Here's how two urban professionals traded Mumbai for the farm life

Jharna Thakkar and Rohan Fernandes gave up fast-paced city life when they moved from Mumbai to Uran—and discovered the joys of old-school agriculture and clean living at 574, Fernandes Wadi

“Almost everyone who comes visiting from the city feels a little restless initially with all that silence and the sketchy WiFi connection. But a couple of hours after settling in, they forget to check their phone,” Jharna Thakkar cannot quite help the pride in her voice as she talks about 574, Fernandes Wadi, her home in Uran, a little coastal town a ferry-ride away from Mumbai. The three-acre property faces the ocean and is tucked within an isolated stretch of Uran, far from the civic amenities put in place by the local municipal authorities.

“Rohan’s grandfather, Jimmy Heredia, had purchased the land in the mid-1940s. His daughter Delia and her husband Ronald Fernandes later built a modest 50s-style plantation house on it with a Mangalore-tile roof and three bedrooms (with the help of world famous architect that the hosts will tell you more about)

Jimmy had envisioned it as a place where he would settle down after retirement, but he never got around to doing that.” However, 30-somethings Thakkar and Fernandes didn’t want to wait for life to slow down to make it more meaningful. Till 2017, Rohan held a swish rank in a top-rung ad agency and Jharna was a full-time journalist. “Around three years ago, we started getting into the habit of boarding a ferry from Ferry’s Wharf in Mumbai and coming here every weekend. We would spend all day walking around and talking to the locals about agriculture. Each time we went back, Rohan would be a little more convinced that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life pushing buttons on his phone and stressing over client meetings and advertising strategies,” Thakkar explains. (It helped that she too had always dreamt of setting up her own bed and breakfast.)

In 2017, Fernandes quit his job and shifted base to Uran; Thakkar joined him a few months later after wrapping up her work commitments. The couple had their hands full for the first six months. Due to the shortage of water, Fernandes to devise many ways to make it more efficient, and they set down erosion control measures, dug a well, put an efficient sewage system in place, erected a Goan-style wraparound balcao (similar to a covered verandah) and upgraded the kitchen that used to be a tiny kitchenette. “I had a feeling that I would be cooking all meals, and wanted a more spacious kitchen,” says Thakkar, who has trained in the kitchens of Taj Hotel and worked at Mumbai’s Indigo and Mocha restaurants.

The couple also signed up for a volunteering stint with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), and spent two weeks at a farm in Switzerland to learn about sustainable farming practices. Closer home, they are learning a lot more about the mysterious rapport between earth and wind and water from their elderly farmer neighbours, Hiroo and Gaja, who generously share wisdom on the complexities of growing hyper-seasonal vegetables, understanding the land’s microclimate, and preserving seeds for the future. Fernandes also relies on a robust online network of farmers and permaculture experts from Pune and Goa to source answers on agriculture. Their property offers a generous yield of coconuts, tadgola(or the ice apple), papayas, bananas and mangoes, all planted by his grandfather (who also left behind copious notes about every tree and its origins). In March this year, to generate a steady income, the couple converted their home into an Airbnb residence. As Fernandes puts it, “The city we grew up in has become a concrete dust bowl making even fresh clean air hard to find. Since we are one and a half hours away from Mumbai, we want people to just get a break from the city and come share in our joy. Everyone at the back of their minds, wants to break the mold of city life. It’s a lot of risk and a lot of people don’t know what it will be like. Having been through that journey, we’d like to share those experiences with anyone that wants to try.”

Interested in ditching the rat race and live permanently in that farmhouse of your dreams? Thakkar breaks it down for you step by step:

Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose
Repurposing is an all-day chant at Fernandes Wadi. Thakkar and Fernandes have used old grills as old window grills to support coconut screens between private and common areas, dressing them up with bougainvillea and ivy vines; an old water-storage tank has been turned into a dip-pool; old gate lamps have found a new lease of life as chandeliers; old Mangalore tiles, stripped off from the original roof to make way for insulated sheets, have been used to adorn the roof of the balcao; two casuarina trees on the edge of the property that were uprooted due to erosion were used to make shelves for the bathrooms and barbecue area. “Nothing is left to waste.”

Turn problems into opportunities
During monsoon, the rain runs a hard-hitting assault for two months, and one can only be holed up inside most of the time. Thakkarand Rohan use that time to travel, while their parents move in to spend time on the property.

Get creative on problem-solving
“Recently, when we needed a paint job, we threw a paint party. I called my friends over from Mumbai and cooked a feast for them. All of us had a great time painting the furniture and ended up with a memorable experience.” (Thakkarhas a stock of old heirloom recipes from Kutch to Konkan that are put to delicious use for guests and friends.)

Learn to see beauty in everything
“Once during a morning walk, we noticed an old cabinet discarded outside a neighbour’s house. When we enquired about it, the lady said she was happy to give it away to us because she was tired and done with it. It had glue and wallpaper stuck to it. I brought it home, gave it a good scrub and figured out that it was an antique little cabinet that you find in old Parsi homes. We use it now to store different kinds of seeds!”

Written By: Rajashree Balaram

Contributing Writer

30 May 2019

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