On our way back from a beautiful village on the Konkan coast, me and my wife got talking about why Indians are abandoning the vast countryside and moving to ever so cramped and inhospitable cities. We have long toyed with the idea of moving out of the city but never have actually done much in the matter. So we decided to list the things in the city that mattered to us. We rated them on a scale of 1 to 10 and found that only a few made it over 5. Basic amenities like electricity and water got a 10 on 10, while business amenities like banking, transportation and Internet connectivity got an 8. Schools, hospitals and security got 7. Social life and recreation facilities got a 6. Surprisingly the hotels, restaurants, multiplexes and shopping malls that take up so much of our attention in the city barely made it on our charts.
We concluded that if all things that scored 5 and above on the scale were taken care of, we could easily move out of the city. So we started discussing if there were such places that could get us these 5+ features and were not parts of Mumbai or Pune. We pulled out maps of Maharashtra and considered many towns. Not one made the cut as all towns failed on electricity. We thought that maybe we can get around the electricity problems by putting up our own generators.
But then what about water; many towns in Maharashtra get water supply once a week and we are used to water 24×7. This was a big hurdle to cross. We thought maybe we could get out of even the small towns and consider villages where we could use water harvesting techniques and create our own water supply. Although this fits into an unreal and romantic notion of village life and seems too optimistic an idea, we presumed that we could make it work and moved on. But then came education and medical care. Statistics show that most villages in India do not have adequate schools or access to hospitals. Next came business needs like banking, the Internet and availability of skilled personnel. Again most small towns were out of the running.
We run our own tech business that has minimal dependence on a city. So fortunately we aren’t dependent on job opportunities that the city provides. If we can convince those who work with us to get out of the city or to work remotely, we should still be fine. However employment opportunities would be an important consideration for most people. There are hardly any skilled job opportunities outside the big cities. This is because no entrepreneur wants to start a new venture away from the big cities as he would never get the human resources to run his business. Safety was another factor that made us drop many places as they were too caste and religion sensitive. Considering how common, rioting and vandalization is in India, safety can become a major concern if you live out of a city. You aren’t really safe in a city but the millions around you do give you a false sense of safety in numbers. Based on all factors, we concluded that as of now we are not in a position to leave the city.
I am sure there would be many others like us who would jump at a chance to get out of the city if they were given a real choice. The primary problems are electricity and water. Even if these get sorted out, we should immediately see a drop in migrations to the big cities. In an earlier piece I had written about ‘Maharashtra’s Power Policy Of Divide & Rule‘. I had talked of how cutting power in Mumbai and Pune and ensuring 24×7 power to rest of Maharashtra will not only stop people from rushing to the cities but also lead to a faster resolution of the power crisis.
I am a big admirer of the benefits of competition. The small towns of India need to be equipped to compete with the big cities. Pollution vs Clean Air, Cramped Existence vs Ample Space, Traffic Chaos vs Minimal Traffic and so on. Today only about 8 cities compete for the attention of the entire nation. Any well educated youngster has to pick from these cities. Would India become a better place if this number went up to 100? Would India become a better place if you could realistically be able to run an IT business from even a remote village in India?
Due to the crazy real estate prices in the big cities it won’t even take much persuasion to get people to dump the big cities and instead opt to settle in their dream home in a small town. On the business front, considering the connected nature of the world today, location is no longer as important as it might have been a decade back. If Indian IT firms can run US businesses from India, they surely can run their own business without being in a big city.
Initiating reverse migration and a transformation of small town India is not really that difficult. However for it to work, the focus has to shift from the big cities to building the smaller towns and villages. India today is like a family that owns a palatial bungalow but still opts to struggle for survival in a 100 sq. feet shack. The author can be reached at HarshadOak.com.