The pandemic might have forced us all to take it slow but some had gotten off the grid even earlier. As many of us realise that an alternate way is possible, can slow living survive beyond the present times, and how exactly can we make it a norm?
By Reya Mehrotra
Two years ago, radio storyteller, author, scriptwriter and lyricist Neelesh Misra started his YouTube show The Slow Interview for which he interviews celebrities focusing on their background and growing-up years. Produced by Gaon Connection, a rural media platform of which Misra is co-founder and editor, the show follows an unhurried format, wherein he chats with interviewees in a relaxed setting. The idea is to take it slow. “I saw this angst over the past decade in everything I did, the angst to go back to slow content, the yearning for a connect with roots, hunger for nostalgia, for local dialects, for local pride,” says Misra, who in October last year launched a full-fledged Slow Movement, an effort to go back to the basics by slowing down the way we live.
Little did Misra know then that what he had started as a niche movement would soon become a way of life, as the pandemic-induced social isolation has made slow living a necessity today. The year 2020, in fact, could very well be named the ‘Slow Year’. “We are being told that we were so prophetic that the entire world is now following the slow movement,” laughs Misra. “This life-changing experience is definitely making a lot of people re-evaluate their life choices and priorities. Should they be living in big cities at all? If they can work from home, can’t they work from their hometown? Their village? Can they get healthier food, and not just as a fad? What are they watching and listening on TV and radio? Can they shift to more unhurried and earnest content? The world is moving too fast, our lives are on a roller coaster and when this giant machine suddenly creaked to a halt, people began asking: is the ride worth it?” he adds.
For Misra, slow living isn’t restricted to his show or movement. It’s something that he has assimilated in his daily life. He lives in a village an hour-and-a-half from Lucknow, travelling to the city only if completely unavoidable and just for a few days. “I have built a house here on what was a barren piece of land owned by my father… my home is called Slow. The name is what led to The Slow Interview series—which is shot here—and eventually to the Slow Movement,” says Misra, adding, “I follow slow living… there are cows here, so I don’t drink milk laced with chemicals. There are all kinds of vegetables that are totally organic with no chemicals. There are goats and rabbits and other wildlife. Peacocks come here often, dancing or wooing each other. Mornings mean beautiful chirping of birds. Sunsets are beautiful. I have decent speed of internet and a very comfortable life. What else could I want? And this is not just about me. A lot of people, if they overcome their mental hurdles and doubts, can go back to a slower lifestyle whether they choose to continue living in metros or go back to the small towns and villages where they came from.”
Misra’s words are finding currency today, as many people, cooped up indoors for an extended period of time, have started to look inwards, questioning their life choices. Mumbai-based holistic lifestyle coach Luke Coutinho, in fact, often comes across clients who want to adopt a slower approach to life. “Clients who adopt a slower approach and follow the pace and patience of nature fare better and have better outcomes as compared to those who want quick-fixes and expect overnight results,” says Coutinho, who defines slow living as living a life aligned to nature. “We do not believe in fad dieting, fad yoga or even fad meditation programmes. Every aspect of life and health takes time. Nature takes time to show results, so it’s important to develop that patience. We try as much as we can to align our clients’ lifestyle and living with nature. We encourage the time that they eat, sleep, wake up, etc, be as close to the natural circadian rhythm as possible. We encourage them to include tools like mindfulness, patience, gratitude, prayers, breathing, slow eating, enjoying time in nature, silence, stillness and reflection in their daily living because that teaches them to slow down, take a step back and really enjoy the present moment. We encourage clients to maintain a good work-life balance, value their day-offs and embrace Sundays because these are necessary aspects of life. Being busy all the time is no more a status symbol,” he says.
Times like these are proof that nature, too, wants us to slow down and forsake the fast-paced lives we are accustomed to, Coutinho says. “Humans and nature are meant to co-exist and not compete with each other. Sickness, nature’s fury, natural calamities and global health crises are all ways through which nature automatically slows us down. And it has slowed us down today… we are taking one day at a time, appreciating things around us, being grateful to be safe at home and with family. There are ample lessons and takeaways from this time,” he says.
Not just life, the slow approach has permeated art too. The Ludwig Museum–Museum of Contemporary Art in Budapest is currently displaying a five-month exhibition on Slow Life: Radical Practices of the Everyday. Ongoing till August 23, the exhibition highlights the exploitative practices that have led to environmental, economic and social problems. It provides a broader platform for artistic positions, which emphasise sustainability and offer alternative lifestyles. There are also events, knowledge-sharing workshops and discussions by field experts that visitors can attend.
