Eager to get away from the challenging environs of metro cities, modern Indians are initiating a process of reverse migration to smaller cities and towns where living conditions are far better.
For 41-year-old supermodel-turned-artist Tinu Verghis, who spent more than 15 years on the runway for India’s top designers and shot for countless international brands, the charm of cities started fading out when she bought agricultural farmland in Goa a few years ago. She currently works in the field of performing art, video art and installation art from Singapore and likes to spend maximum time in her village with her partner.
Verghis says she finds it calming to be free of the city pollution and gets artistic inspirations from the everyday life in the village. “It’s difficult to keep the capitalistic focus in a village/farm setting. I have to negotiate and consider what’s important in my life, which means my phone and computer are not used that much. The landscape opens my mind and I am free to explore new ideas for my artistic ventures. My inspiration comes from the open land and from watching my kids relating to materials around them,” she explains.
Speaking about the transition, she says, “I bought the farmland deep in a village just to be away from noise, air and water pollution.
Although my family cannot stay rooted in Goa because of my partner’s job, I am here every three months for planting and harvesting my crops. We grow most of our food. Our electricity bills are less because there is no AC needed. The water bill is minimum because we use water from the well. And since I am unschooling my kid, it’s important for him to experience difficulties of raising food production, walk around barefoot, climb trees, stare into the endless landscape and dream. It doesn’t cost much to live on my farm.”
Just like Verghis, many city dwellers have started moving to quiet towns and hill stations to restart their life. Due to the increasing air pollution, water scarcity and skyrocketing cost of living in metro cities, modern Indians are initiating the process of reverse migration to create a new base in smaller cities, where living conditions are far better.
As metro cities get cramped with people leading to poor socio-economic conditions, the adverse effect of living in polluted and unsafe environs is one of the top reasons for young families and professionals to consciously shift towards B and C tier cities and rural townships. Also, since work is largely digitalised today, the need to set up big offices and modern infrastructure is no longer a requirement, whereas a cleaner countryside with a basic lifestyle seems to be the perfect solution for modern couples and singletons.
In the 90s, a lot of IT professionals migrated to the Southern metros like Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad for work. However, with the sudden influx of people, the cities expanded at a fast pace and the cost of living shot up. Now, people are giving up corporate jobs to move to quiet towns like Coorg, Coonoor, Ooty and other hill stations in South India for a peaceful life.
The 39-year-old Siddharth Somana, founder of the Quarry Adventures, moved to Coorg from Bengaluru in 2015 to get away from the pollution. “Coorg is home and I really don’t need to brag about the beauty of the place. While we face the regular humdrum of working in a small town, one also learns about appreciating the smaller things in life and pacing down versus running the rat race. It’s a massive boost to the quality of life at a much lower cost compared to the city and helps in saving too,” says Somana, adding, “My profession made it easy for me to create a business opportunity and move here. We do travel to nearby metros to find a balance between living in the hills and the city.”
For 26-year-old filmmaker Mohit Kapil from New Delhi, a recent move to Goa to set up work changed his entire outlook towards well-being. The youngster says he found living in Delhi to be demotivating and stressful, so he made an impromptu decision to move to an isolated place.
“It is difficult to make ends meet in cities, and when I moved here, I found life to be inexpensive in comparison. Not just that, I can even save from my earnings. It is isolated but still has access to all the amenities you need. Thankfully, I don’t have to travel a lot and my clients take care of the bills when needed. I am so happy I took the risk,” he says.
Similarly, for 28-year-old Sarthak Kush, who was born in Varanasi and lived in Delhi till 2016, the move to a smaller city in Goa was not difficult. Sarthak opines that while the cost of living in a city is higher, the same does not apply to the standard of living.
He is now convincing his parents to buy a retirement home in Goa to enjoy the simple life. “Unfortunately, my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was a shock to all of us, and that’s when we started considering a move to a cleaner location. I have also been battling anxiety over the past few years, but once I was away from the big city, traffic and pollution, I started feeling better,” explains Sarthak, adding, “I have just started a music label called Alfa records in Goa. I have also started consulting bars and cafes now through Skype or conference calls, so it works well.”
Not just singles, even couples are very keen to set up work and family in small towns. In March 2018, Miniya Chatterji, CEO, Sustain Labs, and her husband Chirag Lilaramani, CEO, Liquid Sanctuary, decided to leave their posh bungalow on Aurangzeb Road, and moved to a villa by the fields in Saligao, Goa, to protect their newborn from Delhi’s pollution.
Miniya mentions that she felt certain that she did not want to expose her child to the air in Delhi. “We moved from Delhi to Goa when our baby was just four months old. We spent several months deciding upon a city that would have clean air, a natural setting for our child in his early years, and an airport that is well connected to the rest of India/world,” says Miniya, who runs her own company called Sustain Labs, where she works from 9 am to 2 pm.
