Want to Uncity? Make a choice. Expat? Or Migrant?

Want to Uncity? Make a choice. Expat? Or Migrant?

So you want to leave your gated community in the city for a gated community in the village? Like in the above ad of home-in-the-himalayas ? Your gated community must be eco-friendly, of course. Options abound. Tata Housing sells its “Myst Eco-luxury residences” in Kasauli as a super-premium gated community. “This exclusive gated community has been designed by the world’s leading expert in sustainable architecture…” says their website.

Another similar property touts “an exclusive residential address, a community of like-minded people who value the same ideas of wellness, privacy and under-stated luxury.” The background picture shows a large, eco-friendly gate.

In the city one key thing a gated community provides is security. What are they afraid of here, I wonder?

All these exclusive properties tout how sensitive they are to the environment. The Tata Housing site says “Never before has luxury been more sensitive in its approach and more evolved in the statement it makes about those who choose to live here. ” Strangely, none of them talks about how sensitive they are to the local people and culture.

Eco-friendly is better when it is also people friendly. And that doesn’t mean just a maid and a caretaker.

At the other end of this scale is Ashish Arora. He moved here from the city over a decade back. He has built a thriving business not by excluding the local communIMG_20170601_110934.jpgity but by including them. He actively helps all the village people in their issues. He was recently elected to the van-panchayat of his village. He works hard to save the forest, employ local people, and is an integral part of the local community. He is invited to every local celebration. He pays homage when any villager dies. His wife Deepa single-handedly employs well over 50 local women through their enterprise called Chandi Maati.

Arvindji is another great example. He moved up here and set up a library which the entire region benefits from now. And of course there are many who work and contribute to the local NGOs.

These and many other amazing people are not here as expats, but migrants – woven into the local fabric.

You dream of living in the mountains. Who do you want to be?

You can be the rich city Expat who lives in the gated community in the mountains, making exclusivity statements. Or you can be the migrant who makes a statement by making a difference. Someone who connects with and changes the lives of the people around you for the better. As a city-bred person with education and exposure you can do so much for the local community. In return, you actually get to be a part of a real community – possibly for the first time ever.

Please don’t tell me you will live in the gated community and integrate with the local community. That statement doesn’t even sound right, does it?

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About Chetan Mahajan:  Chetan is a full-time author and blogger who lives in a village in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .  He also writes and edits this blog.

The shooting star caught me off guard

The shooting star caught me off guard

Contributor : Arun Kumar M.

A slow, deep breath. As I exhale I open my eyes to the star-studded dark sky. I could sense myself going into a trance, deeper amongst the stars.

In a remote village, 6200 ft above the sea, the breeze was a chilly 14 degrees. A day before, Erode, the place where I came from was 41!  This cool calming transition allowed me to sink into the beautiful night.

It is not often we look up into the sky at night, let alone see stars. A sky overflowing with them is a rare sight for city dwellers like me.

Lost among them, as I was trying to figure my way out, I stumbled upon a peculiar thing. One ‘dot’ was moving. The first question that popped into my mind was, “Am I hallucinating, or is that ‘dot’ really moving?” A shooting star is not the way it is shown in Disney movies. (Hey Arun, take out the phone, try capturing it and see if you can upload it to get a lot of views). Somehow, that thought suddenly felt cheap.

Wow. It felt amazing. To be part of this ever-surprising nature can happen only when you un-city yourself. That is a pity, but such is the state of our tightly packed concrete jungles.

But hey! When people see a shooting star, they make a wish. Oh man! It is gone now, and I spent all the time I had figuring out what the dot was. It was a bummer not to have made a wish.

But guess what happened? Another star. I grabbed the opportunity, and this time I made the wish. Having made my wish, I now lower my eyes to some funny expressions from my group mates. They found my reaction to the entire episode quite naive.  “Arun, shooting stars are common here. You know what? You can sometimes see the light from satellites as well.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Oh, what has the city done! I was jealous.

We were huddled around a makeshift barbeque stove. After a long day of writing, learning, podcasting and trekking, the blend of the cold night and warm embers was perfect.

