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.
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
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.
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.
At the age of seven months I moved from the US to India. At the age of eight, 2015 March 25th was when we moved and my birthday was March 3rd. Honestly I was scared because I thought Leopards and Tigers were the same and they could eat me. I also was teased at school because I did not know good Hindi but English.
I found very very easy (what) they were teaching me. He, she, it. No offence but the teachers were worse than me. And my favourite subject math in the first 3 months it was revision of plus the next three months was minus revision. How much revision can I get when in Shikshantar I was learning Multiplication. (Shikshantar was my school in Gurgaon.)
In Gurgaon I had wheezing and difficulty in breathing and no clean air and I am living next to one of the most polluted city in the world. No offence again but it is Delhi. I like both places equal.
I like the shops, restaurants and friends of Gurgaon but I don’t and never will miss the pollution of Gurgaon and Delhi. I like the Greenery in Kumaon and Satkhol. The kid upstairs is our landlords son. He is in boarding school. Now I have friends here. I have also written a 40 page comic book.
(This content is exactly what he wrote – only spellings have been fixed. He actually has written a 40 page comic book titled “The Nature Heroes” with superheroes et al. If anyone could help illustrate it, that would be awesome! He is keen to have it published. Please do get in touch if you would like to chat about this.)
Kids grow up quickly in cities. The hardness of the place. The ambient ribaldry. Shorter tempers and better(?) vocabularies mean quicker access to four letter words. And thoughts.
I think the “Rate of Losing Innocence” (“RLI” drawls the smug MBA) for both my kids has really gone down since we moved a year and a half back. It becomes obvious when we meet city kids.
Recently a visiting teenage intern asked A (my 9 year old son) if he had a crush on anybody. A immediately responded “mummy”. While I completely echo his sentiments, I am pretty sure a city kids reply would’ve been different. And when the intern tried to needle A about whether or not he had a girlfriend, it didn’t really work because A actually couldn’t relate to the concept.
My kids had learnt expletives like fuck while in Gurgaon. Those have largely faded from memory but still crop up sometimes, especially after some urban contact. But the good news is, that vocabulary building stopped there. Here in the village they have learnt some local abuses, but the simpler, more harmless variety. Nothing compared to what some city kids mouth. Thankfully we are not in Punjab!!
Of course, curiosity still exists. “Where do babies come from” and “How are babies made” and other such questions. Healthy, natural curiosity. But answers are easier to come by because both my kids saw a calf being born, and understood more about childbirth than a classroom would ever teach. I hope they grow up knowing that breasts weren’t designed for dirty magazines – they already know breasts have a biological purpose when our pet Fia nursed her six puppies.
On the flipside, the gender definitions here are stronger and the kids have adapted. When we left the city my daughter R – who was six then – had always referred to herself in the male gender “main khaoon ga, main khelooon ga” etc. But within two months of moving she had changed to the feminine. I ride a bike and she finds that cool, but out here seeing a woman on two wheelers is much rarer than in a city, so she has actually asked me
“Papa, can girls also ride motorcycles?” or others like
“Papa, can girls also play football?”.
That conformity to a more traditional way of thinking and gender stereotypes is something I don’t like as much. We influence that to some extent by our actions. Last month we went for a three day rock climbing course in Nainital which the kids really enjoyed – especially R.
An old african proverb says ” It takes a village to raise a child”. And when a village does raise children, they are will obviously be village kids. In balance, I think that is a good thing.
(My better half Dr. Vandita Dubey is a US Licensed Psychologist. Rupa recently published her book on kids and sexuality. The book is not about the rural-urban difference but on sexuality in general, and how parents can deal with it. You can check it out at http://vanditadubey.com/dr-dubey-on-parenting/ and also see the counselling and workshops she offers on the link above.)
The Calvin & Hobbes creator made a little-known comic strip about his world view on work and life. He is a master, and I can add zero value to his work, but his words resonate. I am simply transcribing them here. If you find these words powerful, and would like to see the comic strip these are taken from, please click on the link at the bottom of this post.
“Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.
In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life…a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric if not a subversive.
Ambition is only understood if it is to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.
Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities…. Is considered a flake.
A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential. As if a job and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing … and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.
There are a million ways to sell yourself out …. And I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy … but it’s still allowed … and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”
“Hindi medium?” said my city friend, aghast. Eyes wide open. Mouth also. The food was going to fall out, so I quickly said “It’s not that hard. Let me explain.”
She swallowed the food, but not my reasoning. I could see that my logic completely missed the mark. Let me try again here.
The essence of what I told her was that my wife and I were not necessarily looking for a highly competitive school with lots of tests / tuitions / cutting edge technology. Quite the opposite – we were looking for a simple school. One where kids stayed innocent a little longer. A school where our kids would be happy and enjoy the learning process. Both my wife and I remember school as a stressful, unhappy place. But we believe that joy and learning are not contradictory, and should not be.
The last one year has largely borne out our beliefs.
Our two kids moved from a large, urban school to a small rural one*. Both schools follow a similar belief system and methodology – but differed in many other things, including the medium of instruction. Our kids left all their old friends behind, and how quickly they adapted depended a lot on how quickly they made friends.
Our daughter R was not yet seven when we moved. She loved the open green spaces and all the natural beauty of the mountains and she was perfectly at home within the first few days. A was eight, and took longer to adjust and get accustomed to the new set-up.
But they have both adjusted and evolved in their own way.
R has embraced everything around her. Whether it be butterflies, or what the cow eats, and when it gives milk, to how long a pony lives or what a horseshoe does – she is seeking out knowledge of nature and our surroundings with an amazing curiosity. Her Hindi has improved a lot, and she now speaks two versions of Hindi – one in the house, and the other with her Kumaoni classmates and friends. The difference is drastic. And of course, she is picking up some Kumaoni as well.
A is more reserved, and took longer to make friends. But he has been able to get deeper into things that interest him. The stuff he now chooses to do are driven by an inherent personal interest, rather than the influence of friends or peer pressure. He has developed a deep interest in paper folding which he feeds by teaching himself stuff from the internet. He has also developed an interest in Chess, and plays that with the computer and also some of his classmates.
They are learning about life from the cow next door having a calf. From our pet dog delivering a litter of six pups, taking care of them, and the pain of giving them away. They learn from finding the skull and bones of small carnivorous rodents in the forest, taking them to school and researching them. And learn about life simply from the extreme seasons, and understand what grows and when. They don’t just study the relationship between the seasons, and when fruits ripen – they live it.
One of the most satisfying things for me personally is the interest they have developed in Hiking. We have done two hikes, the last one being a six day hike to Pindari glacier. R rode a mule while A walked 60 kilometres up and down forest trails with small backpacks over 6 days. What surprised me most was that on the last day of the hike A was already planning the next one!
But above all this, the biggest factor is the time I am able to spend with them – be it reading together with them, going on picnics, playing games, plucking fruit or doing small woodworking projects. Being a father in person beats being a father in absentia hands down. And I’ve been both. Since we have left the city I have much more time for them, and they both notice and appreciate the change.
We all love the time we now get to spend together. And that’s hard for even the best school to compete with.
*This blogger relocated to the Kumaon Himalayas from Gurgaon, and the fun stuff he does besides trekking, writing this blog, riding the Himalayas, running marathons and contemplating the universe now also includes hosting the Himalayan Writing Retreat https://uncityblog.wordpress.com/retreat/ .
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.
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.