Work-life balance

I used to have a job that involved me doing something I was passionate about.  My boss knew this, and used it to manipulate me into working longer and longer hours.  Calls at night, meetings on Sundays, discussions at picnics.  It never ended.

And then, I was fortunate enough to move to a country where most professions (apart from the high-pressure ones such as investment banking and PR and journalists) packed their bags and headed off after nine or ten hours of work.  6pm and offices used to be empty.  Lunch breaks actually saw people head out to parks to sit and read.  And weekends really did mean two whole days.

It was … illuminating.  And liberating.  The range of options that opened up, the flexibility available for running errands and doing chores, the amount of leisure time possible … after a year of that, I vowed to fight my damndest to never again end up in a job which took that away from me.

Coming back to India has been even more illuminating.  It was bad enough when the country was simply a developing nation, with too many people fighting for too few good jobs.  Now, with the economy booming and growth in so many new sectors (recent hiccups to the contrary), there’s even more pressure for people to deliver more – to retain the good jobs they find, to make full use of first-mover advantage, to capitalise on the massive growth potential.

And so Friend A works till a 12-hour shift and commutes for 3 hours.  This is why Friend B is replying to emails on Blackberry at 1am during a birthday party.  This is why Friend C meets clients who are willing to travel to his residence at 5.45am.  And this is why Friend D has forgotten how to have an uninterrupted physical conversation without checking their tablet or PC or answering a call.

And everybody has health issues.  Blood pressures and sugar counts and cholesterol levels are high.  Spines are being distorted and are breaking down in complaint.  Physical activity is at a minimum, and stamina and fitness is non-existent.  Books lie unread.  Films remain unwatched.  New music is unheard of.  Friends increasingly become Whatsapp buddies.  Picnics and hikes and vacations are non-existent or rushed through.

And it’s not as if the monetary compensation is always worth it, either.

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It’s hard to say no to bosses.  There’s the fear of being labelled as difficult, or not a team player, or being upstaged by some brown-nosing colleague.

It’s hard to say no to more revenue growth for your business.  There’s the fear that some rival may swoop in for the contract, that employees will take advantage of your good-natured leniency, that things will not get done just right if you are not overseeing it.

And so everybody is pushing themselves harder and harder for longer and longer – and most crucially, accepting that this is a decades-long scenario.

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More people need to learn to push back more.

To say, there’s never going to be no work and what I’ve done is more than enough.  To say, would you rather I sit around till after dinner and secretly chat on Facebook or do all my work and leave at a humane hour.  To say, I have a life and it’s not filled with work and stop giving me that disappointed look because we’re not changing the world we’re bloody writing slogans to help sell more soaps.  To say, what’s the point of earning all this if I’m going to spending it all later on to deal with all the health issues I’m accumulating now.  To say, I want to stop being so tired all the time.  To say, I would like to enjoy myself out of office so that I actually start looking forward to enjoying myself in office.  To say, don’t tell me baking a cake and sitting down to eat it while reading a new book is not as important as the team off-site, because tomorrow there may be a tsunami or an earthquake or my car’s engine may short-circuit and then what would my life have been so just fuck off ok.  To say, there’s a reason it’s called a work-life balance.

And then to do those things.

Because work will always be there.  But friends and family won’t.

Virtually friends

It used to require real effort to stay in touch with friends before the Internet.  Phone calls required you to talk (or at least, respond); meeting up requiredyou to be present; letters and postcards required finding a paper and a pen and a flat surface and scribbling.

And there was a limit to those interactions. You could only talk so long till your voice gave way or your phone bills took off into outer space, you could only (properly) interact with so many people when meeting them, you could only write so much before your fingers cramped and begged for mercy.

And those limits in turn limited the number of people you could interact with on a regular, and meaningful, basis.

But now, now it’s so easy to keep in touch.  Click a couple of buttons and update everybody on your life and follow somebody’s life.  Discuss new hairstyles, coo over babies, oooh over skiing video, keep tabs on each other’s movements and opinions, never miss out on the major life-events.  It’s all so easy, so quick.  And you think you’re in touch, you’re involved, you’re connected.