Back in Erode, I have now started looking up at the sky often – trying to peek beyond the few stars that I can spot. No shooting star, unfortunately. Beyond the pollution, just knowing that they exist is soothing.

A deep breath!

 

About Arun Kumar M : Arun loves to be constant in one thing. That is to learn. After earning his degree in Aeronautical Engineering, he went on to establish and head a research forum. He has also completed courses in philosophy and model thinking. All he needs is a good cuppa coffee and a book. He blogs at https://maktheway.com .

About the blogging retreat – this is not an advertisement.

About the blogging retreat – this is not an advertisement.

Contributor: Anhad Mahajan

This is about the Himalayan blogging and podcasting retreat but it is not an advertisement. I am going to tell my personal experience at my dad’s retreat. OK, where do I start? I should start with the bad things first. I don’t know about the rooms I have not stayed there. As a 10-year-old, I got super bored. The wifi was not good and the light went often.

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This is Julie the pup at the retreat sleeping in the fireplace.

 

Now let me tell you about the good things like food and more food and also people. Okay, so food. They have good food and if you’re lucky you might also get a barbecue. I was lucky by the way that’s how I know. If you want to know more about the retreat then go to the writing retreat website at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com. So to tell you about the people – there were 10 people who were attending the retreat. Two hosts – my dad

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This is iHeart cafe. It’s my favorite.

and Kiruba uncle. He also has a blog. And I liked the guy who wrote about iHeart café. iHeart is my favorite cafe in this area.  There was also my boring cousin sister Shruti didi and Manoj uncle who owns the place where the retreat was happening and he does the barbecue.IMG-20170430-WA0000

 

In the retreat I also committed to a 50-day plan – in 10 days I had to write a blog and that’s what this is.

That’s about it for the blogging and podcasting retreat. I forgot Podcasting was also there but it was boring.

About Anhad Mahajan: Anhad is an animator who has published his own comic book titled “Nature Heroes”.  He is in grade five, and is currently recovering from a broken leg. That setback allows him free access to most of the events organized by his parents under the Himalayan Writing Retreat banner.

 

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At the end, everybody is happy. It’s not bad after all.

 

Change your privacy settings – to Himalayan.

Change your privacy settings – to Himalayan.

Contributor  : Vandita Dubey

It had barely been a couple of weeks since we had moved from Gurgaon to our new home in the Kumaon Himalayas. Boxes piled up, unopened. Fitting a four bedroom bungalow worth of stuff into a small two bedroom place seemed like an impossible task. In the midst of this chaos, I also needed to get some writing done for a book deadline that loomed. One morning as I sat down in the verandah converted into a drawing room-cum-study hoping to get some words down as the kids were at school, a most unusual thing happened. The glass door of our house was suddenly pushed open by Aama (old lady/grandmother in Kumaoni) who lives next door. She walked in confidently, though leaning heavily on her wooden stick, and sat down on one of the chairs. She said not a word.

So, I had a visitor in the house who did not feel like a visitor: I did not know what to do. Many years of social training finally kicked in and I stood up, offered an uncertain IMG_20170507_072226“Namaste.” She non-chalantly accepted my greeting and in the same breath told me to continue my work, adding that she would just sit there. Social interactions in the city don’t follow this script and so I felt at a loss about what I should do. Was I actually supposed to carry on with my work? Or, was I supposed to set it aside and pay attention to the visitor? I turned back to my writing as instructed, but my brain wouldn’t work. So, I shut the computer and turned my attention to the lady. “Would you like some tea?” She readily agreed. Cups of tea were made, she wanted to know where we had come from, what I do, etc: Usual getting to know the new neighbour questions. Tea over and some curiosity satisfied, she went on her way. I still did not know what to make of this social interaction.

