Columns, Tehelka

Relax, It’s Just A Vacation

REMEMBER THE time when summer holidays meant doing nothing? We chugged off over alarmingly large distances in distressingly slow trains to our native place, hung out with a gaggle of cousins, uncles and aunts, saw an occasional film or two, and ate copious quantities of homemade food — but for most part we did nothing. holidays were a time when we unplugged our individual existences and plugged into the mother ship at the family headquarters. the month-long summer vacation had us humming with reaffirmation of who we were and where we came from. We drank deeply from the sweet sense of the collective that welcomed us as we reattached ourselves to our origins. We became whole again, till it was time to go back and live our separate lives, recharged with the sap of familial comfort and warmth.

The summer holiday of today seems to possess a very different character. Although holidays are meant to be a counterpoint to work, what we get today is work by another name. If work means doing things purposefully with a defined outcome, the holiday today calls for pretty much the same approach. Children in particular are made to fill their calendar with an endless round of coaching classes, personality development camps, sports lessons and sundry workshops that make parents feel progressive and evolved. travelling, too, is a full-time project, with so much to track down on the Internet and so many activities to cram in — all to get full paisa vasool. the summer holiday is a blur of overheated verbs, a dizzying set of arrivals and departures as one zips from one activity to another in the crowded terminal of our lives. If the summer holiday of yesteryears meant going back to who we already were, today we speed on to where we wish to be. having broken from the family collective, at least for our holidays, we now celebrate the individual and fill the vacuum of the missing collective with relentless activity.

Technology also does its bit by keeping us forever on the brink of our work. It infects all time with purpose and converts moments of idleness into unrealised opportunities. It splits our lives into several parallel streams and makes it difficult for us to be doing nothing in all those streams. even when we decide to do nothing, we choose descriptions that suggest purposefulness and action. So we are ‘chilling’, ‘lazing’ or ‘sunning ourselves’ — lying on the beach is not about doing nothing but a self-conscious act of holding still. We feel a need to point to the fact that we are doing nothing visible, that we have switched off the phone. And in the switched-off phone lies an awareness of what we’re missing — the absence lives on in our constant awareness of it. If earlier we did nothing because there was nothing to do, today we do nothing because it is on our to-do list — this need to ‘chill’. Of course, such determined activity or inactivity is difficult to sustain for too long. No wonder our holidays have shrunk — it is no longer possible to imagine the month or two month-long breaks we used to take. Anything more than a week and we start twitching. We are embedded too deeply in the main business of our lives for a disruption that overstays its welcome. In any case, it’s exhausting to holiday too long. Work is simpler.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010