Leaving the bright city lights

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on September 09, 2020

Savings and opportunity Shruti and Gaurav can now expand Chota Pakoda

Surprise move Non Zero’s Ajaaz Rasheed didn’t think he would return to Kerala

The pandemic has got young entrepreneurs moving to places that are not the usual suspects

This May, 28-year old product designer Ajaaz Rasheed moved from Mumbai, where he worked, to Thrissur, his parental home in Kerala. His idea was that it would be a temporary move to ride out the pandemic. But now Rasheed thinks Thrissur is a good place to work out of on a longer-term basis. He has rented a small apartment in the same building where his parents stay, since he needed a private studio space.

He lists out the advantages of his new work location. “Living in Mumbai, half my resources were being chewed up — be it money or time. Here, I am close to family,” says the newbie entrepreneur who, as luck would have it, had quit his job in January and along with six of his college batchmates launched a design start-up, Non Zero, in February. The friends are spread out in multiple locations (three in Mumbai, one in Delhi and so on) and collaborate remotely. “With client meetings now all on the virtual platform, it’s easy for us to run the company from anywhere,” says Rasheed.

Around the same time that Rasheed was moving out of the megapolis, Shruti Gotarkar and her husband Gaurav Singh, who run pet furniture company Chota Pakoda, also relocated from Mumbai. However, theirs was a rather more drastic move as they decided to transport their enterprise to the tiny Konkan town of Mangaon. Shruti’s family owned a farm land in a village near the town, and the couple has been testing out the waters from this beautiful place.

According to Shruti, they had been mulling the move for a while, but the pandemic hastened their decision as the lockdown affected their business and they could not afford the city rents or labour costs.

The upside of moving to Mangaon, says the IIM-Kozhikode alumnus, is that with the money saved, the couple now has the ability to expand their self-funded business. “We have employed villagers and we save rent on both workshop and home,” she points out.

Death of distance

The pandemic has been throwing a spotlight on stories of people moving away from big cities to smaller towns. Real estate consultancies are rich with anecdotes of how rental enquiries have seen a spike in Tier-II and -III towns as young coders and entrepreneurs who can work from anywhere are moving to more sustainable places.

For both Rasheed’s line of work and the Chota Pakoda founders, location does not really matter. Most of Chota Pakoda’s marketing is through social media platforms, especially Instagram.

Of course, romantic though it sounds, relocation to small places does come with challenges. For Chota Pakoda, while they save on rent and labour, the logistics cost has gone up. “Raw material is to be brought here on a regular basis from Mumbai because it is not available here; even if it is available here (like plywood), it is very costly,” Shruti says. Shipping out the finished products is also not as easy as it would be from metro cities.

Urban disconnect

Also, Shruti says, that their social life is vastly reduced. “We have got disconnected from city facilities like quick home deliveries and non-stop water and electricity supply,” she says ruefully.

“But the nazaara (view) is beautiful,” Shruti says, and adds that they would like to be remembered for doing something different.

Rasheed, too, initially faced Internet connectivity challenges in Thrissur. Also, he candidly admits that having got out of the backwaters and worked in happening places like Antwerp and Mumbai, never would he have imagined he would land back in Kerala. “For the longest time, I wanted to get out of this place,” he exclaims.

But, he is pleasantly surprised at how much he is enjoying Thrissur. “I see the potential in Kerala and am trying to hire people here and also seek opportunities,” he says.

Published on September 09, 2020

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