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The Road Less Traveled

May 2008
The Road Less Traveled

By Sindya Bhanoo

Picture a farmer in the U.S. and chances are an Indian like Ravi Jambulapati is not the first image that comes to mind. Indeed, Jambulapati is the only non-white farmer in all of Grady County, South Georgia. What is more intriguing is that it was a matter of choice and not circumstance that led this convention-defying Indian immigrant to the deep South —after he had lived in Boston, Massachusetts, for 18 years.

After dropping out of the prestigious MIT, where he was pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Jambulapati had a successful career as a mechanical engineer for Digital Equipment Corporation. Yet, he hated city life and fantasized about living in the country. So much so that he quit his job with the goal of doing his “own thing” somewhere in the peaceful setting of a small town. At first he considered starting a pencil factory, having started one in India that is now run by his brother. However, he soon found out that the capital needed for such an enterprise was beyond his means at the time. Not one to let his dream be derailed, Jambulapati then thought of falling back on his family occupation — farming. He scouted Florida and Georgia for land, and eventually settled for a 500-acre track in Georgia.

Is Jambulapati an exception among Indian immigrants in the U.S.? How many of them have made a home in the American countryside? The U.S. Census Bureau pegs the Indian population in the country at about 2 million. The Census data also provides a breakdown of Indian population in major metropolitan areas throughout the nation. Adding these numbers leaves about 10% to 12% of the Indian population in America unaccounted for – which can be inferred as roughly the number of Indian immigrants in rural America. Not surprisingly, the number is small, indeed. After all, it is the urban hotspots that have not only abundant opportunities, but also large Indian social networks as well as an ample supply of products and services that cater to the unique cultural and consumer needs of Indians.

So what does drive Indians into remote hinterlands, leaving behind the resource-rich and familiar urban centers? Unlike Jambulapati, many who have gone this less-traveled road have done so for work reasons than from a conscious desire to live in rural America. Many Indian professionals like engineers have been drawn in by rural engineering projects and companies. Similarly, a small but perceptible number of Indian physicians have landed up in remote areas officially termed Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) or Medically Underserved Areas (MUA) in order to make use of a unique waiver provision in the J-1 visa program. The J-1 visa, which allows foreign medical graduates to pursue graduate training in the U.S., waives the customary two-year home residency requirement for physicians who opt to practice in such underserved areas. Dr. Vinod Shah of Shah Associates, the largest private specialty practice in southern Maryland (see sidebar, “Over 20 doctors in the family serving one rural community”) has sponsored as many as 10 doctors under this waiver program in his practice.

Rural Indian moteliers: An American phenomenon

While Indian farmers are not most readily pictured in the context of rural America, Indian moteliers are. They are famous for “going wherever the business takes them.” And it has taken many of them to the remotest corners of this vast land. According to the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), Indians own more than 50 percent of all economy lodges in the U.S. So whether you stop over at a motel in Norcross, Georgia, or in Ada, Oklahoma, chances are more than good that you will encounter an Indian at the front desk.

According to Chandrakant (“CK”) I. Patel, Treasurer and Director-at-Large at AAHOA, Indians, the vast majority of whom are Gujarati Patels, move to small towns to open motels because “that’s the way to get started in the business.” He explains how the motel business works and why rural America is such a big part of it. “Usually, a family takes on a small, entry-level independent motel in a small town because it offers even those with limited means a chance to break into the business. The whole family works, and then after making some money, they migrate to a place where there’s a larger Indian population,” he says.

When Patel bought his first motel in 1982 in Commerce, Georgia, he was young and determined to make money. He got married and brought his wife and parents to the motel. They worked together, living in the small apartment that was part of the motel. Eventually, his sister’s and brother’s children moved in with them, adding to a family that included his own children. Although his business ventures have expanded far beyond the little town in Georgia, Patel has kept his first motel in Commerce because of the memories it evokes. “In all, we raised eight kids there. All of us lived in the 800-square-foot apartment and we were using some of the hotel rooms at night if we needed to.”

