Cities come with a certain Ugliness. Sure they offer opportunity and conveniences, but in cities we feel threatened – by pollution, by traffic, by the alarm clock every morning. We feel threatened by the crime section of the newspaper – which is most of the paper.  Threatened by the number of classes the neighbour’s kid goes to. “Music, soccer, cursive writing and Tuition!!” you say to her with a gritty smile “Wow!”.

We forget the simplicity of our own childhoods. The big green trees, the vast abundance of time, the easy conversations. We forget how we truly enjoyed reading before we heard of speed-reading. The time when vacations lasted months – not the “long weekend” which is invariably too short. We forget a time with a lot of time.

Now, we think living in the city is a necessity. It is also a habit. And breaking habits is hard, so we adapt. We “think things through”. We make our financial plans, and factor in “quality of life” as one line item in our plan. To achieve this quality of life we then work long hours and weekends, otherwise we risk missing that increment, that EMI.  And we give that small inner child seeking open green spaces the lollipop of a “park facing” house.

I lived this very life for many years. But something never felt quite right. Many things about our city life – the ironies and absurdity – had been bothering me. But when my six year old son started wheezing and the doctor – and some friends – said it was pretty common in city children, we were forced to relook at our priorities. In Goa, Chail, even in Allahabad my boy breathed clean as a whistle – but he choked up the moment he entered the city. And I didn’t think any city was worth putting my little boy on medication.

It wasn’t him. It was the city air.

So after 20 years of corporate life and urban living, we decided to leave the city. My wife had wanted to move to a simpler life in a greener, nicer place for years. But quitting the rat race can be hard if you’re married to a rat.

View from our new house on a clear day

We started our search in the spring of 2014. We both knew we wanted to live in the Himalayas. After a year of travel and research, we packed our bags and moved to the Kumaon Himalayas in March 2015. We chose that area because we liked a school there.

We moved unsure how long we would stay. We rented a place in the mountains instead of buying or building. I quit my city job but switched to consulting so I continued to work remotely. We rented out our city house – so we could go back if needed. We weren’t far from Delhi – an overnight train journey. And we had broadband.

The move was a
big change for everybody. A family of four, it would have to work for each one of us. The biggest change was for the kids. They had moved from a massive urban English medium school to a tiny rural Hindi-medium one. My wife – a US licensed psychologist – moved her practice to phone & Skype and – surprisingly – still retained half her clients. Evidently counselling works remotely too. She has even added some new clients after moving here.

Since the move life has become simpler. Easier. Quality of life has new parameters. Our house faces the mother of all parks.  We get milk from cows, not plastic packets. Our neighbour has five cows, and my daughter – a newly discovered naturalist – knows each one personally. No milk-enhancing injections or funny fodder here. And the milk is so fresh it is still warm when it reaches us. Vegetables and fruits are often plucked from the local farms and orchards. We don’t need RO Filters. TV’s are few, and watched lesser, so people talk more. And the few TVs around look like TVs – not like king size beds tacked to a wall.

“Throughput” in management speak “has gone down”. We earn less (money). We spend less (money). But we have a lot more time. We go for long walks and explore the mountains around our house. I play a lot more with my kids. Badminton, Monopoly – whatever. Last month we completed our first trek as a family.  My son, now 8, walked 30 km over 3 days – up and down mountains – without any problem. My daughter rode a mule – and developed a relationship with it. She now wants one to ride to school everyday.

We have rediscovered living in a community. We share food with our neighbours. We celebrate festivals together. We reach out to neighbours when we need help.  Credit cards are not accepted, but people extend credit because they know you.

My kids don’t go to any classes or tuition. They enjoy school, and live without pressure. They learn much from nature – and from an awesome science teacher in their school. Their curiosity is alive and well, and with the internet available – in a controlled manner – they have access to learning beyond what the school offers. And we have time for them.

We don’t fear crime or traffic. We often leave our doors unlocked. The kids – 7 & 8 years old – walk to their friends’ houses without any adult, and sometimes the 3 km to their school. Sure, we have to deal with the occasional scorpion. And keep our dog safe from leopards. But the threats here are fewer and less vicious than those in the city.

We do miss a few city things. Eating out is a big rarity – the nearest restaurant is a 40 minute drive, and the next one is 80. We cannot order Pizza – or anything else, for that matter. Provisions and choices are fewer. The pace is slower. Some city visitors – those that like tight schedules and sync their calendars on their ultrabooks, ipads and mobiles – ask us “But what do you do here?”

Everything has not gone perfectly. Our son took a while to settle-in. Initially he missed his school, and his old friends, and felt like an outsider for a bit. My travel was rather gruelling – 10 days a month can feel a lot more than one-third. And sometimes the lack of urban options and choices does irritate.

But all things considered, we love our new life. It has been eight months now, and I don’t think we are going back. Sure, the city offers some good things. But they are no match for the many great things we have discovered away from it.

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11 thoughts on “Breaking the City Habit

  1. Read your piece with great interest. Around 20 years ago my wife and I had the same idea: get out of Delhi! So we made a few exploratory trips around Kasauli and other small hill towns. But we just couldn’t make it work so we moved a little further away – Vancouver, Canada.
    Clearly we were not imaginative (or enterprising) enough. Your experience shows that it is all about embracing the art of the possible. Well done, and we wish you great joy in your continuing adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After staying years in Delhi & other cities I do feel d same. In d madness of urban life we forget what life is, Have been there & spend much time in d tranquility of Himalyan life.
    A small suggestion: The HImalaya has something sublime to offer each of us, its more than living with the nature. It’s spirituality. Read an epic book on a journey through the Himalaya “The Journey Home”. You will discover another dimension of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great decision…you have done what only some of us keep thinking about, but really never act…your kids will appreciate this more than anybody else when they grow up!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Got introduced to your blog by a friend. Your journey has been inspiring and fascinating 🙂 look forward to reading more from you and more of you. Cheers

    Like

  5. Fabulously written Chetan. Simple, straightforward and with a lot of conviction. Loved reading it through and through. You guys are the best and a beacon to a lot of us. The kids are going to look back at this someday and realise the enormous significance of this decision. An honour to know you guys. Loads of Love….

    Like

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