I’m attempting to write but Socks, the four-month old kitten thinks the movement of my pen is meant to amuse her. So I abandon writing and start playing with the kitten.  I no longer work well with tight deadlines, I’ve discovered.

Welcome to the unscheduled lives we’ve adopted and adapted to since moving to Coonoor a year ago. My childhood was on a tea estate in Assam. As a child I couldn’t comprehend that there could be anything larger than the estate; in my head I’d concluded that this was the world and strangely now, my world is the tea holding where we’ve built our home and run our bed and breakfast. I have come full circle.

We’ve embraced a slow life–the seasons, the environment, the guest house and our pets dictate the course of action each day. So what is my ikigai? The Japanese term ‘ikigai’  means ‘the reason for getting out of bed’. Dwelling on this fact I’ve discovered that there are so many reasons for getting up each morning – the kittens, Socks and Pepper, waiting outside the bedroom door for a cuddle and to be fed. A slice of bread or a couple of pieces of rusk for Blackie and Puppy who’ll be waiting at the door, tails wagging, to make that cup of tea and sit out on the deck with the kittens on my lap and watch the sun or the mist transform the tea covered mountains in front of me. A year ago, I would have gone for a walk around our apartment complex, made my cup of tea and gone about checking mail, Facebook, and blogs. Today I check mail or Facebook if I can, sometimes once in two days. Instead, I’m outside checking to see if the water lily has bloomed, watering the strawberry pot, and looking for ripe berries to pick or brushing the dogs.

In pursuit of art, away from the city.
In pursuit of art, away from the city.

My work in the area of fiber art has always been slow and meditative. It usually takes me a year to complete a fiber book. My inspiration a year ago was from the internet and interactions with friends and fellow artists on the net but the move to Lamb’s Rock has placed me in an environment which is overwhelmingly inspiring and I see my work incorporating ephemera from the natural world, be it feathers, twigs, or leaves. I’m at crossroads, blending elements from the urban world with the natural world in the three books that I’m working on for an exhibition later in the year. But I see this slowly tilting more in favour of natural elements from my environment as my stash of material from the urban world dwindles.                                                                                              

Sounds isolated, doesn’t it? To which I have to answer: Yes. But we have wifi and the postman will come to deliver mail; the newspaper is picked up from Coonoor by the local bus driver and someone brings it down the hill on their way to work. There are systems which work and the rule of the jungle prevails. May sound a bit antiquated but who’s complaining; if anything, the quality of our lives have improved. You’re heartbroken and in tears when a pet is snatched by a leopard in broad daylight but then you realise the leopard needs nourishment. It’s equally painful when you find one of the kittens has caught a little bird, you can’t curb their natural instincts. This is the real world of dirt, leeches and the most amazing butterflies and moths. The bison who pay a visit every ten to fifteen days are a menace because they eat all the plants but they are generous with their droppings which help fertilise the plants and fruit trees on the property. We’ll never tire of watching a herd graze on the hill opposite. So while taking precautions to safeguard the lives and well-being of our pets we’ve been made aware of our interdependence and we’re trying to care for the environment. The produce from our kitchen garden is entirely organic, leftovers and kitchen scraps are food for the chickens, the cats or the dogs. We are careful to store all paper and plastic waste and dispose it in the municipal dumpsters in Coonoor and rain water is collected and stored.

Maya's fiber books can spin a yarn! Photo credit: Maya Sara Matthew
Maya’s fiber books can spin a yarn! 

It helps if you are the adaptable sort who doesn’t mind a bit of mud and can think on their feet and are a DIY sort of person. It’s a way of life where you have to find things to entertain yourself with because there’s very little in the way of organised entertainment. There are no malls and no fancy restaurants or coffee shops to hang out in. Coonoor has no movie theatres and the one half way decent theatre is in Ooty. But speaking of movies, you might just get an opportunity to be part of one being shot in the Nilgiris! I find there is no pressure to dress a certain way, or live a life which lifestyle magazines dictate, not that it bothered us when we lived in the city so I believe the transition has been seamless and stress free.

Welaro, the BnB that Maya and her husband run.
Welaro, the BnB that Maya and her husband run.

We run a bed and breakfast, Welaro, and it gives us access to a variety of people who touch our lives and enrich it with the interactions. In turn it gives us great pleasure to share our world at Welaro with guests. It’s a simple life. There’s nothing we curate, we are directed by the weather and the environment.

The featured banner shows Socks and Pepper, the author’s cats. All photos by the author. 

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  1. Hi Maya,
    This place sounds very interesting. I have been to Ooty, but had to give Coonoor a miss due to paucity of time. But next time I come there, will try and get in touch with you for BnB.
    Beautiful Post!!

  2. Ravina Agarwal Reply

    This article is so refreshing. It makes me want to leave everything behind and settle in the hills to pursue my hobby.

  3. Hello Maya, I live in the Hudson Valley in NY and am a long time lover of Assam teas which is of course how I found your lovely article. Your BnB looks amazing and the setting just other worldly (at least to me!). My congratulations to you and your husband for finding such a sane and grounded lifestyle.

  4. I loved your comments about “reason to get up in the morning”! Just last night I was talking with a friend who was talking about her reason to get up in the morning. I’ve never really thought about it. Morning just comes. Your comments and hers have me thinking.
    Your story was delightful; made me feel I was there with you on your day.

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