Many of the Indian moteliers, hailing from rural Gujarat, are used to the rigors of country living and are highly adaptable. Yet, observes Helen Zaver, a Hospitality Specialist with Marcus & Millichap and a Director-at-Large at AAHOA, life in a small town in India still means that your neighbors and friends are a part of your daily life. Here, she feels, small towns may mean loneliness and a disconnection with your Indian side. Not surprisingly, quite often the Patel-motel syndrome in small-town America is a transitional proposition. Zaver believes that their move to a rural area is likely a “business decision” rather than a lifestyle choice.

Not everyone agrees that Patels often sacrifice their lifestyle for the sake of money. Bharat Patel, who owns and operates an America’s Best Value Inn in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, moved to the countryside from Toronto, Canada. He has now lived in this town of 2,500 for 12 years and has raised two children here. He says with typical Patel wisdom, “No one likes to sacrifice their lifestyle. But for a good life, some struggle is needed. When you first come to a small town from a big city, you may not like it for six months. But when things fall in place, the business gets settled and when you have a peaceful life without any nuisance, you start enjoying life. And then it gets better when you go to town and everyone from the banker to the police officer greets you personally with a ‘Hello, Mr. Patel’.”

Explaining how they enjoy the best of both worlds, Bharat Patel observes that Indian children in big cities often gravitate toward other Indians, while those in rural America get a better exposure to both American and Indian values. What about the feeling of being cut off from the Indian community while living in remote areas? He is emphatic that Indians like him enjoy everything Indian that city people do. He explains, “Today, even in rural America, you will likely find a dozen Indian families in a radius of 60 miles. We may be in touch with only a few Indians, but they often become like family. Daily tea gatherings to several programs and events throughout the year are the norm in the desi motel community.” “You may ask, ‘What about your favorite Gujarati vegetables like tindola and ringla?’ Well, that too is just a matter of a phone call, and they are overnighted to us from Florida.” He credits Indian satellite TV as a major factor providing the Indian connection in the life of rural desi moteliers. “Indian channels are a blessing! They are a big reason why even new people in rural areas adjust. In the middle of nowhere they get news from India and many times from their own towns. They get to watch the movies they like and enjoy cricket. This takes away from the feeling of being cut off or bored or lonely.”

Assimilation in the American hinterland

In cosmopolitan urban areas, immigrants with various cultures and background are often an integral part of the landscape. While the American countryside is also slowly changing to go the route of urban diversity, it is yet vastly insular. Under the circumstances, one would expect Indian immigrants, who are often cliquish themselves, to have a hard time penetrating close-knit conclaves of country folks. However, the stories that emerge paint a different picture.

When we ask farmer Jambulapati if he was concerned about finding acceptance in South Georgia, he concedes, “Farming is very hard. You need four or five families that help each other.” This, Jambulapati realized, would be his biggest hurdle. “I was at a social disadvantage. All the other farmers were white, and they had been doing this for years.” To his pleasant surprise, though, he was able to make the inroads into the local community. Turns out that it was his three children as well as his Indian food that helped him win a place in the community. Describing his children as “star students,” he says, “My kids were in the local newspaper all the time, and the community came to know them. And it’s because of them that the community came to know me.” The other farmers in the area have now embraced him. They routinely come over for Indian food. “They love it! They particularly like gongura and they get it from me to use as a seasoning in beef, pork and chicken. They like the bitter taste,” he laughs.

Dr. Thakor Darji, who lives in Thomasville, Alabama, a town of 5,000, says, “It has been my experience that rural communities are great at rewarding people for hard work and sincerity. I can confidently claim that almost everyone in Thomasville and the neighboring towns knows my family and me, and has always been helpful and supportive.” (See sidebar, “Why I love the rural life”).

Even in his other enterprise, as an hotelier (which is headed primarily by his wife, Prabha), Darji found people to be helpful. “When we started building our hotel, the other business people weren’t jealous. They actually said, ‘Hey doc, what can we do for you?’” Even the city council and town commissioner in Thomasville told Darji they would be happy to help.