Further, she adds, “When our baby boy Kaizer was three months, my first book Indian Instincts was brought to the market by Penguin. My husband too has franchises, manufacturing facilities and clients in different cities so he takes frequent flights out of Goa. Every weekend, we decide our travel schedules so one of us gets to be with the children. Life is not chaotic here. Kaizer wakes up seeing the cows, and eats watching the farmers sow rice.”
Real estate entrepreneur and hospitality consultant Prashant Kalra agrees that cities have reached a saturation point and that families are right in moving towards other locations. Talking about his shift to Goa in February 2019, the 35-year-old businessman shares, “Our daughter was having a tough time in Delhi NCR. We never let her out unless the AQI was below 120, which was rare. Even then, she was developing early signs of asthma and bronchitis and needed medication to breathe at night. We decided to move to Goa in October 2018 because we wanted to get away from the pollution and still have access to quality education for our child.”
Prashant adds, “While there was a huge wave of people looking to buy homes in Goa, there weren’t too many people with our background involved in the marketing and sales of these homes.
Being entrepreneurs, we created our real estate startup called The Penthouse Boutique, which promotes luxury villas in Goa, and it picked up really well.”
Life in the Hills
Among the North Indian cities, people are suddenly showing interest in shifting to hill stations like Manali, Mcleodganj, Shilma, Palampur etc. to regain health and mental peace.
In May 2019, 30-year-old freelance writer Anshul Kumar Akhoury moved to Dharamshala as he believed that Delhi was giving him breathing issues. “I used to be an avid trekker before getting into professional life and once I was used to the city life, I started having trouble keeping up with the pace. I used to have frequent chest pains due to the smog and evening traffic on the way back from office would give me such a bad headache,” recalls Akhoury, who adds, “This region has a nice community of freelancers and digital nomads, so learning opportunities are great. I am also part of this NGO called Waste Warriors, which works towards making Dharamshala a cleaner place by organising cleanup drives and awareness programmes. Apart from this, I get to eat fresh food, live away from the traffic and pollution, so I feel much healthier now.”
Likewise, for entrepreneurs Mansi Ahuja and Kunal Sharma, leaving a set business in Delhi to start a new venture in Manali was based on health reasons. 30-year-old Kunal, who owns G Villas homestays in Manali, reveals, “In 2008, I started wholesale readymade garments retailing in Delhi, but I left that and moved to Manali last year to start new work. When my wife and I were planning to have a baby, we were very concerned about Delhi’s air quality. In July 2018, we were blessed with a baby, but we were worried and running to the doctors due to his frequent viral fevers. That’s when we decided to move to a cleaner city.”
Kunal admits it was a big shift for them. “I moved from fashion to hospitality, and my wife is now working as a publicist. I do travel for marketing and to participate in travel trade shows, but there is a huge difference in the cost of living. One can easily rent a one to two-bedroom place for `3,000 to `5,000 per month; also labour is cheap, people are helpful, so we are quite content here,” he explains.
For Sonali Saxena and her husband Sushant Sharma, who spent their entire lives in Delhi, a holiday in Mcleodganj changed their perspective. The couple left their corporate jobs and started a restaurant called Indique in 2014 in the hills after they left Delhi. Speaking about the transition, Sonali mentions, “We were both based out of Delhi where I worked in strategic communications at a US-based firm and Sushant was a litigating lawyer at the Delhi High Court. We both came to Mcleodganj on vacation at every chance we got and finally we thought it was time to move out of Delhi and start something small here. Before we knew it, we started our bar Indique, which is now a music cafe.” She seems happy with the decision despite some challenges. “It wasn’t a cakewalk as we worked 16 hours straight sometimes but it is worth the effort. Only after we moved did I realise that my allergies had significantly subsided and I didn’t have to pop antihistamines every other day anymore.”
On the other hand, for 26-year-old entrepreneur Renuka Arora, a move to Mohali from Gurugram turned out to be a fantastic business decision. She now runs an online brand named HapShap with her brother and operates from her hometown. Speaking about her big move, she says, “Living in Gurugram harmed my health — the quality of air, water and food is bad due to which I had hair fall problems and weight loss issues. I moved to Mohali as it was adjacent to Chandigarh, and started living with my family. My brother and I started a women’s nightwear brand here and now we have an online presence on Amazon, Flipkart, Instagram and Facebook, so the location does not matter. Of course, we still travel to nearby cities like Delhi and Ludhiana for getting fabrics, materials, photo shoots of our products and other things, but life here is much better.”
Meanwhile, for 26-year-old Neetu Agarwal, a planned move in 2015 from Mumbai to Chandigarh was primarily aimed at getting cured. Says the PR professional, “I had lived throughout in Mumbai with my parents till one fine day, I decided to get rid of the chaotic, busy life of this overpopulated city, full of pollution and various other routine challenges. I was an asthmatic since a very young age, and would run on regular doses of Asthalin. The family doctor made it clear that I would be in better shape in Chandigarh and I felt the change as well.”
Neetu adds, “My family is still in Mumbai and I visit them once in a while. Before moving out however, I made sure I had a secure job without changing my field of practice. Along with that, I have been freelancing as a food stylist and exploring hobbies other than work.”...