But as I send out yet another quick congratulation, I realise that for the most part, this is what most of my interactions have come down to – quick bursts of short messages that seek the path of least effort.  I realise that I’ve become so used to receiving nearly all the information about my friends via status updates that I haven’t spoken to them or written to them at length in aeons.  I realise that just because I ‘see’ them regularly on some social network, I’ve forgotten the fact that it’s been years since we actually met in person – even while living in the same city.  And worse, have not made the effort to do so, simply because it’s so much easier just to IM them.

Which is why I keep finding myself startled to learn that they’re getting married, that they’ve moved to another country, that they’ve stopped eating mangoes.   And it’s only when I learn of such events from mutual friends that I am again reminded that not everybody lives their lives out publicly.

And I realise it’s time to depend less on announcements and begin to communicate more often.

Underground bunkers

Look at the world around you.  No, not the people, the world.

The temperature is rising, the ice is melting, the rains are getting more unpredictable, the air is getting more clogged, the storms are getting more fierce.

Ok fine, look at the people too.  More disputes are being escalated into conflicts over rivers and dams, over girls being allowed to be educated, over imaginary borders, and over that ol’ faithful – religion.

And on top of it all, the AI Singularity is fast approaching, thanks to people increasingly – and voluntarily – feeding the computers and robots with more data about us, so that they can get more intelligent.  I hope there’s a Susan Calvin out there.

What with all this, tell me that personal secure, food-stocked, water-supplied, renewable-energy-fuelled, waste-recycling, low-tech-dependent bunkers aren’t going to become ever more popular.  Heck, maybe even the cities will start going underground.

I should start a business.

Once I figure out how to grow food in such an environment, that is.  After all, there’s only so much one can do with mushrooms.

And once I figure out a proper barter system, of course.  Because really, paper money is only going to be useful for fires and … ahem … physical cleansing.

And once I accumulate enough easily-storable, diverse entertainment.  Because boredom kills.

(The Outsider’s Guide to Dillistan) Traffic

Before emigrating to Dillistan, you may have read many paeans to the Metro – how it has radically improved the life of commuters in the city, how more people should use it more to help de-congest the roads, how it is a greener and cleaner option.

Ignore all that.  A true Dillistani only uses a personal vehicle, the selection of which should follow one simple rule –

Meri gaadi badi toh main sahi.

The bigger your vehicle, the more you can weave through lanes without indicating, the more you can honk-force others out of your way, the more you can ignore red lights.  And of course, the lesser chance of somebody dinging your vehicle, because who knows how influential you must be if you can afford that big beast.

A Dillistani’s choice of vehicles, in declining order of tu-kya-ukhaad-lega-ness, are:

  • A government car.  Security guard + beacon + escort vehicle. Seriously, who’s going to mess with you?
  • A truck.  Preferably filled with sand or bricks.  This will make people think you’re part of the builder mafia, and since there’s nobody more powerful than them, you’ll get a wide berth.  Oh, and because they have kick-ass horns.
  • A bus.  Pack it with your friends and hangers-on and pretend you’re on public duty, but really just go where you want.  Nobody will raise a protest, because that’s how the regular ones function anyway. .
  • A tractor.  Everybody will think you’re a farmer.  And since all the ‘farmland’ belongs to the super-elite, or those from Gurgaon, nobody will dare even look in your direction.
  • An imported luxury saloon.  Because anybody’s who rich enough to pay those kind of prices and that level of import duty is obviously rich enough to have a few cops, judges, and politicians on their speed dial.
  • An imported 4×4.  As above.  Plus the big wheels obviously mean you’re bad-ass. .
  • An imported convertible.  As above.  Plus, it means you can race down and threaten anybody else.
  • A local 4×4.  Still with the huge wheels.
  • A local luxury sedan.  You may not be able to make life for somebody completely miserable, but you can still inflict enough grief.
  • A mini-van.  You’re full of schoolchildren, who are desperate for any excuse to call you names and chant slogans and generally embarass the heck out of you.
  • A family car.  Extra space means you know enough people who you can call up to come along with hockey sticks.
  • A powerbike/cruiser.  Because you can put on a bandana and pretend to be a Hell’s Angel.
  • A compact car.  Keep some water and lots of cloth handy, because you’re going to get perennially shat upon.
  • An auto-rickshaw.  Everybody hates you, and will use you for target practice.
  • A standard bike.  Everybody will hate how you zip in and out of the gridlock, and will use you for target practice.
  • A cycle.  Hahahahahahahahahahaha…. sorry sorry … ahahahahahahahaha.

