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 .
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 “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 .
The dark spots on our bright Himalayan sun began to appear rather suddenly, well over a year after we moved to Kumaon. One instant, everything was idyllic – the clouds floating in and out of the valleys – and our house – during the monsoons, the snow covered Himalayan ghosts hover in the clear blue winter skies across the horizon. In the aftermath of city life, people of the villages also seemed kinder, gentler, more honest. Then like unwelcome guests, a series of unfortunate incidents in the neighbourhood left us all feeling uncomfortable. The picture is still the same but with the soft, diffused light gone, the sharp, jagged edges have become more obvious.
This year, between the end of summer and beginning of winter, our small community witnessed three unnatural deaths. A young man from a neighbouring village was found dead with wounds on his body. An amorous couple’s extra marital sex videos made it to the cell phones of a bunch of village folk. And the following day, which happened to be the festival of Rakshabandhan, ended with the wife consuming poison. This resulted in the husband being sent to jail and three teenaged children left to fend for themselves. Diwali eve brought the most heartbreaking news of all – a young 7-year-old boy, an only child who studied in the same school as our kids, was killed instantaneously in an accident. The motorcycle he was riding on with his parents was thrown over the cliff by a pickup truck driven by three drunk youth from the same district who also did not survive this accident. What are the chances that the one vehicle you come across on these empty, winding roads should be the one that takes your life!
All these events have been shocking for us, but are barely news worthy for a big city. I have struggled to make sense of why these incidents have caused us so much distress. We have lived in various big cities in India and abroad and have heard of all kinds of crime, but why do these incidents seem more jarring? Maybe it is because incidents of violence in the city are treated as accepted, expected parts of life – perhaps because the victims are often unknown individuals or exposure to such incidents is so great that one becomes numb towards them. In addition, one is always on guard and watchful so that one does not become a victim oneself. In a small mountain village like our’s however, the same kind of events shake one up. Maybe because they involve individuals who are known or perhaps because one has lowered one’s defences, lulled by the seemingly idyllic, peaceful nature of life. I don’t think it is the end of our innocence: I still don’t feel threatened in any way. What has ended, though, is the apathy and indifference that one learns to wear in the city. There is also an acute awareness that each crime has many victims – multiple lives are affected, not just one.
Our gentle Kumaoni village is not free of crime or sorrow, but here each victim is mourned and each story is heard countless times.
About the contributor :
An urban migrant, Dr. Vandita Dubey is a resident of the Kumaoni village of Satkhol. A US licensed psychologist, she is the author of the book “Parenting in the age of Sexposure”. She also co-hosts the Himalayan Writing Retreats. You can learn more about her at www.vanditadubey.com and about the writing retreats at www.himalayanwritingretreat.com .
Shared values are surely one of the fastest and strongest makers of bonds between people. Identified and defined by what is not said. The disclosure of a different set of priorities that act like a secret handshake, after which a great deal is silently understood. You can be close to and know a person for your whole life, but still carry the slightest doubt about them. Or meet someone for the first time and know that they’ll never give you cause for distrust. It’s a strange thing, bigger than age or culture or faith or colour, it’s instinctive.
There is an eclectic range of people here in Sitla, city runaways, educated and adventurous that know what they want. Or who more specifically, know exactly what they don’t want and have given up more than most are willing to in realising it. The rewards of which are implicit, so understood that we seldom speak of them. Being here through choice, making it self-evident.
You see it in the villagers, sat silently in the ‘garami-garami’ warmth of the afternoon sun, their gaze lost to the distant peaks. I see it in Kishan, my local home help, as he takes selfies on a crystal clear morning, capturing the distant snows in stark relief behind him. And when I pass him my binoculars and watch him utterly absorbed in his first sight of the intricate details of our giant neighbours.
I was sitting at my favourite viewing spot on the road from Almora one afternoon when an elderly villager stopped to talk to me. ‘Very beautiful’ I say in my terrible Hindi looking out to the faraway mountains and the valley disappearing below us. ‘If you want to see a really beautiful view of the mountains, you should climb that next peak’ he says pointing to the opposite mountain. ‘Amazing 180 degree view of the Himalayas from there, incredibly beautiful’ he tells me passionately.
The love and admiration for this mountainous beauty isn’t diminished by being born here, like the local villagers. It is a constant and lifelong source of delight, sustenance for the soul and that shared appreciation transcends all boundaries and limitations.
But to outsiders; the people of the plains, we must often explain it in detail. The forest, the clean air, touchable horizons, the pinks and oranges across the snows in the dying light. The pace of life and the grace of bells and children’s laughter.
I have lived here in the hills for nearly two years. In that time, I’ve learnt that the common ground the mountains provide, to us that live here, is as much cultural as physical. Drawn from such a range of origins and for such differing reasons, we all consider it a privilege to have arrived.
Our love of the hills, of nature and the peace and tranquility are not just passing interests, but fundamental parts of our being that reach to the core, as values that bind us.
We are many things here, but we are one Tribe.
About Matthew Wheelock :
Matthew left his job as a management consultant in the UK in March 2015 to move to the hills of Kumaon. He is currently writing a book about a recently completed 21,000km solo motorbike trip across Canada. He writes on a range of themes including, nature, travel, identity, belief and time.