There is a common perception that Indians do not have as much of a concept of personal space as North Americans or Europeans do. I always thought it was because we are all so tightly packed – such a huge population and such little space, especially in all urban areas, even towns and most villages. But many villages in Kumaon, including the one where we live, have houses set far apart. I have heard that at one time, before city folks started buying second homes and urbanizing this area, people used to actively welcome a family that moved close by. It meant that there would now be more people extending help in case there was an emergency or natural calamity. Aama is someone from that time. She has virtually adopted us and we are grateful for all the help that she and her family have extended to us in the past two years . But quite remarkably they have been able to maintain the fine balance between offering help and interfering or taking over our lives.

We urban folks tend to worry about our privacy and erect tall fences, lock our doors and install door bells. Even in areas where safety is not an issue. Here, village folk regularly walk through each other’s backyards and nobody raises a heckle about trespassing. While people of various nationalities have made this area truly home by integrating themselves in different ways with the local community, others have failed miserably. The most recent incident involved a French & Israeli couple who rented a house and rumours are, wanted to grow marijuana. Now, marijuana is a grass that grows in most people’s backyards and does not catch any attention. This couple, however, erected tall fences around their house, effectively blocking direct access to the houses below. The residents of those houses were forced to walk a long way around, up the hill, to access the road. Soon enough, the villagers made a complaint to the DM about the marijuana crop. The house was raided and the couple arrested.

There is much unlearning we have done since our move here, fortunately without getting arrested. As they say, when in Rome do as Romans do: In Kumaon that may mean changing your definitions of privacy.

 

About the contributor: Dr. Vandita Dubey is a US licensed Psychologist and a permanent Uncity resident. She continues her conselling practice from her village home on phone and skype. The book referred to in this post has since been published by Rupa, and is titled “Parenting in the age of Sexposure : raising the precocious generation. ” She also co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreats. You can learn more about her at www.vanditadubey.com .

 

Getting plastered on Holi

Getting plastered on Holi

This Holi our ten-year-old son A got plastered. After just one shot he virtually passed out on the cold metal table in the X-ray room. The plaster went onto his left leg – all the way from his toes to his thigh. It was a pain in the tibia.

The evening before holi, he was out swinging – literally – just like any healthy, active, outdoorsy child. The rope of the swing snapped and he came down on his left leg. We did not rush to the ER because the nearest one is over an hour’s drive, and we don’t trust it much. Having heard the horror stories that emanate from most city hospitals, I believe the nearest decent ER is probably a six-hour flight from Delhi. A sleep-deprived intern in an Almora hospital on the night before Holi was not our idea of medical care.

We preferred to trust our neighborhood hospital run by the NGO Aarohi, but it was shut that evening so we planned to go there the next morning. That night was painful on multiple levels. The child endured physical pain and we parents flagellated ourselves for not checking the rope knowing fully well it was an old swing. The next morning –  the morning of Holi – we picked up Pandey ji, the X-ray technician, and reached the Aarohi Hospital. The key was traced out and the hospital unlocked especially for us. The very senior Dr. Sushil – the founder of Aarohi – was waiting for us. A doctor waiting for a patient was a first for me. The X-ray was impossible given the pain A was in, so they anesthetized him and then did the X-ray.

The shin bone a.k.a the tibia was fractured but fortunately still in place so it did not need setting. We were there for over 3 hours while Pandeyji and Dr. Sushil laboured over A’s leg. Finally the cast was spelled. Happy Holi.

The hospital bill was well below the 2000 rupee note I had on me. That included IMG_20170324_115417_HDR the X-ray, the plaster, the anaesthesia injection and the pain medication. In response to my not having change, a face smiled back and informed me that I could pay later. In the high-end resorts around our house we sometimes meet important people who are on the boards of big hospitals, and they talk about how ethics are important but sales targets for doctors are a reality. I’m not sure when these guys went from Hippocratic to Hypocritical. I hope science soon comes up with some treatment for regenerating a conscience.

It’s been two weeks and our son has learnt to live with the plaster. In these two weeks we again realized what a community really is. Worried neighbours brought food. As word spread in the local community, comic books, movies, and friends have turned up to visit. The principal of A’s school called us full of concern and workbooks and tests have been arranged in the house.

Instead of the world going on its way ignoring the hurt little child, it seems to have changed course just a little to provide him solace and company.  It is beautiful to live amongst a few people who care instead of a few million who don’t.