If you’re walking, of course, you don’t count at all – because you must be poor or mad.

 

Silences and Sociability

One of the fundamental norms of human social interaction is – You must talk when around others; if you don’t, you’re either shy, taciturn or anti-social.

Instead of ranting on how idiotic this is, and how it doesn’t take into account how some people actually like to listen and how the world needs such people, I give you Douglas Adams:

One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It’s a nice day, or You’re very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright?  At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour.  If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up.  After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one.  If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. 
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

It’s not called being silent, it’s called being quiet.  Something that this too-loud world desperately needs more of.I have a spectrum of

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Not everybody is the same, and not everybody has the same level of energy to socialise, and sometimes people just need their own space.  However, refuse to go out for a couple of dinner parties or choose to sit reading an interesting book instead of gossipping, and you get termed grumpy and anti-social.  Classification fail.

If you are going to apply labels to people, please learn the Sociability Spectrum first:
Nuclear-bunker-er paranoiac in NW Mongolia
Mountain-cave Hermit
Recluse
Anti-social
Unsociable
Grumpy
Selectively sociable
Friendly
Chirpy-and-bubbly
Extrovert
Party animal
‘Celebrity’ with their own reality TV show

For the record, I’m selectively sociable (despite any rumours you may have heard to the contrary).  I will meet with friends at random hours and often go out of my way to do so, and it’s sometimes difficult to shut me up at such times.  But I also like my space and make no apologies about wanting – and enjoying – it.  After all, all those books need to be read.

Ranting about Religion

Egads.  This topic alone could account for a month’s worth of posts.   Oh well, a distillation.

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*  Being religious is not the same as having faith or belief.

*  Institutionalised religion is the cause of more broken dreams, broken lives, broken futures, and broken societies than any other human creation.

*  The trappings of religious rituals exist primarily to benefit those who perform them.

*  Passing off extravagan places of worship as artistic and architechtural marvels?  Sure.  Saying they have been made so stupendous in order to highlight how great that religion is?  Sure.  But trying to convince people that these structures are so grand because they are meant to inspire worshippers?  Fail.  True faith can be inspired even in a tin-shed.

*  It’s hilarious that people will heatedly defend the concept of God being a super-natural entity that can shape worlds and create life – but mock readers of Sci-Fi & Fantasy books that describe various types of immensely powerful intelligences that match that same definition.

And vice-versa.

*  If you truly believe in your religion, you will not be accommodating of other ones.  You will not partake in their festivals, you will not visit their places of worship, you will not bother knowing about or understanding their rituals.  Because if you do, then you believe in the concept of a divinity, not your Divinity.  Which means you are not Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Shinto, or any other sort of religious – you’re spiritual.

True religious belief demands fundamentalism.  Or, as better put by the genius of Pratchett-

If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother … well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like “There are two sides to every question”, and “We must respect other people’s beliefs”.  You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword.  And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be.  You say you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see?  Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it.  That’s religion.  Anything else is just … is just bein’ nice.  And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.
– 
Carpe Jugulum

 

(a subtle) Queening

A request post (yes, I do those too).
This isn’t exactly a rant, but more of a follow-up conversation on how the Hindi film ‘Queen‘ is full of subtleties that are mistaken for implausibilities and stereotypes.

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On first viewing, Queen appears to be a merely a slightly-different take on the stock cloistered-character-breaking-free-and-achieving-self-realisation plot – girl gets done hard by, girl takes plunge, girl unchains her true spirit, girl takes on the world.  The film is funny and uplifting and a welcome female-character-driven film from the Hindi film industry.

However, it has also received a lot of minor criticisms, most of which focus on how too many of the plot-points are just simply too far-fetched or rely on caricatures.  The first end-reaction is – yes, yes, how nice, but how have things really changed for Rani?  She only survived because she got lucky and met friendly strangers, and now that she’s back home will she be able to resist family pressure to ‘get settled’ with a nice boy they choose, and really, what independence has she gained?

