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For the joy of a sabbatical

Four people dropped out of the rat race for a while to trek, volunteer, paint or simply to sit back and relax, reports Kinjal Dagli.

india Updated: May 31, 2008 21:23 IST
Kinjal Dagli

Sandeep Mathur, 34, discovered a passion for social work


After seven years in the corporate banking sector, Sandeep Mathur had had enough. So, two months into a new job as senior manager with a Dutch bank, he called it quits — if only temporarily. “There was this constant feeling of exhaustion. I had put on a lot of weight too. I didn’t like my new job, and I just decided I would not look for another,” recalls 34-year-old Mathur, now working as a senior relationship manager with a global bank. “The day I quit, and sat in the cab, I remember feeling free just riding along Marine Drive. I had nowhere to go; nowhere to be. There was an immense sense of relief,” he says.
For one year, from July 2006 to August 2007, Mathur did just what he wanted — road trips, backpacking, social work, and gym workouts.
“I took a 20-day backpacking trip to Turkey by myself, explored Thailand on another trip, and for a few months, volunteered for Akanksha, an NGO that educates street children. I also got back into shape,” says Mathur, adding that that besides stuff he already knew about himself, he unearthed more. “I was aware of my love of travelling, so the leave I took reinforced that. But I discovered I had a passion for social work. For my birthday, the street kids at Akanksha made a crown for me and celebrated the occasion. It was the happiest I had felt in many years,” says Mathur.
His industry, though, was far from sympathetic at the idea of a ‘break’. Six months into the sabbatical, Mathur started looking for a job, and realised it wasn’t going to be easy.
“Going on leave to study or pursue an interest related to your career is comprehendible for employers. But if you say you took a break just like that, they wonder if you’re reliable. At every interview after that, I would spend the first ten minutes explaining my ‘break’. But I have no regrets,” recalls Mathur, who ultimately landed a job and got back in the game. “It just took me a few months longer to find a job I liked, but it was well worth the trouble.”


Bhushan Jawlekar, 32, stopped to smell the roses. Recharged, got back to work

“The plan was not to have a plan,” says Bhushan Jawlekar, group project manager, Infosys Technologies who took a four-month long break last year after a career run of 11 years.
“Holidaying was not the prime mover for sabbatical — I went to the Konkan beaches for a bit, but it was more of being at home — completely relaxed, and chilling with the family.”
What brought on the break? Jawlekar says he started feeling like he was missing out on the good things in life, and was becoming “one-dimensional”. Fortunately for him, he worked for an organisation that offers up to year-long sabbaticals once every five years. And while it raised some eyebrows in the family, Jawlekar says it was one of the most satisfying periods of his life. “It is not too common to see people go on extended leaves without a pressing reason.”
“My wife understood the logic, but was she worried that if my leave caused a setback in my career, it might frustrate me later”, explains Jawlekar. Her worries were unfounded, as Jawlekar discovered: “With any career, it’s a give and take deal — you miss out on action for four months, but you come back recharged and somewhat better equipped.”

Elizabeth Verghese, 53, helped the aged

Elizabeth Verghese had been at her Reserve Bank of India (RBI) job for 29 years. The 53-year-old assistant general manager never once felt the need for a break. But about eight years away from retirement, in July 2006, Verghese decided she needed to temporarily halt her growing career and pause to think.
Luckily for her, just around the time, the RBI came up with a scheme that allowed employees to take up to four years off to study or work in the non-governmental sector. “It was great timing,” says Verghese who wanted to work with senior citizens.
Verghese spent about a year at Dignity Foundation, an NGO that works with the elderly, as director of services and contributed with many a banking and organisational skill.“I interacted with the senior citizens, participating in all their recreational and activities as well as comprehending their emotions, anxieties, and attitude towards life in their sunset years,” she
recalls.
Her banking experience also came in handy. “I introduced the seniors to one of the latest initiatives for social security offered by National Housing Bank called the Reverse Mortgage Scheme,” she says.
And while she helped others, she found clues for planning something to occupy herself. “Within a year, I realised the urgency of the need to have a post-retirement plan. The sabbatical helped me engage in something meaningful and productive, which had only been a part of my imagination. I came back to my job a happier and inspired person,” she says.

Bipasha Majumder, 34, reinvented the artist in her

“Once you’ve taken a break, you can never get enough of it,” says 34-year-old Bipasha Majumder, a Delhi-based advertising professional who hung up her boots for six months to do a variety of things — painting, writing, vipassana meditation, and trekking. “I had been in advertising for about six years without a break. It’s an industry that makes it easy to lose touch with yourself, your friends and family. I desperately wanted to pack my bags and take off,” recalls Majumder. But before she took off, she did a trial run. “I went on leave for two months to backpack across South India with a friend. After I came back, I resigned,” she says.
Majumder believes the goal of a sabbatical is do the things one enjoys. “I used to paint, but hadn’t done it in years. So I relearned oil painting. Along the way realised I was good at writing. Some of my travel experiences, even found themselves in magazines,” she recalls. And, turns out, she became a calmer person. “I could handle stress better after that break,”she says.
But a sabbatical can only last so long. And sometimes, it becomes a negotiating point for potential employers.
“Money pulled me back into the job market, and I shifted to Mumbai. Some agencies tried to haggle with me on account of the break, but I decided I didn’t want to join those places anyway. I was careful to join an organisation that supported the need for a person to get away,” she says.