HT Interviews: Mansoor Khan and Acres Wild Farmstay, Coonoor

A few weeks ago I wrote to Mansoor Khan of Acres Wild Farmstay, Coonoor, a place that has been on my go-to list forever. I asked if he would be willing to answer some questions as we wished to profile him on the Happy Tripping Magazine. He replied with a pleasant yes and then added, “BTW my name is Mansoor not Mansoon”. Embarrassed, and with ample proof that I had limited Bollywood knowledge, I sent of my questions, though expecting him to be offended by my scant knowledge of his ‘silver-spoon’ pedigree. His response was far from that, it was honest, enthusiastic and witty. A few days later I chatted with him on the phone, he was easy to talk to, had such a great sense of humour but at the same time, was extremely dedicated and earnest. A very interesting person with an even cooler life story, one that many of us travellers would love to replicate. Read on to know more about Mansoor Khan of QSQT fame and Acres Wild, Coonoor. If this inspires you to leave the city and set up a farm somewhere, you know we’ll be your first guests! Over to Mansoor…

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself…
I am a techie by interest and education… studied at IIT (a year) then moved to Cornell University, USA and then transferred to MIT, Boston. Somewhere then I realised that my deeper desire was to actually move away from the mainstream, cities and 9-5 (jobs). While I was figuring out how to manage this I got into making a film on video which no one has seen. It taught me a bit more about my abilities and what I wanted to convey in a film. My plan was to make Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and then run off into the wild. But that was not to be. I ended up making QSQT first and that became a big hit. Now I was stuck! So I went on to re-write the ‘Jo Jeeta…’ script with my newly gained experience and was immensely satisfying when it finally took form. I thought that I would surely be done with films with Akele Hum but that was not to be and I signed up for Josh. Once Josh was over I tried hard to make another film but it just would not happen so I decided to make the most of this and moved lock stock and barrel to Coonoor.

 

That’s an amazing move that I am sure many of our readers will envy. Who doesn’t wish to leave the cities and take off to the towns. But do you miss Mumbai?
If you love the buzz of the city you should be there… But I know myself, I completely blossomed when I moved here. I know myself very well so it’s not difficult to understand what I am doing and why I am happy here. But I know i’m lucky that it happened…

 

Will anyone get to see that video you shot all those years ago?
Don’t think so, don’t even think it’s in a form to be seen. I am proud of it. My dad liked it very much and I think it gave him the confidence that I could direct.

 

Tell me something about your childhood, a story, a nugget…
I had a very happy and protected childhood. We lived in a joint family in this large bungalow on Pali Hill. My father, Mr. Nasir Husain, was an immensely successful film maker and a very loving father. He was a great story teller and had a super sense of humour. Though I was not interested in film-making I would love to observe him work… I guess that is where I subconsciously learnt how to write and tell stories. I would watch him work from the bare story idea (which gave me a sense of the importance of the basic premise of a film) which he would narrate to his colleagues to the final fleshing of the screenplay. It was most fun for me to watch his music sessions with R. D. Burman. I was always drawn to the sound of the piano and composing simple tunes on it. The final recording of the songs at the studio made me marvel at how the whole soundtrack came together.

 

How was it growing up in the India of those days…
India was slow and simple those days, like everywhere else. At that time it may have felt that we were missing out a lot on what the West had so obviously we yearned for it. Today I wonder which was better.

 

From wanting to escape Bollywood, to making cheese in Coonoor… How did you get here?
Initially I thought I would stay just on the outskirts of Mumbai near Alibagh so I could be away from the city yet connected. As time went by I realised that even those parts were too influenced by the city. I would have to move further. Luckily my parents had bought a house in Coonoor and I already had a nostalgic connection with the Nilgiris from the films that my dad and later me shot here. I decided to move to Coonoor with the intention of setting up a farm and to build a life around it. Cheese-making was not on my mind at that time. That came only later when I had to persuade Tina (my wife) to move to Coonoor.