Well, go watch it for the second time.  And you will realise that the film is a lot more technically sound than you gave it credit for, due to a lot of subtlety in the scenes and conversations. And all of this adds up to create a film that showcases how life really unfolds for the most part – in gradual stages, and with a lot of effort.

A few examples –

1)  The one-second shot in the coffee shop when Rani breaks down and leaves crying, and Vijay is seen crisply dusting away some specks with the back of his hand.

Those are flakes of mehendi from her hands.  Rani, her marriage, the untidyness of having her in his life – all swept away decisively.

 

2) The three-second shot of her being scared of the traffic in Paris (during the song ‘Badra Bahar’).  The instant reaction of the audience is – ok, too much na? A girl from Dilli doesn’t know how to cross the road? Not believable.

Except it is.  Because Paris, unlike India, has right-hand traffic. And in that shot you clearly see her looking to her right, where she has always expected oncoming traffic from (having lived her whole life in Dilli), before being startled by a car coming (unexpectedly for her) from the left.  The classic mistake of a first-time visitor to a country where the traffic rule is opposite to that of their home nation.

The shot highlights just how foreign the city is to her, a theme underlined in another quick shot later on where she’s hesitant to cross at a signal.

 

3)  All the dialogues where she says something in Hindi, then repeats it in English.  Such a seemingly clumsy way of avoiding sub-titles, and creating a cross-lingual film.

Or, a subtle way of showing that English is not really her first language, and that she needs to speak a sentence first in her native tongue to clarify her thoughts, before switching over.

 

4)  Taka.

Several critics have called his character a lazy caricature of the ‘over-hyper Japanese tourist’.

But is it not really simply the over-compensating behaviour of a person who we’re told has suddenly lost his entire family and belongings, and who is on a trip in a deliberate attempt to try and ease that pain? Is it not simply the behaviour of someone who knows they have a lifetime of grief to face, but  are determined for now to live life to its fullest for a few moments, moments that will help sustain them in the future?

Why else would Taka be the one who’s most physically affectionate to, and with, Rani?  Why else would he be the only to go back for one last hug at the concert?

Because like her, he has been hurt deeply and is trying to move on.  Two characters who try to find a new meaning to their lives in a strange country far away, and who discover that the world is full of others like them, a fact that offers them hope and strength to carry on.

 

5)  The sex-toy shop scene.  Typical scene of guys being typical jerks, laughing at a naive girl, you say.

Rather, the scene reinforces the message that they see her as a friend, and that her genuine decency makes people want to protect her from her unworldliness, rather than take advantage of it.

That’s why they don’t mock her directly, but try to hide their laughter (although they fail).  That’s why when Oleksander confronts her with the belt, he doesn’t reveal what it’s really used for (even though he’s holding a DVD of the same behind his back for that very purpose).

And yes, it does also show that however nice guys are, we are sometimes just juveniles who can’t help mocking and ribbing friends.

6) The second ending.  So unnecessary, you say.  Ending the film at the shot of her dancing alone at the rock concert would be perfect, you say.

Except it wouldn’t.

Because leaving him when and how she did in Amsterdam would simply be a mirror image of the way he rejected her – in a cafe, in public, heartbroken.  And how would that make her any different from him? But choosing to go to his own home, his domain, she shows the courage and courtesy he (and his family) denied her.

And by doing it in India, it highlights that the changes seen in her while abroad continue to hold true even on her return, where it could be expected she would revert to her old persona.  The character has changed, the narrative is complete, and the future beckons.

7)  But is she really emancipated, you ask.  After all, she’ll just return home to a big family where girls are ‘not allowed to do anything’, and where she has always followed directions and orders.  Won’t she just be told who to marry next, and what to do, and go with the flow?

Maybe not.  Snippets of conversation – with Vijay when they first meet, with Taka before the cooking challenge – show that she’s been actively involved in her father’s business, and has plans for them.  The only thing she lacked was confidence, of doing new things and of doing things on her own.  But now she’s faced success in alien conditions, and may make more of a push to have her voice heard.

Besides, she’s seen struggling painters and musicians, and realises that it’s ok to struggle if you believe in what you want to do.  And she appears to be prepared for that struggle.