Like anywhere else, there are occasional unpleasant experiences in rural America as well. Malathi Jandhyala, who lives in rural eastern Washington with her family, recalls a disturbing incident. When Jandhyala’s daughter was in elementary school, she would often wear Indian clothes and a bindi to school. One day, she came home in tears. Someone in school had made a mean comment saying, “Their family worships the devil.”

Finding Indian fixes in Smalltown, America

What’s an Indian immigrant who doesn’t crave his “Indian” fixes? From groceries and movies to a circle of other desis to socialize with, immigrant Indians have been known to hold on securely to things Indian wherever they live. How does that play out in the countryside, where there might not be another Indian in sight?

Jambulapati’s was the only Indian family in rural Grady County. So how did he keep his desi connection alive? For the last seven years, he has been a familiar figure to visitors to the Riverdale Hindu temple in the Atlanta area, where he sets up a weekend vegetable stall, selling eggplant, green garlic, methi, cilantro, okra and other Indian specialties to grateful fellow-desis. He had been noticing the growing Indian population in Georgia, and the word was Indians were craving the vegetables they had grown up with. In those days, when Jambulapati started his venture, Indian stores in Atlanta were, for the most part, getting their vegetables shipped from California for a hefty price. “I realized that if I grew Indian vegetables and just drove them to Atlanta I could sell them at a much lower price,” he says. Now, he sells vegetables to Indian stores in Atlanta, at the temple as well as to the Indian communities in Tallahassee, Albany, and other towns in the region. His small stall in the parking lot of the Hindu temple can bring in as much as $4,000 in a single weekend, he adds. His phasing into Indian vegetables is now the most lucrative part of his farming career.

Darji says that the remarkable thing about Indians in small towns is that regardless of region (from back home) and religion, they will invariably come together as family. When the Darjis lived in Milledgeville, Georgia, there were about 10 Indian families in a 50-mile radius, and the Darjis would get together with everyone to celebrate occasions like Diwali and pujas. The same spirit could be seen in many routine activities. “It was 100 miles from Milledgeville to Atlanta. So if I was making a trip to Atlanta my wife would call everyone and ask if they needed anything. So we’d end up bringing back bags of rice and wheat and large containers of oil, along with pickles and the rest.”

Now, in Thomasville, where there aren’t many Indians around, they still manage to celebrate festivals such as Navaratri. “For the last five years, we’ve gone to a Navaratri celebration each of the nine nights in bigger towns in the region. The traditional small-town hospitality is also evident among Indians here. Each of the nine nights they put on a traditional garba with live tablas and harmonium. And whether they draw 100 or 500, they always have a very nice meal at no cost.” This is very different from what happens in large cities, points out Darji. “Invariably, in Atlanta, there are close to 5,000 people attending, and they end up charging five dollars a samosa.”

The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” Indians in small-town America seem to have worked hard in just such a manner to create the “circumstances” that will keep their culture alive. When it comes to traditional Indian dance classes or language classes, Indians in rural America don’t have the options that those who live in cities like Atlanta do. But we must create what we don’t have, says Malathi Jandhyala. The Jandhyalas live in Pullman, Washington, a college town set amidst stunning, golden wheat fields. The nearest metropolitan city is Seattle, which is about five hours away.

When Jandhyala’s daughter, Malica, was taunted in school as someone from a family that “worships the devil,” she realized that her daughter was ill-equipped to so much as talk about her religion, let alone defend herself in the face of such ignorance. For the first time she felt the need to teach Hinduism and Indian culture to her children and other Indian kids in their town. While she was still wondering how to go about doing it, a “miracle” happened. There was a visiting professor from India whose wife was a ‘Bala Vikas’ teacher in Mumbai. She offered to train Jandhyala to educate the local Indian children about Hinduism as well as broader human values. From her, Jandhyala learnt how to teach using Hindu stories and bhajans and stories of other religions as well as contemporary examples. Initially, only four children came to the Sunday School – and two of them were her own children. But she persisted. “It was a process of digging into myself and connecting the dots,” she explains. Slowly, the class expanded. At one point, Jandhyala had 18 kids attending. She now has a “Seniors” and “Juniors” section that she teaches separately. She schedules all her trips and vacations around her Sunday School classes. And because her own dedication is so obvious, the kids remain interested, too.