My nostalgia is better than yours. It’s the latest.

My nostalgia is better than yours. It’s the latest.

Having left the city, we have time for long, relaxed family conversations in our Himalayan village home. Yesterday my two kids – my daughter is 8 & my son 10 –  asked “What are the things from your childhood that are not around anymore?”

“Well, we had transistor radios.” I replied

“What’s that?” came the question.

“Oh, you listen to music and stuff on them. They are typically battery powered and my grandfather used to listen to them all the time.”

“Isn’t that the same thing Mohan da listens to? You know, when he is gardening and doing stuff.” My son asked.

Mohan da (da is big brother in Kumaoni, our local language) is our landlord, neighbour, go to person and an amazingly nice guy. He loves gardening and doing other little house stuff around the place – lighting the open chulha (wood-fired hearth) to heat water, sweeping the fallen leaves and so on. As he potters around, his constant companion is a battery-powered transistor radio tuned to All India Radio Almora, playing hindi film songs from the Palaeolithic era.

“Yes, that is a transistor radio.” I replied, somewhat sheepish.

“What else did you have?” They asked.

“Well, we had electric heaters with coils that turned red and hot to cook on. And white stone bases” said the wife.

My 8 year old daughter looked at her with some disdain this time “Mama, there’s nothing old about that. I’ve seen it in Kuku’s house – her mother cooks on it.” She went on to describe what could only be an old-world electric heater.

“Well, we had cassette players and cassettes.” I continued.

“What’s that?”

I described a tape recorder, and this one passed muster.  Phew!

“And we had kerosene stoves to cook on. We had to pump the stove, and had a pointy little metal thingy with a pin to clear the fuel flow. They made a mess and one helluva racket.”

After the two imps were done imitating my “helluva” my son exclaimed “Isn’t that what he uses in the tea-shop in Sitla?”

“BT Costa.” A voice inside my head says. I have christened the three village tea-shops in the neighbourhood BT Costa, BT Starbucks and BT Barista. Each has a nicer view, ambience, and character than any of their namesakes. And much simpler menus. BT stands for “Better Than.”

“Yes, actually he does use a kerosene stove.” I remember.

The kids push for more. I am feeling less and less sure of myself. Next, I hesitantly mentioned Black and White TVs that were too big & fat to hang from any wall. Even that had been seen by my kids. We go on, talking about Kerosene lamps and rotary telephones and so on. Then the topic switches to all the things that exist now that did not exist 3 decades back.

It was a revelation that so many of the things I considered obsolete are very much in use in our little village. Was it poverty? In a few cases, maybe. But many people around could afford better. Was it habit? Conscious choice?

I remember a conversation I had with Mohan Da. He doesn’t own a television, and we had arrived from the city lugging truckloads of stuff including a 32 inch Sony TV, a satellite dish and two set-top boxes. Having forsaken television, we offered the whole thing to him free.

He declined. He didn’t need to think. It was a simple choice of what he thought was important to him. Pottering around and gardening probably won over television for Mohan da.

This whole conversation made me questions my assumptions about obsolescence. Why do we continuously buy new stuff? And does it really make us happier? “Happiness doesn’t come from what you have, it comes from who you are.” I had read somewhere. And Vicki Robin, the author of “Your Money or your life” says “If you live for having it all, what you have is never enough.”

The critical word is “enough”. Enough to Mohan Da is a defined set of things that make him happy and keep him happy. The same enough is constantly changed, pushed, altered and moved for most people exposed to media and its motor – advertising. John Kenneth Galbraith once famously said “A person buying ordinary products in a supermarket is in touch with his deepest emotions.” That doesn’t say much about how deep those emotions run.

Everytime I visit the city, the advertising barrage overwhelms: the new car model, that new phone, sales, clothes – just so much stuff. It is all about bigger better faster more. And I want all this stuff. And then I go back to my little Himalayan village, and suddenly that desire fades.

I think I need to travel less to the city. That way I always have so much more.

