Are we seeing early signs of reverse migration in India?

Living in a metropolis can be exciting but there are downsides

By Surendra Panwar
Published: Thursday 14 October 2021

Reverse migration may not reflect in any official data or in any specific study, but is casually lurking around in most post Covid-19 pandemic conversations and in thousands of YouTube videos, and in more profound and defined ways than ever before. 

Are our dear netizens living in metropolitan cities really cloyed with the idea of living with collective narcissism? Are our cities are hurtling towards doom in the backdrop of colossal damage to mental peace and burgeoning sustenance needs that demand huge monetary resources? 

Or are some of us already toying with the idea of minimalism? These conversations were doing the rounds even before the current pandemic devastated our lives.  

Many of my friends now find it extremely difficult to adapt to every new demand or challenge that life in big cities throws up every now and then. 

It is no longer spending more hours in front of blue screens, workplace pressures or dealing with the complex web of uncertainties like the current pandemic but a strange void that is gradually swallowing the space we enjoy living in and posing new mental and physical health problems.  

The drive to live in a city dips a thousand times every day when one is stuck in traffic and breathes toxic air, among other things. 

As an urbanite, I enjoy many things about living in the city, such as walking to quaint, local coffee shops and restaurants, attending cultural events and meeting people from diverse backgrounds.

But even though living in a metropolis can be exciting, there are some downsides. Heavy traffic, for instance, makes it challenging for me to socialise with my suburban friends.

Additional frustrations include crowded public transportation, noise pollution and overpriced food at restaurants. 

But more than these externalised challenges, it is the inner mess that is forcing many to either go back to their rural roots or find solace in places, away from the claustrophobic confines of cities where inner peace matters most. 

An acquaintance of mine who was working with a reputed construction company as a civil engineer in Mumbai went back to his village in Sonipat, Haryana to finally settle down as a farmer two years ago. 

The 35-year-old doesn’t regret the decision he made as soon as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) devastated the city. He said: 

With or without COVID-19, living in a metropolitan city is increasingly becoming impossible for those longing for an alternative lifestyle. Constant stimulation from city living can take a big toll on your mental health. While living in a metropolis has its perks, its hazards are unmistakably more consuming.  

Jahnavi (name changed), a former content writer in an advertising agency in Delhi, made a small village in Himachal Pradesh her permanent residence four years ago.

She feels this never-ending desire to climb the corporate ladder propelled her body into a stressful state, known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. “That made me more vulnerable to mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use,” she said. 

Hundreds of eco homes have sprung up in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh since the pandemic, she said.

A recent spurt in collective spiritual awakening through social media platforms also led to people experimenting with their lifestyles.

Another friend, who worked with the World Bank for nearly a decade, went to Rishikesh, a city he was born in, to study non-dualism. 

His take on life is divergent. “Is life all about being born into a good family, getting a good education, having a big house, earning millions of rupees and getting married?” he said. 

Life in the city can give you everything except peace, according to him. His reasons for leaving city life may not appeal to many but he certainly has an argument, irrefutable in these trying times. 

There are many friends who believe that city life can also chip away at one’s psychological immune system, which can be precarious for those with a family history of mental illness. 

They felt this environmental stress which increased their risk of developing a psychiatric condition, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

I interviewed many young professionals who lost their jobs during the pandemic. For them, urban life may lead to emotional distress, shame and stigma, and stop them from talking about their struggles. 

This may explain why they feel lonelier than older generations. Young adults, especially millennials, often feel burnt out — a stressful state of mental and physical exhaustion that can squeeze the joy out of life. 

A majority of them are now exploring the options of settling down in their native place with their parents and starting something of their own given the current uncertainties. 

Who can forget the plight of migrant labourers who were forced to leave cities ravaged by the pandemic? Many of them pledged never to return, not because they suffered and lost their jobs but because they lost faith in the cities built. 

For many of them, living in a village with dignity is a safer option than leading an isolated life. 

Many like me have observed that despite definite charms of living in cities that never sleep, this illusive race for inner peace is getting intensified.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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