Malica was also the first dance student to ever do an Arangetram in the town of Pullman. Her first two teachers were graduate students who moved away when they finished their schooling. Eventually she found a teacher trained at Kalashektra, whose husband moved to Pullman to teach at Washington State University. After six years of training under her, Malica was ready to do her Arangetram. The Jandhyalas rented a large hall on the university premises. They were able to arrange for a mridangam player to come from Washington, D.C. and a violinist who was visiting from India. About 200 people attended, and The Communications Department at Washington State University taped the entire performance and stored it in their archives since the event was the first of its kind in the area.

Growing up Indian in rural America

Today, Malica is a Junior at the University of Washington in Seattle, and plans to go to medical school. She says small-town life has helped her stay grounded ¯ a quality she hopes she can always preserve. “Everyone in Seattle has this feeling of city to them. When I go home to Pullman it’s like a breath of fresh air. People aren’t superficial ¯ nobody has to have that Louis Vuitton bag.”

Most Indian kids who grew up in rural parts of the country have no regrets ¯ they loved the simplicity of their surroundings. But almost none of them want to go back. Purvi Patel, the niece of CK Patel, grew up in Commerce, Georgia, where Patel ran his motel. She now lives with her husband and daughter outside of Ann Arbor in Canton, Michigan, where there’s a fairly large Indian community. “I wouldn’t go back to live in a small town now. After you get to a certain age you want to get out. When you’re in sixth or seventh grade it doesn’t make a big difference. The minute you get out of high school, you see people doing different things and you start getting hopes, and you want to see what’s out there.” Malica Jandhyala agrees. “I’ll always come back to Pullman to visit,” she says. “But when you’re a little older it does feel somewhat slow.”

Jambulapati’s one criticism of rural America is that the public school system there is usually not good. “My kids complain, and say that in a larger city they would have had a better education.” Indeed, children’s education is one of the chief reasons that prompted other Indian families to leave small towns for urban or suburban life. CK Patel moved first to Athens, Georgia, and then to the suburbs of Atlanta, primarily for better education for his growing children.

Life in Rural America

Savita Tyagi remembers moving from Los Angeles, California, to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. After having lived in L.A. for 10 years, the move to the hinterlands of America was a new and somewhat shocking experience. She recalls seeing acres and acres of empty land dotted by the occasional ranch when they were first driven into Bartlesville in a company-organized limousine. “It was the first time I’d seen cows in the United States.”

The Tyagis gained an appreciation for the great outdoors in Oklahama. One summer, they decided to take up fishing. “My husband just started taking the kids one day. They’d go early in the morning and spend a few hours fishing. I think it was in those days that a love for nature was instilled in my son Kush, although I think they spent more time buying rods than actually fishing.”

Kush Tyagi, who is now 29 and lives in Sante Fe, New Mexico, grew up in Bartlesville. He credits his rural upbringing for making him an avid hiker, skier and rock climber. He recalls cycling with a friend from Bartlesville to the Kansas border, about 20 miles away, when he was in the seventh grade, although he didn’t tell his mother about it until years later. “But that’s something only small-town kids can do, it’s a carefree type of life,” his mother affirms. “They were not worried or scared, and neither were we.”

The rural nature of Oklahoma also reminded Savita’s husband, Mukul Tyagi, of his home in India, where his family owned mango groves. “Often, my dad would take us kids out ‘camping’ on our balcony that overlooked our backyard,” Kush recalls. “We’d bring out the sleeping bags, lay them down on the balcony, and just look up at the sky and talk until we fell asleep. I think it reminded my dad of his hometown village when he’d lie on palangs (cots) on the roof of his house.”

For most who choose to live in rural America, the real pleasures of small-town life are the peace and flexibility it affords. “I’ve seen that in Pullman, many mothers and fathers are able to work full-time and have serious, challenging professions ¯ tenure-track professors really have to work hard,” Malathi Jandyala says. “But they are not too busy for their kids and their family life does not suffer. I really feel a lot of things are so easy in Pullman. It’s less than a 10-minute drive to get anywhere; you don’t get stuck in traffic so you don’t have to plan too much ahead for anything.”

