There used to be a time when big cities were confined to the metros. There were certain parameters that went into classifying them as Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities and henceforth. But what constitutes a town or a city apart from all its infrastructure and municipal limits? It is the people, their dreams, aspirations and hopes.
These are the lines from a famous song, Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen), Baz Luhrmann, that still resonates with me and shares every fact about life that each one of us is going to encounter…
“Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people
You knew when you were young
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard
Live in northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft”
For those who have lived in a big city and a small town will know what it means.
Though born and bred in Delhi for the first few years of my life, I spent some wonderful years in a coal-mining town in Bengal called Asansol. Coming from a big city like Delhi in the ’80s and moving to a small town was a huge change for us as a family. It took some time to settle in, and before we knew it, we fell in love with the quaint town. Life was simple – we made loads of friends, had childhood sweethearts, went to school together, spent the summers swimming and playing on the streets, enjoyed endless picnics, going to the clubs on weekends, attended art classes, told stories during the infamous ‘load-shedding and celebrated Saraswati Puja and Kali Puja at home with cousins who would visit us from the big city of Kolkata. Then we moved to Mumbai, where the world opened its doors with a dose of reality and the rest is history.
I was too little to have any aspirations when we left Asansol, and I think I formed my aspirations when I came to Mumbai that embraced me with hoards of experiences and lessons in life.
I spoke to a few women whom I know hailed from ‘small’ towns of India about what their life was all about and how different it was from mine. Browsing through various chapters of life shared by these ladies, do we realise that almost all our stories are similar and it doesn’t matter where we came from –
Minna Ann Andrews, MA in English, MPhil in English Language Teaching, Kochi, Kerala,
What really constitutes ‘a small town’? All answers to this usually are highly relative. But my place doesn’t even get featured in the debate. I am truly, in all permutations and combinations of comparison, a small-town girl! I grew up in a small town called Palakkad in Kerala, a town that would be equivalent to a small part of Mumbai or Bangalore. I resided there with my parents till I completed my undergraduate degree.
I migrated to Chennai for my Master’s and it was thought that life and perspectives as understood were going to change me drastically. Change it did, but not as dramatically as I thought. There, at the age of twenty, I realised what growing up in a small town had done for me.
Mind you, the college I went to was infested with Malayalees, but it didn’t exactly make things easier. No one knew much about my town. They all knew it was closer to Tamil Nadu and was kind of a warm place to live. I even had my current bestie from Delhi ask then, “Aree yeh jo Palghat kya vakai Kerala mein hain”? (Does Palakkad really exist in Kerala?)
To be truthful, it was expected that the surroundings would weigh me down, but surprisingly it proved the best time for smiling and making friends. Of course, this didn’t happen overnight, but even with difficult people and situations, I saw myself giving them time and space and growing incessantly.
If small places and things teach something, they are patience and harmony. My proclivity for patience surely did surprise me! You have all this love and curiosity towards everything new around that you aren’t hesitant to submerge in those. Not that others were different, but I certainly didn’t expect myself to get so comfortable so easy.
What constituted this patience is something of a mystery. As I look back (and as I have very often told my students in classes), the people who surrounded me as I grew up were quite disinterested in the passage of time. They knew the time had an essence but never thought to hold it captive. They appeared clueless and terribly satisfied. I have had long, blissful mornings and tired, lazy evenings, many a time more than the average metro-dweller. Life as known then had ample time provided you needed it. What ample time does, I think is, liberates you of dissatisfaction. And this feeling of wholesomeness furthers action, contrary to popular beliefs. That is to say that those who belong to small towns know what is lacking in comparison, i.e. exposure, and plunge straight in for more. The difficult, the unexplored and the frightfully new will be embraced with apprehension and appreciation.
The next factor to be analysed is harmony. Small things (other than mindsets) are inherently harmonious since they can fit well. They blend and make space without demanding and this harmony promotes growth. Growth, not essentially in the worldly sense of the word but a collateral phenomenon that brings forth personal satisfaction. Thus we have rare confidence in ourselves in unfamiliar places. Many major crises have been dealt with, in their minuscule form, back at the small-town. This unexpected adaptability is an assurance that in no ways are many ‘small-town’ people small at all. As I would like to call it, we have the experience of inexperience.
Ramdeep Rakhroy, Chartered Accountant, London
Today, I am a working mum of a 10-year-old boy juggling life between work and home – like many other mums. I am financially independent, have my own rules and principles to lead my life on my own terms. That, for me, is the accomplishment we all strive for.
I was raised in a very small town called Kumardubi in Jharkhand, and contrary to the common belief about small-town opportunities, I think I was raised in the best environment – giving me learning opportunities many wouldn’t have, living in a cosmopolitan society, celebrating all festivals with the same enthusiasm. I am grateful to my parents for their love and support and the environment they gave me.
Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of the concept of discrimination against the girl child, which is one of the biggest psychological challenge women in our country face. I knew no reason as to why I could not pursue any opportunity I was interested in and earned the merit for. My parents never worried that they had to get their daughters married off by a certain age – which was a reality for many of my friends. Marriage and child came when I was ready for it – when I was financially independent and individually a more evolved and mature person.