The good life
Realising the increasing popularity of slow living, brands, too, are cashing in on the trend, offering consumers a slow slice of life. For some, slow living was in even before the pandemic. Take, for instance, clothing brand Buna. Established in 2017, the Delhi-based brand endorses slow living and ethical fashion. Their production process is slow too. “The textiles we use are made by hand on traditional wooden pit looms in villages by traditional artisans. These textiles are then painstakingly handprinted with traditional wooden block printing. It is a slow process in which, first, the motifs are designed in-house, the designs are handcarved on mango or teakwood and after achieving the right colour mixing, the wooden blocks are used to print on the textiles. The ready textiles are then manually cut and made into garments with numerous little hand details such as kantha, hand embroidery, hand smocking, pleating, trims, etc,” says founder Pallavi Shantam. “We follow a made-to-order production model and do not take house inventory to minimise wastage and promote conscious consumption. And so we have a longer delivery timeline.”
The sustainable brand also upcycles the waste produced. “We recycle and upcycle to minimise wastage. Our fabric waste is upcycled back into a new handwoven fabric. Our packaging, too, is handmade and we use seed tags made from fabric waste, which can be planted in a pot. Whatever we purchase leaves a trail behind, be it plastic, carbon, chemicals or water wastage. At Buna, we use natural materials and leave the least possible carbon footprint,” she says.
Talking about the birth of the brand, Shantam says, “After running a design consultancy firm called People of Yellow for 14 years, the urge to initiate a new chapter in my life—and travels through the craft hubs of Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal—brought inspiration for the birth of Buna. We launched our first collection Journey Home with handwoven textiles.”
Not just brands, many books, too, are being written on the subject. Environmental activist, physicist and author Vandana Shiva, for one, is currently co-authoring a book on slow living. “I was invited to write it by Roli Books as a DIY book. I connected my ideas that I have evolved over the last five decades of ecological activism and are in 20 of the books I have written. We cover all aspects of life—what we wear, eat and drink, our economy and democracy and how we can impact big issues of our time like climate change through our actions in our daily lives,” says Delhi-based Shiva, who is the director at Navdanya, a non-governmental organisation, which promotes biodiversity conservation, organic farming, farmer rights, etc.
Misra’s slow living initiative, too, has grown by leaps and bounds. The storyteller today is the founder and stakeholder of a number of ventures that aim at slow living through The Slow Network, a holding company, which has subsidiaries like Gaon Connection, Slow Insights, a survey/insights platform, Slow Foods and Merchandise, which provides pure and healthy products while also helping farmers, Slow Content, which includes audio storytelling by Misra, Slow Experiences, which offers slow homestays and cafés, etc.
A new culture
The origin of the slow revolution dates back to the 1980s when protests in Rome against fast food restaurants drew attention to healthy and quality food sourced locally. Shiva explains slow living as ‘living with consciousness’ of the impact you have on earth and others in the world. “It is deep awareness of what is meaningful to you, what brings you joy and happiness. We are part of nature and society. Responsibility for other beings is the foundation of slow living. In our civilisation, we call it dharma,” she says, adding, “I hope a new culture emerges from this health crisis, so that post-Covid, individually and collectively, we tread more lightly and seek true wealth, which is well-being.”
Shiva has also been instrumental in starting Navdanya’s Fibres of Freedom movement. “We have started it to stop farmer suicides in Vidharba… the movement is for biodiversity, organic farming, etc. Fast living is driving climate change and extinction of species… it is also destroying farmers… It has unleashed violence against earth. Through slow living, we can practice non-violence, make peace with earth and ourselves,” she says.
Agrees Misra: “The slow movement takes you back to the basics, a more unhurried, rooted life in terms of what we eat, watch, listen, read, in the experiences we want. It’s about seeking the invisibles, the small joys and the everyday beautiful experiences,” he says.
Taking inspiration from Misra, poet, author and motivational speaker Kumar Vishwas, too, took to slow living recently and now inspires his listeners to do so as well. “It is important to draw a line between aspirations and greed to achieve slow living. I have received great feedback from my listeners who changed their lifestyles after listening to my programmes,” he says.
Vishwas believes that the concept might be new for the world, but in India, a peaceful living style has been followed since ages. “Dhairya (patience) and santosh (satisfaction) have been two vital elements of Indian teachings and these are the major underlying elements of slow living. India has seen everything from moderate slow living to extreme slow living in its thousands of years of being. It’s a term connected well to Indian roots,” he says.
How to go slow
Do things at the right speed, neither too slow nor too fast
Appreciate nature and connect with it; walk around green landscapes
Meditate and practice rejuvenating workouts
Indulge in your interests
Eat local ingredients and organic produce; if possible, grow your own food
Connect with people; spend time with loved ones
Pay attention to the small things in life
Enjoy the silence and sounds (chirping birds, blowing wind) of nature
Slow down your music, the volume and type of songs
Do only what you love; embrace boredom
* Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary
* Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner
* Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead To So Much More by Courtney Carver
* The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More by Annie Raser Rowland
* In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore
* New Slow City: Living Simply in the World’s Fastest City by William Powers
* The Joy of Missing Out: Live More By Doing Less by Tonya Dalton
* Slow Living by Wendy Parkins