If you ask Ravi Jambulapati about farming, he will tell you it’s hard, that you lose money and that without the help of federal loans and subsidies it is often impossible to go on when the crops aren’t good. But, he will also tell you that he won’t trade his life today for anything. He loves the peacefulness of living and working in a rural setting.

What Darji loves most about small-town life is that, in some ways, rural America reminds him of India in ways that even the bustling Oak Tree Road in Edison and Devon Street in Chicago do not. “The place here reminds me of my village. Everybody knows me. I can walk anywhere at night. There’s some kind of parallel; you just feel like you’re back in your hometown in India,” he said.

Moreover, the Darjis feel that their exceptional success as Hoteliers too would not have come easy in a hyperactive metro area. While he attended to his patients, his wife built a 50-room Holiday Inn Express that was incredibly successful. She hired a small staff to manage it and then built another Holiday Express 40 miles away, in Demopolis, Alabama, a town of about 8,000. After that, she opened a Hampton Inn in Selma, Alabama, and a Best Western in Thomasville. Dr. Darji credits the rural life for having the spare time from a successful medical practice to not only help his wife with her hotel ventures, but also to kickback and take it easy. “In bigger cities, there’s too much stress and strain, particularly in the medical field,” he points out. “Here, I live less than a mile from the hospital. I have to go back and forth frequently, and it’s convenient. And everyday when I come home from work, I just watch a little TV, read the newspaper, relax and have a good meal. For us, rural America has been a true blessing.”

Sidebar 1:

Over 20 Desi Doctors and One Rural Community

“Shah Associates Group.jpg” & “Dr VK & Ila Shah.jpg”

Over 20 Indian doctors are amongst the team of Shah Associates, started by Dr Vinod and Ila Shah. largest private specialty practice in southern Maryland, and has treated 90,000 of the 110,000 residents of the community.

Thirty-four years ago an Indian couple moved to southern Maryland to set up shop for their new medical practice. Today, they have created an empire consisting of 10 locations and 65 physicians. Shah Associates, the practice started by Drs. Vinod and Ila Shah, has now treated 90,000 of the 110,000 residents of the community.

The following is an excerpt from a recent article on the Shahs in the Washington Post, which explains how it all started:

St. Mary's County was once a place where no doctor wanted to settle. In the 1970s, the county hospital used decades-old equipment, struggled to make payroll and had no full-time specialists -- not even an obstetrician, although more than 600 babies were born there each year.

Then came Vinod K. and Ila Shah, Bombay-educated and D.C.-trained husband-and-wife doctors who were eager to open a practice in the rural area. They had heard about St. Mary's from Vinod's younger brother and were enticed by the potential impact that even a small practice could have there.

“It was just like miracle workers walked in,” said Richard Martin, 92, who was then head of the hospital. “I told them, ‘You are the answer to my prayers.’”

Even Dr. Martin would have hardly imagined what those humble beginnings have snowballed into. Today not only is the Shah Associates the largest private specialty practice in southern Maryland, but it is also creating a legacy that speaks about how a small group of Indian physicians, many of whom are the immediate family members of Vinod and Ila, are now an intractable part of the local culture and community.

Recently, the Shahs organized a large multicultural event called “Rhythm: A Celebration of Cultural Diversity,” to raise money for a charity. Guests dressed up in ethnic clothes, and the Shahs made saris and Indian outfits available for some of their non-Indian friends to wear at the event. They invited Congressmen and Senators, and staged African, Indian and Irish dances and performances, among others. They succeed in raising about $26,000 a charitable cause titled, “Harvest for the Hungry.”

Considerate gestures that put the local community above themselves have helped the Shah conglomerate to win a place in the community. In the ’90s, when they opened a new location, they named it the Philip J. Bean Medical Center, dedicating it to a local physician who was somewhat of an institution in the region having delivered a majority of county’s citizens.

