifestyle is consuming us;

I decided to move back to my ancestral village and do organic farming. Also, farming has always fascinated me and this medical crisis gave me just enough of a push to consider organic farming seriously,” says Gagandeep.

He describes his life in the village today as “peaceful yet ambitious”.

For Gagandeep, the stress of modern-day living — which can be overwhelming in cities — has been a big factor in making him choose the peace and calm of a farming life away from the hustle and bustle of the urban landscape.

“Village life is very calm and peaceful. There is no pollution of any kind and people are also very helpful towards each other. This specific trait is lacking in cities. In cities, people generally do not bother about their neighbours, or their neighbourhoods. Mental stress is also much less in a village life as compared to its city counterpart,” Gagandeep points out.

He tells me that this constant pressure to meet deadlines — which are impossible sometimes to meet in the first place — leads to a collapse of mental health. In farming, he faces his fair share of challenges but they never stress him out.

“I think it’s true that some people today are moving back to villages, leaving bigger cities behind. And, the reason is related to health concerns, be it physical or mental. In my case, it was physical because I inferred that the reason I want to go back and do farming was the impure food and environment of cities,” Gagandeep says, as he talks in general on how he sees this shift in people’s mindsets where we are all getting conscious of pollution, environment and the harm we are doing to our personal health by being caught up in the groove of leading unhealthy lifestyles.

The celebrity endorsements

This shift is also very evident if one looks at many of the celebrities worldwide who have made similar choices. Take the case of Mansoor Khan, the director of the cult Bollywood movie Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (QSQT) who, many years back, quit the arc lights of the movie industry, and now lives in Tamil Nadu and does organic farming. There are many Hollywood celebrities who prefer not to live in Los Angeles but in smaller and quieter places — like Montana.

Julia Roberts, who has ruled the silver screen for decades, is one of the many celebrities who have made a conscious decision to live in a small, scenic and bohemian kind of town. Her ranch in Taos, New Mexico, in the United States, is a far cry from the red carpet walks and high fashion demands of a Hollywood star’s life.

In an interview to Oprah Winfrey, Roberts said, “It’s peaceful, and it’s a relief,” she said, referring to her new ‘hometown’. “I always

say you can’t be in a bad mood here. I don’t know if it’s New Mexico or just the mountains, but you can’t be silly in a negative way. You can

be silly in a fun, whimsical way, but the petty, trite things that make you go, ‘Oh God, it’s not the right size’ or ‘Why is this happening like this?’ — that kind of stuff doesn’t exist so much here. Everything is kind of clear.”

And the clear manner in which Roberts puts it across, well, in a way, she might be talking for all of us. For honestly, which one of us hasn’t felt that urge to sometimes just chuck this constant churn of a fast-paced life for a quieter and more peaceful existence?

Likewise, British actor Martin Clunes, best known for Doc Martin, upped and left London for country pleasures. A feature in Island Life Magazine, titled ‘Martin Clunes: Clunes in the country’, says, “Clunes, much like his eponymous Doc Martin character, has swapped the city for the pleasures of rural life. Known best for his portrayal of Doc Martin’s irritable Dr Martin Ellingham, who abruptly leaves his London practice to become a general practitioner in the sleepy fishing village of Portwenn, Martin Clunes, at first look, shares more than just his name with the good doctor.”

Clunes grew up in London, but decided to “up sticks to the Devon countryside years ago”. “The family swapped the stresses of the capital for the West Dorset countryside and never looked back. Now the owner of a farm, with over 130 acres of his own land, you’d be forgiven for thinking that while Clunes may enjoy the rural life, juggling filming, farm work, a family and with over 30 horses to tend to, it must be hard work.”

He is quoted in the article as saying, “Living on a farm is totally engaging and completely absorbing… There are animals everywhere. It just defines who we are.”

Learning about a new eco-system

Sahar Iqbal runs a farm in Punjab, Pakistan, which employs over 200 women labourers; they grow potatoes, maize, wheat and rice. Sahar today has become something of a celebrity ‘female farmer’ in Pakistan. Since she ensured that her workers were taken care of during the hard times of the Covid-19 pandemic, she’s won herself a lot of admirers. Sahar has also highlighted how farms and a return-to-the-basics kind of lifestyle are sustainable solutions for many of the crises we face.

In Sahar’s own words, “Before entering into the agricultural field, I had been doing a city job. Then, I left my job in the city and started working with my husband in the fields. Initially, it was difficult as people in our village weren’t used to the idea of a female running the farm. My husband gave me the confidence that helped both of us turn things around and also made people believe in women’s empowerment. The idea of developing the village from scratch had its own charm to us. We started off by changing mud houses into brick houses for our community.”

The second challenge was to procure natural gas for their own houses — for those in the community. “We did research on bio gas and constructed a plant in our village… the next hurdle, electricity, was overcome by installing a solar power system in our village. We are running not only our houses on solar but all the tube wells are also working on it. Since water is an asset, conserving it was one of our priorities. We did research on drip irrigation and rain guns and started installing them in our fields. In the city, the landscape is only limited to work in a very specific domain. In a rural setup, I got a whole canvas to work on and I could change the methodologies by experimenting with new ways.”

Sahar concedes that our modern lifestyles and fast-paced city routines are mentally harsh on us. “The fast city pace takes a strong toll on our mental health. The new gadgets and technology are helpful but they have also taken away peace from our lives. We are continuously comparing our lives with one another, and it is then just a fast rat race.”

While today she describes her life as a “community developer” as “peaceful and innovative”, she does recall that moving to a rural step up had its own set of challenges and it took her a while to understand the nuances and the ways to overcome those challenges. “Moving to a rural setup wasn’t a choice that I could have made easily in the first place since I was born and raised in a city, and wasn’t really accustomed with the workings of a rural setup. All I knew about a rural setup was that there was a lack of resources — like electricity and gas — but I never realised you have to wait for mobile and Internet services as well!”

‘We know all our neighbours’

We move halfway across the world from Sahar in Pakistan to Karnail Singh Sidhu in Canada who today runs his own vineyard Kalala Organic Estate, in West Kelowna, a scenic town in British Columbia. He is one man who is content and happy with the decision he made years back to bid adieu to city life and move to a smaller community pace.

He is also an immigrant success story who migrated to Canada in 1993. He learnt about his choice of business while working in a vineyard and, in 2006, decided he would create his own brand. “I never liked big cities. Life is too busy in the cities and one doesn’t know one’s neighbours. Here, in a rural background, we know all our neighbours,” Sidhu explaines. He feels happy with his decision and has never felt any desire to move back to a city life.

“I live here with my wife and two daughters and I was a little concerned when the girls grew up and went to university — but even they prefer living in the rural areas,” he tells me with a sense of relief. He adds that there were only 6,000 people in the town when he moved there but now the population has gone up to 40,000.

“I feel people go and live in bigger cities to earn money and then when they retire they move to smaller places, it’s basically economics that makes them take these decisions,” he says. He also feels happy that he runs his own business today where he is the boss, “discrimination is part of the challenges when you work for someone else”.

And so, perhaps, the world changes slowly for us all. Some of us have decided to press the pause button and taken the brave decision to ‘go back’… into the hinterlands. Some of us are still thinking about the pros and cons and, as Sidhu says, letting economics make this decision for us.

But whether we continue to stick to our crazy city lives or move to quieter places, one thing is quite clear: we all do realise the significance of a pause in this never-ending rush from point A to point B.

(Simran Sodhi is a journalist and author based in New Delhi, India.)

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