Pallavi Nagar Mehta, MA, MPhil in Economics, B Ed, Mumbai
“Live and let live” and “learn to be sensitive to others feelings” are the beliefs of a small-town girl called Pallavi. Yes, it’s me, Pallavi Nagar. My childhood made me the person who I am today. It enriched me in many ways to meet people from different walks of life, surrounded by good human beings and talented people, especially a family of well-educated and literary people gave me the valuable treasure of Hindi literature and encouraged me to become an avid reader.
My story began in 1971 in a small town Barwani situated in West Nimar district of Madhya Pradesh, where I completed my education in a Hindi medium government school and college and learnt a lot from my teachers. They all have immense knowledge of the subject – right from Mr. Barve in English language, Madam Shrivastava in Hindi language, Mr. Kanhere, Zoology Professor, and who is behind my debate skills, he always gives finishing touch to my debate content.
In 1990, we shifted to Ujjain as my parents (both were professors) got transferred and I continued my education there. My love for the subject of Economics compelled me to become an economics professor, but at that time, there were hardly any vacancies. Meanwhile, my father suggested that I should appear for a pre-B.Ed. Exam, which I cleared with ease, and once again, I scored good marks in B.Ed. and was recruited in a top school as a teacher.
But my mind was dwelling to do something else as I was missing something with the current job profile. After a year I got an opportunity for a PGT teacher in Kendriya Vidhyalaya but my marriage got fixed and I couldn’t join the Kendriya Vidhyalaya. Post marriage I shifted from Ujjain to Mumbai, where a new chapter of life began. Soon I became a mother of two children and devoted all my time and energy to bringing up my kids.
Suddenly one day in 2009, a good friend of mine, Bhavna Trivedi called me whether I would like to teach as was a vacancy for an Economics lecturer had come up in Chinoy College, Andheri. As now my kids had grown up, I was able to spare some time, so I took up the offer. As soon as I completed the first semester, I applied to Thakur College of Science and Commerce in my neighbourhood. Next semester, I started taking lectures in various professional courses like BBI, BMS, BFM and BAF and now M.Com (E-com). Then I wanted to do more and started pursuing my PhD from Mumbai University.
I recall how during my college days, I used to regularly host the Yuva Vaani Program for All India Radio’s Aakaash Vani in Indore. Recently, I visited the Aakashvaani Kendra in Mumbai, where I showed my script to the program executive Mr. Umesh Mehta who really liked my work and now I am at the recording studio and there has been no turning back. At present, I am a visiting faculty, research scholar, a programme host in All India Radio Mumbai, and looking forward to new avenues. On the spiritual side, I firmly believe in yoga and meditation and, as a morning person, always love to absorb morning calmness to enrich me with positive energy.
Debdatta Das, Post-Graduate in Journalism, Head of Content Strategy (Digital), CNBC TV18Noida
There is a popular saying that goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, as far as I am concerned, I happen to actually love lemons and I made a delicious lemon soda out of it.
Life for me wasn’t the easiest ever since I can remember. I was always creatively and not academically inclined during a time when textbook learning was on top priority for every family, but my interests lay in poetry, design and every other thing considered ‘useless’.
Coming from a small town of Bokaro in a state like Jharkhand meant these so-called ‘unacademic’ traits were even more frowned upon than in other places.
However, there is one thing I learnt from my mother, who, as a single parent, brought up my twin brother and me to get what we wanted and that we must fight for it until we achieved it. That’s what I did, and I never gave up or gave in. I never gave in to the pressures of following the ‘trodden path’, never gave up my creative dreams and I never let anyone force me into following a career that I didn’t choose. The other big learning I learnt from my mother was to stand up to all adversity, no matter what its face or nature. This one learning has not only helped me stand strong but also helped me follow through with my beliefs in life.
I chose to be a journalist when most women thought it was a profession too unsafe. I stood my ground and I became one.
Being a woman in a country that detests gender is tough work and in my line of profession, it was doubly difficult since it meant working till late, going to places that were mostly ‘unsafe’ and dealing with many lewd propositions from sources/contacts I was trying hard to crack.
However, standing my ground and fighting for what I really believed in made it easier. Persistence is the name of the game-never give up or give in.
Dr Jyoti Pandey, Assistant Professor (English), SGRR PG College, Dehradun
Life is a bundle of joy and sorrow, full of upheavals and enjoyment. The subject of being a modern Indian woman who realises her dreams and desires has always been an area of concern for everyone. An Indian woman in the twentieth century feels the need to assert her individuality in dire conditions, adapt to situations and finally emerge out victorious in order to establish her identity in society.
I was also chained with the fetters of marriage, patriarchy and other hurdles at one point in time. There was nobody to guide me regarding my profession while I was pursuing my Post Graduation in English where my parents, who could only think of the field of education for a girl who had entered her twenties and was walking into a marital alliance and needed to be economically independent before she could raise a family.
