I work hard for a living.
Living, not as in earning money to bring dinner to the table, but to live. As in Life. Some call me a workaholic, some call me obsessive, and the remaining call me so-dumb-he-has-to-work-a-lot. More than a few fights have ensued between me and my better half on account of this. To her frustration, not much has changed.
A reason why you will find me busy at work is because I have always found it more satisfying to dabble my fingers in different jars than lick up one deep and clean. (Don’t take that too figuratively). But usually I dip my finger deeper than most people. And that’s what takes up the time.
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be the best at what I do. Or at least, among the cream. And there’s a history to that. When I was young, my father once told me, purporting to summon a lot of officiousness and motivation in his tone, “Be a janitor, but be the best one in the world.”
I was inspired at that. Big-time. I had the most liberal dad in the world with such world-changing ideas. I was proud. Also, I was six.
Only much later was I to realize that the neither the quote nor the context was his own. That is, in parenting terms, a cliche. Oft preached. Nevertheless, when you are six, you haven’t seen the world enough to know a cliche from a unicorn. All said, I think that was a turning point of my life. I, forever, became destined to be a dabbler of all jars. A smeller of all flowers. And I wanted to be the best smelling smeller.
When I played guitar, I wanted to be a Santana. When I wrote code, I wanted to be a Torvalds. When I studied to be a physicist, I wanted to go to Caltech. When I wrote, I wanted to be as prolific as Tagore (ok, easy now). If and when I became a thug, I wanted to become Gengiz Khan. (That was before I saw Al Pacino: Scarface, Carlito’s Way, The Godfather)
However, before it dawned upon my tiny mind that there are some real-life constraints that stand between me and this grand ambition of mine, trivial ones – namely Time and Ability, the damage had been done. Old habits die hard. Fingers had been dipped. And jars of pickle are quite inviting. And sticky.
So I keep working at these. Hard. Still believing that I can be good. And that’s what, like I said, takes up time.
But there is a lazy part of me. Which has much sublimed ever since I left the pretentiously-busy, ever-lazy small town called Calcutta. Those were the days of perfecting the art of doing nothing. Which could partly go to explain why I do not have much to show for growing up. The days or idling around, indulging in procrastination and indolence, raising laziness to a virtue.
By refusing to bowl & field, even to the extent of giving up a walk-over in a game of cricket to the opponent because our team has finished batting. Remorseless hours spent in the College Canteen (cafeteria) listening to poetry written by amorous friends in memory of unrequited love. By perpetually being late for evening dates for no apparent good reason, except the luring inertia of rest after an afternoon siesta.
In a flash, this hidden past of mine, jumped into prominence after I picked up a phenomenal book from the British Council Library last afternoon.
This book is brilliant. The introduction begins with a rap on the knuckles for all those who want to, or derive pleasure from, working hard.
The Majority of Englishmen and Americans have no life but in their work; that alone stands between them and ennui…they are too deficient in senses to enjoy mere existence in repose and scarcely any pleasure or amusement is pleasure or amusement to them.
John Stuart Mill, 1848
It lays down the benefits of doing nothing. How the Greeks practiced avoiding menial labour, the custom of languid English afternoon tea and how idleness breeds creativity. While it is written in a condescending style, its easy to figure out that there is quite some substance underneath the satirical top.
My take. Fast forward to the crux of this post.
Life is to be found in a working hard and idling away. And weaning between the two. Jumping from one to the other, like bouts of loving and fighting commonly seen in lovers. Both are real, both are true. One complements the other. Yin-Yang. Idle-Struggle.Wave-particle duality.
Back to the book.
This one is generously strewn with some awesome quotations. Makes me rethink Marxism, this quote from a man none less than the son-in-law of Karl Marx and the founder of the French Marxist party. In 1880, Paul Lafargue, wrote a pamphlet called Le Droit a la Paresse (“The Right to be Lazy”), which became his most popular and enduring piece of writing.
For the proletariat to realize its own strength it must discover its natural instincts and proclaim that the right to leisure is a thousand times more sacred and noble than the Rights of Man advocated by the metaphysical lawyers of the middle class revolution.
Consider this one, my favourite, on busy idleness:
I love idleness. I love to busy myself about trifles, to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them, to come and go as my fancy bids me, to change my mind every moment, to follow a fly in all its circlings to try to uproot a rock to see what is underneath, eagerly to begin a ten year’s task and to give up after ten-minutes; in short, to fritter away the whole day inconsequentially and incoherently, and to follow nothing but the whim of the moment.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
That one pretty much sums up my life. The dabbler of all jars; czar of none. Now back to work.