Let's take it slow...

Reality check,
Last Updated : 10 June 2017, 19:20 IST
Last Updated : 10 June 2017, 19:20 IST

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Harried, exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed. Words that we frequently use to describe our state of mind and being, as we race through life juggling responsibilities, meeting deadlines and keeping commitments. In a bid to do more, we find ourselves cutting back on precious sleep, succumbing to the convenience of junk and processed foods, and surrendering to our smartphones helplessly.

As Carl Honoré, an internationally acclaimed author and speaker very aptly puts it, “We’ve become obsessed with squeezing every last drop of productivity out of our time.” Because of which everything suffers, “our diet and health, our work, relationships, the community, and our environment.” Honoré also says, “There’s something profoundly unsatisfying about a life in a hurry.” That’s why the Slow Movement, a global trend in favour of slowing down, is steadily gaining momentum, and is now making its presence felt in India. 

About approach

No, it’s not about slowing things down to a crawl. “The Slow Movement is about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about engineering a profound change in the way we work, eat, play and live,” explains Honoré, who is hailed as the ‘godfather of the Slow Movement.’

But there was a time when even Honoré’s life was “an endless race against the clock”. His ‘wake-up call’ came when he found himself toying with the idea of buying a collection of One-Minute Bedtime Stories. It suddenly hit him that he was even ready to speed up the precious moments with his children at the end of the day. And that’s when he started thinking about the possibility of slowing down, which led him to write his first book, In Praise of Slow.

Referred to as the ‘bible of the Slow Movement’, the book puts forth the idea that ‘slow’ could be “a universal label to explain the benefits of doing everything at the right speed”, including education, work, exercise, sex etc. In fact, every aspect of our life could do with a bit of ‘slow’, especially the corporate world.

Citing the example of companies like Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank, Bose, Procter & Gamble and McKinsey among others, Honoré says, “Forward-thinking companies are looking for ways to help their staff slow down by giving them more control over their schedules so they can work at their own pace. By limiting working hours, or by creating quiet spaces for doing yoga, taking a massage, or even a short nap during the workday.”

At Daimler, the German automobile company, when staffers are on vacation, all their incoming email is deleted and the sender is notified and steered towards an available colleague. That way, they don’t return to face an overflowing inbox. 

Zappos, the online shoe giant, practises the concept of Slow Hiring and takes months getting to know a prospective candidate so that when they do recruit, they hire the ideal employee, saving both time and money in the long run.

World over, people are recognising the benefits of slowing down, “living fully in the moment and forging deep and meaningful bonds with other people, creating a world that is happier, healthier and more humane,” says Honoré. As for the origins of the Slow Movement, he adds, “People have been defending the value of slowness for at least 200 years — think of the Romantics, the Transcendentalists, the Arts and Crafts Movement, even the hippies. But the idea of a Slow Movement, which seeks to blend fast and slow, to help people work, live and play better in the modern world, is more recent. Born in Italy, the Slow Food movement helped recapture the word ‘slow’ as something positive.”

It all started in 1986 with Carlo Petrini objecting against the spread of the fast food culture and the opening of McDonald’s in Rome, which he perceived as a threat to local food habits and culinary traditions. Three years later, he founded the International Slow Food Movement in Paris with the approach that everyone in the world has the right to good, clean and fair food. Good, in terms of quality and flavour, clean, where the food is produced in an environment-friendly manner, and fair, where the food prices benefit both the consumer and the producer.

Petrini’s small-scale demonstration has since spiralled into a global movement, spread across 160 countries, which also includes an active Indian chapter with multiple organisations across the country, working to promote Slow Food.

The North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) based in Shillong, Meghalaya, is one such organisation. NESFAS undertakes the cataloguing of endangered traditional foods under the ‘Ark of Taste’ project. It also promotes a network of millet cultivators and beekeepers, encourages farmers to grow indigenous varieties of rice, promotes sericulture in collaboration with weaving communities, and organises biodiversity walks for school and college students.

Other important initiatives include the Mei-Ramew (Mother Earth) food festival and farmers’ markets, which celebrate indigenous cuisines and cultures. Apart from local delicacies, native ingredients are tweaked to offer visitors a chance to sample interesting food options like millet pancakes and rice congee with wild edibles. Those visiting also get a chance to interact directly with different communities from the northeast and purchase agricultural produce, handicrafts and traditional weaves. Such food festivals, although on a much smaller scale, are even organised in villages to draw attention to unique crop varieties that are on the verge of disappearing, and highlight forgotten cuisines.

Then there’s Chefs’ Alliance India, the other arm of the Slow Food movement, which aims at improving the overall quality of food that is grown, cooked and served in restaurants and hotels across the country. The aim is to revive the interest of consumers and chefs in the abundant biodiversity of Indian agricultural produce, wild natural plants, indigenous grains and foods, and traditional methods of cooking.

Elaborating on the efforts made to popularise Slow Food, the Head of Chefs’ Alliance India and the Executive Chef, ITC hotels, Rajdeep Kapoor says, “We promote farmers in our respective cities and source locally grown produce. We use 0 km sprouts — which is basically in-house cultivated sprouts and cress.” He adds, “Our restaurants have a section in the menu called ‘Local Love’ — which are popular dishes representing that city. For example, The Delhi hotels have khasta kachori chaat, Delhi fish fry, choley poorie etc.”

Other popular dishes on the ‘Local Love’ menu in ITC hotels across India are laal maans and daal baati choorma in Jaipur, Malwani prawn curry and Bohri biryani in Mumbai, kacche gosht ki biryani in Hyderabad, and macher jhol and kosha mangsho in Kolkata — a perfect way for guests to sample a bit of the local culture through the cuisine.

Ethical way

The other aspect of the Slow Movement that is ‘slowly’ becoming popular in India is Slow Fashion. Co-founder of the clothing brand Ethic Attic, Rema Sivaram says, “Slow fashion means everything typically opposite the regular mass-produced fashion.”

With the mainstream fashion industry churning out mass-produced garments which retail at low prices, there is always the possibility that consumers end up purchasing more often, and more than they need. This overconsumption takes a toll on the environment as well as the workers producing these goods. That’s where Slow Fashion comes in — “as it brings together everything that is fair trade, sustainable, organic and friendly to the people and the planet,” says Sivaram, who along with her business partner Pradeep Krishnappa, has been working in the Fair Trade and artisan circuit for years.

Apart from employing women weavers from Pochampally and the northeast, they have recently collaborated with a group of transgenders for the production and finishing works. Following the tenets of Slow Fashion assiduously, Ethic Attic features apparels and accessories made out of organic cotton, lotus flower fabric, non-violent silk, linen, bamboo etc. “All the fabrics we use are Fair Trade-certified, which means the supply chain has been fair.

They are also certified organic fabrics, making them sustainable to grow and use,” says Sivaram.

Similarly, in Shillong, fashion designer Daniel Syiem is doing his bit to promote Slow Fashion with the aim of “protecting and promoting the dying art of handweaving of Ryndia (eri silk), while using fashion as a medium to give the outside world a chance to peek into our culture and tradition.”

Ryndia is the only silk extracted from the cocoons without killing the silkworm, while the fabric is hand-woven by women of the Ri-Bhoi district in Meghalaya. Syiem says, “Working with Ryndia allows me to come up with garments which are 100% natural. The vegetable dyes we use are all locally sourced, while the buttons and fasteners are made out of natural products like bamboo, pine cone or wood.” He adds, “We practise fair trade with our weavers and allow them to dictate the price based on their efforts and time taken to produce the fabric.”

Syiem is also working on reviving the use of the traditional loin-looms for weaving and often organises skill-upgradation training sessions for the weavers to introduce them to modern designs, patterns and international trends.

While Sivaram and Krishnappa organise a bi-monthly event called Slow Fashion Weekend in Bengaluru, through which they bring together similar brands under one umbrella, Syiem’s focus is more on the international market. “We are working tirelessly to establish our brand in parts of Europe, London and Singapore so that the benefit will trickle down to the women weavers who are the mainstay of our venture,” he says.

Parenting without pressure

Even though the term Slow Parenting is not being actively used in India yet, the philosophy behind it is definitely catching on. Simply put, “Slow Parenting is to parent without an agenda, with the ultimate objective of enjoying every moment with your child,” says Dr Debmita Dutta, a practicing clinician and a parenting and wellness consultant in Bengaluru. She adds, “With the world becoming more competitive, we want our children to be prepared for anything and everything. And that is why we hyper-parent or helicopter-parent them.”

Honoré feels, “We end up pushing, polishing and protecting our children with superhuman zeal. But this high-pressure approach doesn’t work. Hyper-parenting kids at any age will always backfire.”

Take the example of five-year-old Shiv (name changed) who was extremely good at tennis, but by the age of seven, he refused to touch the racquet anymore. His parents had pushed him into so much coaching that he had eventually burnt out and begun to hate something he loved.

This is where Honoré’s second book, Under Pressure, can provide valuable insight, as it explores ‘the good, the bad and the ugly of modern childrearing’, while offering a blueprint for change. Honoré says, “Slow parents understand that child-rearing should not be a cross between a competitive sport and product-development. It is not a project; it’s a journey.”

In her training sessions, Kesang Menezes, co-founder of ‘Parenting Matters’, a parenting resource centre in Chennai, often educates parents about the Montessori principle of ‘follow the child’, which advocates not directing every activity your children engage in, but instead, allowing them to develop and do things at their own pace.

Elaborating on this, Dr Dutta says, “Creativity is the mind’s voice that can only be heard in the silence of boredom. A child who is too busy to be bored will never be creative enough.” She also believes that social skills are learnt when children are allowed to interact without adult supervision, and a child who is always a part of organised activities and organised play will never learn how to forge relationships or develop the skills required to thrive in the world. Then comes decision-making, a skill perfected over time. Children, who have everything decided for them, never have a chance to practise decision-making and will struggle when they need to make important choices. This is why we need to parent slowly.

In the same vein

While the movement is still young in India, and we sure have a long way to go, across the world, the Slow philosophy has already made inroads into almost all walks of life. Other popular Slow movements include Slow Cities, Slow Travel, Slow Sex, Slow Journalism, Slow Libraries, Slow Education, Slow Art, Slow Medicine... well, the list is exhaustive.

According to Honoré, “The Slow culture-quake is not some fashionable diversion you read about in the Sunday newspapers one week, and it’s gone within the year. It signals the beginning of a profound cultural revolution.” As for its future, he adds, “The Slow revolution will be slow! I don’t think we’ll create a Slow world next week, next year, or even within the next 10 years. This is a long-term project, but we can do it. For a cultural revolution to occur, you need three factors: the need for change; an awareness of the need for change; and people willing to put that change into practice.”

So for starters, are you willing to put aside your smartphone to stop and smell the roses?

Published 10 June 2017, 15:34 IST

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