That very moment it became amply clear to me that it was definitely certain that my inner conscience was always inclined towards the discipline of teaching. My prime aim after a PG Degree was to enrol myself for a PhD program in English and become a lecturer in one of the reputed colleges of Dehradun until I realised that I admired teaching as a career option.
However, my fate had something in store for me. My marriage was fixed and before I could think of anything and I relocated to New Delhi, which for me was the most forsaken place, the place which I dreaded and feared to be in. At once, I was to leave my comfort zone, my hometown Dehradun, my parents, siblings and friends and fit into the lifestyle of a different city.
A metropolitan city like New Delhi undoubtedly conferred new opportunities on me for various career prospects. I was pursuing research from HNB Garhwal University, Garhwal in Uttarakhand, it was essential to compile all the matter from various libraries of institutions like Sahitya Kala Academy and JNU. Travelling all the way from Delhi to Srinagar became a Herculean task. My thesis needed regular supervision by my guide, who would call me at regular intervals. Though tedious, I was adamant about submitting my research work within the targeted time. Simultaneously I wanted myself to be economically independent, for which I picked up a job in a Holland-based consulting firm in Delhi as a proofreader. Also, during weekends I opted to learn German from Max Mueller Bhawan.
As soon as I was awarded my PhD degree, I became eligible to apply to various colleges as an Assistant Professor. I was thrilled and my happiness grew by leaps and bounds. Now I was eager to discontinue my current job and take up a profession that was my dream job and would give me immense satisfaction-teaching. However, life took a different climax when I realised I was pregnant. My hopes seemed to be shattered and motherhood was another aspect of my personal life, which would provide me with fulfilment. How was I to draw a balance between my career and personal life? The next day itself, I received the appointment letter from a prestigious college offering me decent pay. I faced horns on a dilemma when I was asked to choose between my coming child and a job, but I was determined to take up a job as soon as possible. My family and friends all advised me to give up the offer and go to my hometown Dehradun.
I knew what to do next. I went to Dehradun but didn’t give up the idea of working. Once again, I began to apply for a faculty in various institutions till I received an appointment in one of them. I joined immediately though my delivery was round the corner. Four lectures and Rs 200 a day was not so promising, but I thought it was serving as experience and learning. Post-delivery, things became even worse, but I still continued my job, which meant silent opposition from my in-laws. Fortunately, there were vacancies in some of the Government colleges in Dehradun and I kept appearing for all till I got selected in one of them.
Today I’m proud of the fact that I belong to the profession I always wanted to be in, not by default but by my own choice. I feel I’m happy to be contributing towards society by disseminating knowledge to students and I still believe in the saying, “A teacher remains a student till the end of their life”. It’s all about evolving and learning in one’s profession and personal life and becoming strong enough to overcome all the obstacles that come one way.
Palak Raval, Master in Fine Arts with Major in Sculpture, Founder of Dot-to-Dot, Mumbai
I still remember the day when I first came to Mumbai from Baroda on 29th June 2007. It was one of the rainiest days of Mumbai when all the trains had stopped and everybody was stranded on the highway and the railway station.
When I got down at Borivali station, an elderly lady gave me a packet of Parle-G biscuits and told me, “Beta rakh lo pata nahi ghar kb ponchoge.” (Keep it child, we don’t know how long it will take to reach home).
And then I saw hoards of people all over the place. I have never seen so many people together in my 25 years of life in Baroda and then I realised that I had taken a huge step when I came to Mumbai.
There were so many people and I did not know anybody; I was emotionally drained out. I waited at the station for nearly five hours until finally, I got on a train to reach the place where my husband used to stay at that time.
The early years in Mumbai were full of surprises – I was amazed to see how people would live in small flats, travelled daily by local trains and how little they knew about their neighbours took some time for me to understand.
I had completed my Masters in Sculpture and I needed studio space for my sculptures. But it was very difficult to find a place so I used to work in small galas (workshops) where Ganpati idol casting is done. During the course of time, I worked for some time at Pidilite, did many small jobs to survive in this city and then I finally got a small place for work on rent and along with my work, I also worked for children’s art workshops.
I always enjoyed working with children as I used to conduct art workshops in Baroda and I wanted to continue it even here. In Mumbai, I got a chance to work with children, and by that time, my mind was clear that I have to do something in this field and continued with workshops for several institutes, including BMC schools as well.
Soon after my daughter Roohi came into my life, it became very difficult to travel all over Mumbai. I was also keen that my daughter should learn these art forms and that’s how I launched Dot-to-Dot.
If you are not from Mumbai, it’s difficult to keep doing what you really want because it requires so much self-motivation as this city will make you struggle a lot until you learn to surrender and start going with the flow. I may not have achieved so much in life, but I am happy about where it is going and after a few years, I have changed my attitude towards this city that it has something good to offer – with so many people around me, I am not alone. This positive approach has given me the strength to survive and gradually, I met many people who think like it and now I feel at home in this big city after ten long years.
Contributor: Tanya Munshi
Writing Mentor & Founder of The Lifestyle Portal.