SUJIT SUMITRAN has spent most of his 54 years living and working in metropolitan cities—Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai. A leadership coach, he works with large corporations such as Amdocs India, Asian Paints, Birla Sun Life AMC and Samsung India (to name a few). A year ago, the entrepreneur left the urban rush behind to settle in Goa with his family. He says he opted for “a life that we could live on our terms”. Now Sumitran travels seven days a month to different cities for work, while at home in Goa, he cultivates his passion for cooking by spending hours every week learning to bake sourdough bread in his wood-fired oven while his wife practises organic farming in the backyard. “We’re doing things we couldn’t have dreamt of had we still clung on to city-life,” he says. Sumitran is the latest in a long line of city professionals who, fed up with the grind and cacophony of all things urban, have decided to shift base to smaller towns (particularly Goa and Pondicherry) and travel back and forth as and when their work requires. “There are too many people now looking for an alternative life and heading to Goa. As a result, every third person you meet there is from Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru,” shares lifestyle magazine editor Prachi Bhuchar, who moved to Assagao in Goa in 2013. Missing the intellectual stimulation and the constant buzz of a city (plus work commitments), she was back in Delhi a year-and-a-half later. “When we lived in Goa, I would visit my office in the capital for a week every month. It would be packed with meetings and every day was meticulously planned,” she recalls.
More and more people, especially the creatively inclined, are getting attracted to the bohemian vibe offered by popular beach destinations like Pondicherry and Goa. In Chennai, many families, especially expats, have moved out of the city to live by the beach on the ECR, citing clean air and a relaxed lifestyle as their incentive. Goa-based designer Wendell Rodricks attributes this love for the beach life to a number of factors ailing Indian cities today. “Cities are becoming a traffic nightmare to live in. Add a social life post working hours, a gym routine and business meals, and there is no free time for oneself,” he explains.
Life is a beach
Pondicherry-based product designer, and founder of the edgy jewellery label Manifest Designs, Manreet Deol (40) enjoys the tranquillity and the
slower pace that the French town has to offer as opposed to her experiences in Indian cities and the eight years she spent living in New York. Having launched her own company three years back, Deol explains that though she has to make frequent city trips for production, sales and to occasionally attend events, living in Pondicherry has provided her with a lot of “mental freedom,” pertinent to someone in a creative field like hers. Popular Israeli photographer, Sephi Bergerson, whose projects include the coffee table book, Behind The Indian Veil, which chronicles his journey through Indian wedding traditions, lists the differences between Delhi (where he shifted with his wife and daughter in 2002) and Goa, his base for more than five years now. ‘‘I moved away because Delhi became too polluted, too crowded, too materialistic, too expensive,” begins the documentary photographer, adding that Goa comes “at a fraction of the price (compared to Delhi) with a much higher standard of living”. However, for someone like Samir Sarkar, executive producer at Magic Hour productions, which has produced TV commercials for brands like Volkswagen Jetta and Johnson & Johnson, the reason for moving back to Pondicherry is different. He wanted his children to get an education outside of a city because he feels kids “should grow up in a more open, easy environment. They don’t deserve to see this whole mess that is a big city.” Sarkar, 42, shuttles between Singapore, Mumbai and his base in Pondicherry, and he feels that apart from the low-stress levels and a calm environment, small towns also offer a sense of objectivity. “Whenever I go to Mumbai, I am lost in trying to achieve something, trying to be this and trying to be that and insecure all the time. The moment you get out of Mumbai, things change because you have an objectivity towards life,” he shares.
Worth the sacrifice
The relaxed pace of these former French and Portuguese colonies has its downside–—the siesta is a reality and everything shuts down during those few hours, stores close early and home delivery is a relatively new concept. As Sumitran says, “There is a price to pay for all decisions; nothing comes free. You cannot take tourist traffic out of the equation either.” But he adds that these are small trade-offs for a better life with the “energy of Goa, the clean air and the mostly free roads”. Other issues that many cite are frequent power cuts and unreliable wifi and phone networks. “The infrastructure is poor in Goa, with only BSNL as an internet provider. I had to wait three months before I got a landline and an internet connection. Also, getting domestic help is a problem, as is retaining them during season (October to January),” says Bhuchar.
Auroville, near Pondicherry, also sees many creative professionals doing the balancing act with city clients and meetings. Samvit Blass, a product designer and founder of LiGHT FiSH, relocated to Auroville after stints in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mumbai. With clients across the country and abroad, he says life away from an urban setup involves being up close to nature. “It can be very frightening sometimes for city slickers, the encounters with snakes or geckos.” On the upside, Blass agrees with the others when he says they have more uninterrupted get-togethers with friends dropping over for the weekend. ‘‘I now have time for a swim, yoga, archery, boxing and surfing. The food is healthier, stress levels a lot lesser and how much you earn is not as important.’’ Touching upon the economic ramifications of such a move, Sarkar elaborates that one has to let go of high ambitions and the obsession with money and success. “Making Pondy your base is a very personal decision, but you need to factor your financial position and support system. It is a great relaxed environment for kids,” he concludes.
What really matters
To someone contemplating a move to cities like Pondy or Goa, Sumitran has a word of advice. ‘‘Get a source of revenue that isn’t tied to location and you can have your ‘bread’ and eat it too.’’ Sarkar observes that external appearances matter more in a city. “Because there are a lot more people judging you than in a small town,” he confides, adding that his shorts and T-shirt ‘uniform’ is reluctantly replaced by city gear for meetings. ‘‘Fortunately, when you live outside the city, your meetings are streamlined and you decide on who you really want to meet. In the city, you are in the whirlpool and you are sucked in by everything that is happening around you.’’
On his terms
Living in Assagao, ‘‘the greenest part of Goa’’ for over seven years, Rohit Chawla heads to Delhi on Monday and is back home by Thursday. ‘‘I live 10 minutes from the airport in Delhi,’’ says Open magazine’s consultant creative director. Much of his work is handled via calls and email, and he ensures his ad campaigns and films are made in Goa. ‘‘Big cities are becoming unliveable. At 50, I realised I wanted to give only 10 days of my life to anyone, every month. It helps that my wife and I don’t have kids and can avoid the worry of finding a good school in Goa. We have dogs instead.’’ Another perk of living the Goa life? ‘‘Friends drop by more often and I get more time with them here than if I had to meet them in Delhi.’’
By Simar Bhasin