 

Tell us more about this property Acres Wild… What were the roadblocks when you started building it?
Surprisingly we had a very smooth time. We found this land on the very first day of our search. It was just a tea estate, no roads, no structure, no power and no water connection. But it had a water spring and that was one of the reasons we bought it. Water is everything if you are going to start a farm. Our best friend in town Mr. Vikram Devraj, was also an architect, that made the designing and construction smooth and enjoyable. Vikram understood our approach. We want simple structures. We wanted to make our own bricks with local mud from the foundation.

 

Probably the most painful thing in India is to get building permission even if it is completely permissible. Once obtained the joyous process of shaping the multiple structure, cow-shed, gobar-gas plant, water harvesting tank, water body, etc began. It took us 6 years to complete.

 

Cheddar House - Front Sunlight - 4709 - Cropped

 

Were there language problems…
Language was not an issue as the building contractors all spoke English well. We also adjusted to the local rhythm of doing work. Which meant that Mondays are automatically holidays. I think that this slowness of life is the reason why we had come to Coonoor in the first place. I wonder why people complain of this when they move to a smaller place.

 

Tell us about your most interesting guests… something they did or said…
You know we have been mostly lucky and we get mostly very understanding guests. Partly because they come directly to us through our website and they know what to expect. I have put it clearly on our website that we don’t have TVs in the cottages and there is no room service and that they should be ready to walk up and down a hill.
Once a guest asked us if we have a Jacuzzi and when I paused she realised how silly it must have sounded to expect that on a farm. Another time a guest insisted that we install a dish antenna overnight at his cottage so he could watch the cricket match. We have chosen to treat these episodes as amusing rather than disturbing.

 

What advice would you give to future guests?
I would request our guests to read our website as thoroughly as possible as then they would know what kind of place we are trying to run, what the objectives and goals are. Therefore make an evaluated choice about whether they should stay with us. One thing that I am not able to warn them on our website is the free presentation and talk that they will get from me about Peak Oil and Energy Descent. If I told them this then they just might decide not to come here. But honestly so far most guests have found this talk very interesting only after they have heard the realties that are hidden from us by our present media and education system.

 

We are all about stories. Any stories about the people, events, anything that has happened to you?
The most interesting event that happens on our farm is when the elephants visit us annually in the summer months. On the very first day in Sept 2009 when we moved to our farm there was an adolescent male that had been left behind by his family. He was very disturbed. Even more because some people were throwing stones at him to get him out of the way on the road. Suddenly he got upset and started chasing all the tea workers in the estate next to ours. In particular he turned his attention to a young lady worker and chased her downhill towards our farm. She disappeared under a tea bush and the elephant went right up to it and started searching for her. There were about 25 workers on our farm as some of the structures were still being built and they were all shouting and screaming to dissuade the elephant from looking for her because if he did then she was dead—he would crush her. Suddenly the lady got out of the bush and ran. The elephant lost of a few precious seconds but followed. She managed to keep her cool and crossed over into our land as the elephant gave up because of all the noise we were making. It taught us all that an elephant may look slow and lumbering once it is upset it can outrun anyone any day. We warn our guests in the summer when we know elephants are around.

 

And what next? For you?
I am working on a documentary that is based on my book called ‘The Third Curve – The End of Growth as We Know it’. I feel it is urgent to take the message to people who expect perpetual economic growth to go on forever.

 

What made you write this book?
We are living in a world that is facing multiple crisis… What is happening?  Growth is a religion today. We have embedded it as a fundamental aspect of modern life. If you aren’t growing, then you are wasting your time… if you don’t do that then you’ll end up in doomsday. My book is to explain why growth cannot last, it explains the end of growth as we know it. For more information visit this website.

 

What next for your farm?
On our farm we hope to get more structured in our planting practices and include more and more guests into this activity. So that when they come here they feel they can participate and contribute. Helps us too!

 


 

HT Mag Tips!

Getting there:
Coonoor is a small hill station in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu state in South India. It is about 20 km from Ooty.
One can reach Coimbatore by train or flight from the major metros in India. It is then a 1.5 to 2 hour drive by taxi to the property.

HT. Do. Not. Miss.
Book the Cheese Making course in advance. Please check with Mansoor and Tina for costs and availability.

For more details: Acres Wild

 

Avril and Vanessa - 4551

 

Cheese Cupboard - 2668

 

Image Credit: Mansoor Khan

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