It all started with my office suddenly finding out I hadn't taken any leave for more than a year. “Your work-life balance is horrible,” said the HR manager. "You need to take a week's leave immediately.” I knew there was no point in arguing — all they had to do was whip out rule 3(d), section (y), sub-section 275a, of the Office Manual or some such similar sub-para to show how wrong I was about everything.
Actually, the idea of taking a break was quite appealing. I would go to Goa, I decided, with images of palm-fringed, sun-kissed beaches and lazy mornings at the beach floating in my mind. “It’s raining all day there,” demurred my daughter, “and the sea is too rough to swim”. “Lots of nice places to eat there,” I pointed out, visions of sorpotel and chicken cafreal dancing before my eyes, washed down with great gallons of feni. “Oh yeah?” said the family, “remember the last time when you ate so much you started sweating and we thought you were having a heart attack?” “Be your age,” they said acidly, “what’s the point of indulging yourself if you have to have Aristozyme and Zantac for dessert?”
“What about Matheran?” someone said, referring to a local protuberance they call a hill station. “No,” I said firmly, “the last time we went there we met all our neighbours who had the same idea about getting away from it all.” “We could go to Lonavla and get wet standing under Bushy falls,” said my daughter. “You could get wet standing outside the house,” I said cuttingly. We finally decided to visit Mysore, for the very good reason that we could put up at my brother-in-law's place there.
Thus, it was that one sunny morning that saw us in Mysore, comfortably ensconced in a tourist bus. I admired the greenery and asked my sister-in-law, a botany graduate, and the names of the plants. “Angiosperms,” was her short answer, no matter which tree I pointed to. (I found out later that all flowering plants are called angiosperms.) We plodded through an interminable number of palaces with a never-ending series of rooms, which contained lots of ghastly paintings to be stared at. Reminded me of the time when I was dragged kicking and screaming through Victoria Memorial in Kolkata by my parents, under the mistaken belief I would imbibe some culture. At Srirangapatnam, we were given a crash course on Tipu Sultan while trudging from one miserable ruin to another. By the time we arrived at Tipu's summer palace, where he's buried, I was so tired I felt like lying down beside his tomb. Maybe future tourists would have to be told, I thought, “And this is where the great Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan lie buried, along with a guy called Manas.”
It was a pleasure, therefore, to reach the Brindavan gardens in the evening, where I put my foot down and refused to walk any further. Instead we sat by the fountains, dangling our feet in the cool stream and letting the spray from the fountains refresh us. After five minutes of this, I heard murmurs behind us. Looking back, I realised a queue had formed, with eager tourists wanting to savour this new experience. I could imagine what was passing through their minds. “Why shouldn’t we dip our feet in the water as well? We too must get our money's worth. Besides, I’m probably a better foot-dangler than that guy.”
A few days later, after a trip to Bangalore, I was back in Mumbai, completely exhausted by all the sightseeing. I would sit at home for the next two days, I thought, put up my feet, read some books, and recuperate. But my family had other ideas. Since I was the only one sitting at home, they said, it was my turn to buy the fish, get the groceries, pay the bills, get the air-conditioner fixed and clear that long-pending business at the bank.
I just have to get through one more day somehow before going back to the office. This work-life balance is too much like hard work.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint