Ever since he switched to ploughing from programming and gobar cakes from CDs, 44-year-old Balaji Coomandur, a software professional till 2003, has lost 20 pounds and a lot of work-related worries. Says the IIT-Madras graduate, who had a burnout at 36 after working in Chennai, Silicon Valley and Canada, “Working on the farm is so much more peaceful than dealing with people in the workplace."
Coomandur has been travelling across the country to explore his passion for organic farming and planting trees. His namesake, 43-year-old Balaji Shankar, ‘shut down’ his software career in 2002, and now does organic farming in Melanallur village. Having worked 15-hours-a-day, 6-days-a-week for the last 12 years, he says now he doesn’t need to look at his watch anymore. “I am no longer accountable for every minute of my time.” Farming, for him, is a way of being close to nature — after an “unnatural life in which people sit in ACs all day and don’t sweat, don’t get natural light, don’t sleep and ruin their backs."
Like Coomandur and Shankar, there’s a new crop of several young software professionals rebooting their careers — as farmers. Jaishankar, 37, who turned to organic farming at Nelveli village two years ago, says, “Deadlines are often unrealistic in the software industry, and you are already behind schedule when you start with a project.” As Shankar puts it, “If you join work at 22, by 32 you look 42.”
What makes it easier for software employees to shift to non-traditional career paths is the strong financial security net the industry allows its employees to create, points out Hema Ravichandar, the former Infosys global HR Head. "Since these security nets get created comparatively earlier in the career span in the software industry, so do such choices," she says.
And it is modest, bucolic lives that some are now choosing to switch to. Coomandur — who used to earn over Rs 40 lakh annually — has been living on the Rs. 10,000 rent he receives monthly from his Chennai flat. He will reverse mortgage the flat to raise money for his farm. Jaishankar hasn't made any money from his farm in the last two years. "It will take 3-5 years to break even," he says. But his job-satisfaction is such that he says, "I have never been happier in my life." The fact that his 3rd grader son talks proudly about his "farmer father" at his Chennai school, certainly helps.
Meanwhile, Bangalore's Krish Murali Eswar has just bid goodbye to his long association with the software industry to move to a Tamil Nadu village to cultivate his children the "correct way". Eswar and his wife pulled the children out of school when they felt that school was stifling the children's natural curiosity and innovative spirit.
Among the many things the children are learning is farming and making their own food. The experiment seems to have sown the seeds of a curious mind: Aditi, Eswar's 9-year-old daughter, is beginning to ask her "why" questions again.