_______________________

About Chetan Mahajan:  Chetan is a full-time author who lives in a village in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. He published his first book with Penguin, and is working on his next one – a novel. The amazing creative influence of the Himalayas inspired him to start the Himalayan Writing Retreats: writing getaways for both novice and advanced writers. You can learn more about these retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .  He also writes and edits this blog.

Uncity in the City

Uncity in the City

Contributor : Mariam Karim Ahlawat (reprinted)

I was to wait outside a school which was hosting a competitive exam in RK Puram New Delhi. Hot dusty April, the hottest in decades, swirled about. This school is in one of the narrow old lanes of the colony built years and years ago. I got out of the car to look for the gate the children were to use. Many other parents stood about with anxious faces. Suddenly a fragrance I had known as a child assailed my nostrils..the sweet, all too sweet fragrance of wild figs. An orchestra of chirpings and chirruppings and cheepings seemed to be playing—I looked up to see an immense, goolar tree, the ficus indica, spreading its long boughs laden with the ripening fruit . And in the branches there was nearly every species of bird that inhabits the trees of New Delhi: parrots, mynahs, brahminy mynahs, white-eyes, pigeons, green pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, babblers, and even kingfishers ! And of course there were the squirrels running up and down the branches, bobbing their tails, going from fruit to fruit, testing  their ripeness!  The cool shade offered by the old spreading tree and the delicacies of the wild fruit along with the insects they attract provided a heavenly arbor for all these creatures –  a rarity in the city today. I can say the wait outside the school was a wonderful treat indeed. Yet I found few people looking up, caring if there was a sweet orchestra of birds playing, noticing that here in real life was a programme in progression which they might watch with interest on Discovery or Animal Planet… in fact there was a man in a long expensive car parked under the tree, windows up, AC switched on, chatting away on his cell-phone. The air around the car was getting extremely hot because of the AC.

He opened his window for a moment to look out and see if the exam time was over and if any children were emerging from the gate. I took the opportunity to approach him – I told him it was very cool under the shade of the tree, there was no need to keep the AC on, and it was in any case adding to the heat all around. I pointed out to him the variety of birds in the tree. I said “Your child will go to a premier Institute of Technology, so at least a little awareness of the environment on your part won’t go amiss”.  He looked nonplussed for a minute, but luckily for me he smiled, and agreed that he shouldn’t be using his AC.

I realize that our day to day lives do not include awareness of our immediate surroundings any more. We think about the traffic, the petrol we spend, the time taken to get from one place to another, the movie we must watch in the evening, the contacts we must make for our various businesses,  the money we owe or someone owes us, the mobile bill…anything at all. It is obviously foolish and without profit to look up into a bird-filled tree. What good will that do us? Leave it to ornithologists.

We are no longer excited by the life that exists around us, and that is why we are losing it so quickly. A grown woman watching birds and squirrels? When her son is sitting for such an important exam on which his entire future may depend? She must certainly be soft in the head!

No, we do not live in the world any longer, we live in flats and cars and malls and

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Mariam Karim-Ahlawat – co-host of the Himalayan Writing Week, April 2017.

restaurants and keep the world out. We are afraid of the heat and the cold and the dust and we shut ourselves in cocoons and refuse to live each moment. When we feel spiritless and hollow inside of ourselves, we run to gurus and babas and chanting groups and kirtans and samagams…now even psychotherapists—when just around the corner, Nature provides beauty, harmony, melody, joy, relief from stress, in little pockets that still exist in the teeming cities.

 

We look desperately for God in human gatherings and we ignore, neglect and abuse the world God created. Spirituality can lie only in the preservation of Nature and all creatures great and small, with the lives of which our lives are intimately linked; otherwise search where we may, inner peace and harmony will always elude us.

About the contributor: Mariam Karim-Ahlawat is a published author and playwright and will be co-hosting the Himalayan Writing Week in the Kumaon Himalayas in April 2017. To learn more about her, please visit www.himalayanwritingretreat.com/#facilitators . Mariam lived in Delhi.

This article was originally printed in the Times of India Supplement under a different title, and is republished with the author’s permission.