By Samira Bose
Edited by Namitha Sadanand, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Picture a house of glass and wood, atop a meadow on a hill, with terraced fields overlooking an emerald valley. Imagine freshly picked plums in a basket, and drinking fresh milk as you wave to the cow who just provided it to you in the morning. Add to all this the scent of roasted corn and dirt paths that smell of rain. Imagine solitude, where crickets and magpies make all the noise and the only view in the distance is of swirling mist around layers of mountain tops. It was here that I found respite from the scorching heat and dust of Delhi, and sitting with Dinesh and Rachna Sharma, managed to gain a lot of perspective on lifestyle choices.
The main reason for their shift from the urban landscape of Bengaluru to a village in Solan, Himachal Pradesh was their desire to come back to nature, where the motivation lay in the hills, the trees and the snow. Though Mr. Sharma came from a corporate background, he did not want to be a part of the ‘rat race’, and yearned to return eventually to his home-town. The trigger for this family was definitely their need to give back to the environment in some way, to lead a ‘wholesome’ life and thus planning began a few years ago for this thorough shift in lifestyle.
Their house is built on a strong foundation of principles, all of which come under the umbrella of ‘living off the land’. The wood and stone used for the house was locally produced, and the workforce was from the region as well. Mrs. Sharma aptly pointed out that since there was such a widespread use of wood in the house, they ensured that they planted at least a thousand trees in the area to try and compensate for the resources they used. They strive for a communion with nature, and aim to maintain a balance with their surroundings. They engage in organic farming on their land and mostly consume what they produce; self-sustenance appears to be their goal. They try to live ‘simply’ which extends to the food they eat and the clothes that they wear. From segregation of their waste, to minimal usage of water and solar heating, all their activities reflect a conscientiousness for the environment.
Their engagement with the villagers of Top-ki-ber stood out for me particularly. Apart from employing them, Mrs. Sharma provides them with free education and they aim to set up a proper school in the area. They participate in village activities like the Panchayat and local fairs and functions. The question that intrigued me was how they managed to strike a balance between imposition and interaction, and they then explained to me their ‘logic in intervention.’ It appears that there had been serious incidences of opposition by the villagers regarding the construction of a road, in which their representative was beaten up. Although, technically, the land belonged to the Sharma family, they ensured that they proceeded only with the permission of the villagers. They want ‘inclusiveness’ in their interactions. Culturally, they do not wish to ‘bulldoze’ any belief systems, and tend to be mute spectators who voice their opinions rather than make imposing, seemingly superior claims.
They did not sensationalize their lifestyle, in fact pragmatically pointed out that compromises had to be made in some ways (as Mrs. Sharma guiltily offered us Maggi), and emphasized that they had reached only 25% of their aim. They expressed their wish to open their home not only to travelers but to all those seeking some ‘quiet respite’. Though there are difficulties in the isolation of this chosen lifestyle, they firmly stand by their decision. They mentioned how most of the villagers dream to go out of the region, when that of Mr. Sharma was to return.
The highlight for me in this interaction was the choice exercised. There can be a lot of criticism regarding a person being able to afford such a lifestyle, but the point is how many would actually choose to live this way? The ardent desire to give back to nature and the quest for balance are difficult alternatives to the luxurious advantages of metropolitan cities. I believe it is remarkable to be constantly aware of one’s actions and interactions with one’s surroundings. It is also challenging to establish a difference between literally stripping the land and living off the land.
As my friends and I sat on precariously perched benches at night and viewed, in a dream-like state, the lights in the valley and the lightning, the toasty interiors of the house beckoned to us and I felt inside a warmth about the realization that we can indeed strive for balance and attempt to give back what we take, as well as indulge in the romance of it all.
Samira Bose is a student of History and Mystery. She questions incessantly, revels in the rain and listens to the breeze. She yearns for clarity but at the same time seeks confusion and she wants her life to be analogous to the sea. She wants to become many people and wishes to be overwhelmed by experience. Most importantly, she hopes to become a story-teller. Tell her your thoughts and stories at [email protected]