Vinod’s secret to success, he claims, is community involvement. The biggest mistake that Indians make is isolating themselves from the American community rather than immersing themselves in it. When the Shahs moved to St. Mary’s County, they became very involved in the community. In the early 1970s, Vinod had a weekly health radio show, where he offered to answer questions for the community. The Shahs also visited local businesses and talked about health issues.

More recently, he became a member of the St. Mary’s College Board of Directors. Vinod also arranged a trip to India for 14 Congressmen, spurred by the interest of his next-door neighbor, Congressman Steny Hoyer. “We all went, and while I was there, I hosted a dinner at Amarvilla in Agra. I told them that I wanted them to feel the same kind of hospitality in India that America had given me.”

Now that he is president-elect of AAPI (American Association of Physicans from India), Vinod says he will be advocating such community involvement for their young members. Summarizing his philosophy, he said, “I think people are the same everywhere. If you show respect and affection the majority of them respect you. But you really have to be an integral part of the community, and at the same time, maintain your culture.” It is the practice of this philosophy that has helped two generations of Shah doctors serve several generations of rural families in southern Maryland.

Sidebar 2:

An Indian Teenager in Rural America

Sharada Jambulapati.jpg

Sharada Jambulapati at a fundraiser for presidential contestant John Edwards

Most Indian kids that grow up in America face some sort of identity crisis at some point in their lives. But for those in small towns, the challenges can be very unique. Khabar talked to 17-year-old Sharada Jambulapati, a high school senior in South Georgia, and daughter of the only Indian farmer in the region. Sharada is ranked at the top of her high school class and has received admission to Stanford University.

Did you enjoy growing up on the farm? What are some of your favorite memories?

Growing up on a farm has definitely been interesting. There were some days where you would wake up to the smell of cows outside. I can’t say that I have enjoyed living on a farm. However, it is a great conversation subject. People laugh because Indians don’t typically live on farms. I remember picking vegetables for my dad. My sister, brother, and I had to pick vegetables to buy a computer when we were little. Picking vegetables was no fun at all. It was extremely hot, stuffy, humid, and bugs were everywhere. You would have to get used to the mosquito bites. We have a little forest in the back of our farm. My sister, brother, and I would go there a lot and explore when we were little. We had a lot of dogs growing up so they were fun to have and play with.

What is it like being an Indian American in South Georgia?

Being a minority in South Georgia has definitely taught me a lot about diversity and tolerance. Growing up, students referred to me as “Mexican” and mocked me using gibberish or a mix of Spanish words. Sometimes teachers thought I was ignorant and didn’t understand English because of the color of my skin. In elementary and middle school, I remember having to take English competency tests even though I made straight A’s and was at the top of my class. I also remember how people in stores would not even try to listen to my mother when she spoke to them because she was “foreign.” So they would make me speak on behalf of her even though she could speak English. Some of my peers had never been exposed to Indian culture. When I was younger, it was difficult to get over the hate and ignorant remarks from some kids. But as I became older I realized that these kids needed diverse experiences. Growing up in rural South Georgia has only made me more appreciative of diversity and tolerance.

How would you compare your school life to that in cities?

I sometimes am jealous because suburban Atlanta schools offer over 20 AP courses whereas my school just started the AP program three years ago and only offers seven to date. We also lack the extracurricular programs that urban and suburban schools enjoy. It would be nice to have programs such as Model UN and mock trial. I often wonder why inequalities between suburban and rural areas exist when my school and I compete against other schools in soccer and debate. However, these hindrances haven’t deterred my ambitions. My siblings and I had to work harder to make the best of available resources. But it’s not all bad. I have created some of the closest relationships with teachers and have had some of the most interesting conversations with them.

How does your life compare to that in a big city where all things Indian are easy to come by?

I rarely have opportunities to attend temple, Indian music festivals, or Indian dances. So when people ask me about my religion and practice, it’s kind of awkward because the closest temple is in Atlanta. Also, it’s sort of difficult to explain to my friends about what I eat everyday. They often ask me what my mother cooks. But sometimes they find it hard to understand why I only eat chicken and no other meats. I think it’s easier to explain it to other people living in suburban areas because there are so many different cultures and people are more accepting of them. So you get used to not having the opportunities for Indian experiences that Atlanta people enjoy.