Contributor : Navin Pangti. In this piece Navin – an amazingly independent thinker – walks us through his conversation with a bunch of village kids about demonetization. Their observations offer a simple, insightful reality check on demonetisation. Read the Hindi version (scroll down) to lose nothing in translation.
Like every Sunday, last Sunday too we sat with a few village kids. When I mentioned demonetization, everyone opined that demonetization is a good first step but the needs of the poor were ignored. Then I asked what is black money? Can it be made white with Fair and Lovely, or does it take more work? Is the money earned by the daily-wage labourer also black money? Is the earning from Charas (Hashish) black money? They said that the labourer’s earning is not black money because that is earned from hard work even though he does not file a zero tax return, but the earning from Charas is black money. Then I asked – has the Charas earnings in the surrounding villages become waste? They said no. So that means the black money remains. Then I asked – does this mean next year there will be nobody making and selling Charas? They said it will be made and sold. Then my question was did changing the currency notes actually stop the black money? Or will stopping the Charas trade actually stop the black money?
Was the issue the black money, or the businesses generating it? They seemed to agree that the problem was the businesses generating it. Then we talked about what is barter, what is money, what is business and trade, what is currency, where are notes printed and how, how is the value of the rupee determined etc. During our talk we also understood the English words for these terms. We did not talk any politics or discuss Modiji. For three hours we talked. The gathering of kids ranged from classes 8 – 12. They easily understood all the issues at hand, but it is shocking how our civilized and overeducated society seems to have lost the spectacles of its brain. They seem unable to see that plastic money and bank access are privileges of the privileged class.
Why is a tiny subsection of India’s population controlling and foisting its ideas on all of society? The sadly funny thing is that those who deal in black money are the ones looking for so-called freedom from it, and they don’t even realize that the people bearing the brunt of their actions do not have any wealth – leave alone black money. Tell me, tomorrow when you do land and property deals in the city will you not make payments in black money? Will you not pay the extra 2% on the registry fees? If you will not, that is great. But if you will then please wake up to yourself … understand the real issue and think about it … the country changes with you.
About Navin Pangti : Navin is a free-thinker who abandoned the city and now lives on a green hillside above almora. He wears numerous hats which include artisan, farmer, designer, poet, storyteller, entrepreneur and home-schooler. He has also published a collection of his hindi poetry under the title “Dhar kay us paar”.
हर इतवार की तरह आज भी गाँव के कुछ बच्चों के साथ बैठे. मैंने demonetisation का जिक्र किया तो सबका मानना था की demonetisation अच्छी पहल है पर गरीबों का पक्ष नहीं देखा गया. तब मैंने पूछा कि काला धन क्या होता है? क्या वो fair and lovely से सफेद हो सकता है या मसला कुछ और है? क्या जो देहाड़ी में मजदूर कमाते हैं वो काला धन है? क्या चरस से हुई कमाई काला धन है? वो बोले मजदूर ही देहाड़ी काला धन नहीं है क्योंकि वो मेहनत की कमाई है यद्यपि मजदूर zero return नहीं भरता पर चरस की कमाई काला धन है. तो मैंने पूछा – क्या आस पास के गाँव के लोगों की चरस की कमाई बेकार हो गई? वो बोले नहीं. तो मतलब काला धन वहीं रहा. फिर मैंने पूछा – तो क्या अगले बरस चरस नहीं बनेगी और बिकेगी. वो बोले बनेगी. तो फिर काला धन केवल नोट बदलने के कहाँ रुका? वो तो चरस के बनने और बिकने से रुकेगा ना?
मुद्दा काले धन का नहीं काले धंधे का है. उनके बात समझ आ गई. फिर हमने बातें करी की वस्तु विनिमय क्या होता है, रूपया क्या होता है, व्यापार क्या होता है, मुद्रा क्या होती है, नोट क्यों और कैसे छपते हैं, रुपये का मूल्य कैसे तय होता है, इत्यादि… इसी बीच हमनें इन शब्दों की अंग्रेजी शब्दावली भी समझी. हमनें मोदीजी या राजनीति की कोई बात नहीं करी. तीन घंटे यूँहीं यही बातें करते रहे. ये बच्चे कक्षा ६ से १२ के थे. वो सहजता से अधिकाँश बातें समझ गए पर अचरज इस बात का है की हमारा सुशील व सुशिक्षित समाज अपनी बुद्धि का चश्मा कहीं खो चुका है. क्यों उन्हें दिखाई नहीं देता की plastic money और bank access एक privileged class का privilege है.
क्यों हिंदुस्तान कि आबादी का एक छोटा सा हिस्सा पूरे समाज पर कुंडली मार कर अपना हक जमा रहा है. मजे की बात है की जो काले धन में खेलता है वो खुद उससे ‘तथाकथित’ मुक्ति चाहता है पर ये नहीं देख पाता की जो उसकी इस चाह में पिस रहा है वो काला धन तो क्या, धन क्या है ये भी नहीं जान पाया है. एक बात बताओ, कल जब जमीन में पूंजी लगाओगे, surplus income से नया फ्लैट खरीदोगे तो क्या ब्लैक में पेमेंट नहीं करोगे, रजिस्ट्री के दो परसेंट नहीं दोगे? अगर हाँ तो बहुत अच्छी बात है पर अगर नहीं तो कृपया जागो… मुद्दे पर आओ और सोचो… देश बदल रहा है
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.