I’m a big city girl- Boston, New York,Toronto, Singapore, Manila, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Colombo have been my play pens, as a toddler through to adulthood.
A week ago, I moved to a small town, Aurangabad. By choice. A lot of heads shook and eyebrows went up. Why on earth was I doing this? they asked. Less politely, had I lost it? Moving out of a metropolis, it seemed, had no conceivable rationale; i couldn’t be in the right mind to choose to do it.
By most accounts, I was living the good life. I had a great job, it paid me well enough to go on European vacations, eat at fabulous restaurants, and generally not worry about money. I lived in a happening city like Mumbai.
The thing is, I did have a good life. I know that. It was a life that, among other things, afforded me access to people and places and ideas, and they got me thinking.
Amidst the India growth story, Small Town India is at a unique point in history, about to shed its skin and transform. Over many months, and frequent visits to such places, I observed how life is changing, irreversibly, across neighborhoods and communities. When I visited my hometown, Ambajogai, last year, after 14 years, I saw that the local old-stone, open-air temple to Lord Hanuman had been demolished and, in its place, a concrete block was put up. The monkey-god sat locked up behind bars, presumably so nobody could steal his jewellery. I was distraught. On another occasion, a visit to Aurangabad has crossed my path with 3 young guys, sitting in an air-conditioned cafe instead of a roadside tea stall, drinking what i can only describe as “cutting-cappuccino” (the concept of cutting chai at a tea stall is to share one small glass of tea, usually to save on money). For the cost of that one cup, they could all have had their own tea cups. But there they were, slurping frothy cappuccino from a saucer while another one held the big coffee cup with two fingers like he would a tea glass. They looked eager to upgrade a social image; i found the picture a bit jarring.
Things are happening. In the rush to participate in the growth story, lifestyles, values and cultures are getting fundamentally reshaped. Behavior change is happening on a massive scale, rapidly, and I find this fascinating because behavior is notoriously difficult to change. Here, however, it feels like fundamental habits are being shed in a hurry. Small towns, like Aurangabad, are on the cusp of becoming cities, like teenagers chafing to prove themselves as adults.
I think there are stories to tell at this specific moment in small town India’s life. I want to discover these stories, and tell them. This feels worth it to step out of the big city circus for a little while and pay a visit to the small town mela (fair).