What’s something about your life in rural Georgia that urbanites would be surprised about?

I think that people in Atlanta would be surprised to know that I am not like the stereotypical Southerner. I don’t listen to country music, don’t dress in the typical clothing, and am not a conservative. I listen to indie music, am very liberal, and am a part of my local Democratic Party. For instance, at the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP), I had a roommate who was the exact opposite of me. She was from Alpharetta, white, and tended to have more conservative values. But despite these differences, my roommate and I got along really well. I think that people from Atlanta would find that I have more in common with a teen from Atlanta than kids from South Georgia.

Do you see yourself living in a large city or small town down the line?

I will be living in California next year since I am going to Stanford University. So it’s a big change from life in rural South Georgia. I mean I have lived here since I was three years old. I am pretty sure that I want to live in an urban area when I grow up. I am tired of living in a rural town and it’s time for me to move on with my life. I want to experience new things and seize more opportunities. I really don’t like the slow pace in rural areas. It’s just too boring for me right now. I find that I have more in common with urban people. It’s hard for me to share interests with a lot of my friends here. Most of them don’t really care about my interest in politics, news, or academics. It’s usually just about entertainment news, gossip, and small things for some of my friends at my high school. I finally want to meet people who appreciate the differences and diversity that I have and I think that I will be able to have more opportunities in an urban area.

Why I Love the Rural Life

By Thakor Darji, MD

Dr T Darji.jpg

Dr. Thakor Darji loves the tranquility of small towns as it reminds him of his rural upbringing in India

I still have memories of those languorous childhood mornings back in India, when the day dawned with the fragrance of agarbati and the soft chants of Om Namah Shivaya filled the air. There were also the cries of the woman selling milk or the vegetable vendor, or the sound of some bhajan playing on Vividh Bharati, from our next-door neighbor’s radio. My parents would help us get ready for the day, and the family would breakfast together. Those family bonds warmed my mornings and looking back, I see that our village itself was like a family, celebrating festivals and weddings together, and even grieving together when there was a death.

When I came to America in 1984, I feared that my days of tranquility were lost forever, and that I would get lost in the frenetic bustle of modern living. But God helped me find a way ¯ in 1991, my wife and I decided to settle in a small town in Alabama. Trying, perhaps, to recreate my Indian idyll, I chose the smallest town I could, and began my career as an internal medicine practitioner in Thomasville, Alabama. Thomasville and its neighboring towns badly needed an internist, and settling there not only fulfilled my desire to live in a calm, stress-free environment, but also helped me serve the community.

My clinic and hospital is only a three-minute drive from my home, allowing me to arrive at work without having to deal with traffic snarls. My office manager has been with me from day one, and my other staff, too, has stayed with me for many years. I can confidently claim that almost everyone in Thomasville and the neighboring towns knows my family and me, and has always been helpful and supportive. I would have missed this kind of camaraderie if I had settled in a busy city.

In the mornings I wake up early, offer my prayers, and walk out on my deck and backyard, enjoying the birdsong, the dew-laden grass and the cool breeze. And I thank my fortune that has gifted me this tranquil life free of the strife and anxiety that can dog urban life.

There is no truth to the belief that rural living lacks recreation and learning resources. Advances in technology have made information accessible to people living anywhere, and the best kind of enjoyment is available to us in rural America ¯ in the form of fishing, picnics, parks, boating, country driving, and fruit-picking. I have seen rural people to be friendlier and to share more, whether it’s their farms or fishponds, or their festivals and holidays.

When I was in an accident that injured my neck and put me out of practice almost 18 months, I personally experienced this warmth and support from everyone I knew. It’s not just professionals who are treated with so much respect, but others in the community too, like motel owners, shopkeepers, cleaners, teachers or engineers. It has been my experience that rural communities are great at rewarding people for hard work and sincerity. Rural living brings peace of mind, tranquility, physical vigor and joy. And by keeping us in close communion with nature, it helps us endeavor to protect and preserve the bounties that God bestowed on this beautiful planet.

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