When I used to live in England, I was hooked to a TV show called Escape to the Country. Since 2002, when it was first broadcast, this iconic show has transported tens of thousands of viewers to a vision of a better life away from the madding noise of the city into a rural idyll.
I have often wondered, as I watch the decline and fall of almost every major Indian city into urban squalor, why more and more affluent Indians do not choose to ‘escape to the country’? This is now happening at a faster clip than perhaps ever before.
Anecdotal evidence suggested to me that almost every friend I met in the last couple of years seemed to have been looking for a home in the wilderness—from the Himalayas to woodsy Sindhudurg and Malvan. As old favourites like Goa, Dehradun, Ooty, and Shimla start to resemble the big cities that the potential buyers have left behind, more hitherto little-known places are being hunted out. I know someone who bought a home in Gopalpur-on-sea in Odisha, another who has been planning to rent long-term as a trial run in a place called Sidhbari near Dharamshala. From giants like Tata Value Homes, whose focus in on properties in places like Lonavala, Kasauli, and Talegaon) to smaller players like Pacific Developers who have been trying to corner the Uttarakhand market.
But this escape to the country isn’t reflected only within home ownership or rentals; it is growing in everyday consumerism too. For instance, I have recently discovered soaps made of donkey milk. They are sold by a brand called Organiko (and comes in variations like only donkey milk; donkey milk, charcoal, and honey; and liquorice, cinnamon oil, and donkey milk). I know several people who swear by it. By the way, if you prefer something else in the same genre, there is a thriving business for products made of camel milk—from camel milk powder, camel milk body butter to camel milk chocolate—and you can check out, for instance, the product line of Rajasthan-based Aadvik Foods.
Then there are bamboo toothbrushes with charcoal extract bristles—I chanced upon these and can attest for the fact that they are the best toothbrushes I have ever used, and they also come with authentic tooth cleaning powder (charcoal-based but with more palatable flavours).
Another big hit is the terracotta cutlery (including an excellently designed cylindrical water carrier) which is shaped like the sports flasks many people use but uses the same concept of the old Indian earthen water pot. This, I found, from a brand called Ellementry.
In milk consumption, what began as a trickle is now a flood of farms-turned-brands selling pure cow milk (from A2 to Binsar Farms, Whyte Farms, Farmery, and many more) to the doorstep of discerning consumers who cannot keep cattle in their urban homes but want the peace of mind that what they are drinking is the unadulterated product and nothing else.
A happy confluence of many trends has resulted in such an outburst of interest. First, in keeping with global trends of a pushback against mindless globalisation, a surge of nationalism has encouraged Indians to revisit unique ideas from their own culture. This includes many cultural habits that they may have once shed as part of the globalising process and are now ready to welcome back into their lives in the name of authenticity. Then, a wealth of startups is packaging and promoting products from yesteryears with fresh ideas and marketing that appeals to consumers who are looking to ‘find themselves’. Finally, tired of excessive chemical use, and urban pollutants, consumers seek products which are ‘natural’ and unpolluted.
Perhaps most importantly, a direct-to-home service via the internet means that both discovery and delivery are easier than ever before.
All this means a whole new range of customers are putting money into products that are made primarily by rural producers. If this trend grows and blossoms, the impact on agrarian incomes could be significant. At the very least, weary Indians could easily choose to escape to the country.
Views are personal.
The author is a historian and a multiple award-winning author.