A handful of friends who are concerned about our well-being once in a while call us up or drop in the chat and ask, “what’s up?” . I have a rehearsed answer, “you know what, I am writing two major papers, reading a book on cave history, preparing my lecture notes….” and the list continues until they get bored, yawn and decide to say a ‘bye’. What they know I mean is ‘I am trying to do [something] when I am doing nothing….” 🙂 Some of them are kind enough to point out, “Oh yes, we actually see you online most of the times on FB or Gmail” or else “Yeah, you have no time but still you blog quite often” — in crude Mumbaiya language — you are doing lukkha. Sometimes blogging is seen as a crime, waste of time and talent.
As a student of literature, I was given dollops of British literature at the beginning of my career. The smell of coffee-houses, charm of the British countryside, and the slow journey of classic novels. Of the Shakespeares and Miltons, of the Lawrences and Hardys, my pick always used to be romantic poetry or else essays — ‘personal essays’, precisely. I had a dream of writing like Charles Lamb or J.B.Priestly in the genre of essays. However, as the genre itself, my own creativity went into a decadent phase. Yet, I believe every form has its ups and downs and the genre of essays and ‘personal essays’ would also one day see the light of the day — my estimate and hope, being blogs.
There is a favourite read out of all these picks, J.B.Priestley “On Doing Nothing” 😉 . As a young student, I had taken that essay so seriously that always felt a pride when people asked me questions and I would arrogantly reply, “I am doing nothing”. The joy of reading that particular essay cannot be described in words. I really used to imagine lying on the grass looking at the Orion in the night sky, feeling the dew on the skin, and simply…doing nothing. What a delight it was reading these lines, your deep-secret desires, being narrated by an iconic author:
You have spent at least several days rushing from one to the other, explaining everywhere how desperately busy you are, with one eighteen-hour day after another, secretaries fainting, wife telephoning to the doctor about you; no time to eat properly, just living on brandy and mysterious blue capsules. Then, slap in the middle of all this hullabaloo, pack it up for a day or two, allowing each gang to conclude you are toiling for one of the other gangs, and do nothing, absolutely nothing… yawn and stretch…; glance at newspapers, dip into light literature, and gossip; but no more. No gardening, sharp walks, correspondence, nor even jobs about the house. Get as close to doing nothing as it is possible for a Western Aryan or whoever we are. Give an occasional thought, for spice and devilment, to the worrying colleagues. Refuse to answer the telephone—too busy. It is a dirty trick—but delicious. — (J.B.Priestley, “On Doing Nothing”, in Delights, Ch-57)
Some of the expressions might appear offensive to my readers because of its gender content and racial tones (Aryan is not a happy expression post-Hitler). However, I would insist that Priestley was one such author who brought smiles on the faces of his readers. Writing humour in a post 2nd World War phase must have been tough….
Cut to the present.
Perhaps, those were the times when one could think about ‘doing nothing’ and survive. In my undergraduate days when computers, laptops, Internet, social-networking were not the very ‘in’ things in Odisha, and when we lived on the sixth floor of the library amidst greying books, and dust-covered pages, “Doing Nothing”, Priestley style was imaginable. Landline phones were under parental control and no friends dared to call unless under the pretext of ‘home-work’ or ‘examination discussion’ . You could go completely ‘underground’ for days and months and re-emerge freshened up from whatever you were doing/ not doing. Meeting friends after a vacation would be like a mini college-fair and everything had an exaggerated gloss of a ‘filmy’ meeting after a lonnnggg separation.
With communication boom and with my personal addiction to communication and ‘need’ for communicating, ‘doing nothing’ seems almost like a dream and being ‘out of touch’ another impossibility. Always the appearance is that of ‘doing something’.
As students at IIT, if we appeared silent or offline for half-a-day, friends would call back inquiring if we are alright. In fact we had a small group joke that if we remain out of contact for half-a-day, either we have done break-through research or else we are pining over something/someone or else we are downloading some song/movie.
Being ‘on-line’ especially was a boon for ‘singles’. A prolonged ‘off-line’ status usually was taken as a sign of someone being ‘engaged’. Social networking used to be a succour for all the kindred souls devoid of human company (non-literary: the addas for singles ) People have different ways of ‘doing things’, and social-networking statuses are usually indicative of these ‘doings’ and ‘not-doings’.
Even post-student days, the urge to be ‘doing something’ is so strongly addictive that it is difficult to keep it away and to give time to yourself and observe things around you. This evening as I was returning home after office, for the first time in the past many months I observed that there is a camel having a pretty little smile tied outside the campus premises. For the first time I saw that there are some flowers by the campus by-lanes. I was observing the setting sun looking a greyish-yellow amidst the layers of evening dust, making me think of many people, so many friends, relatives and well-wishers who are with me and some who have left me.
The mind is so preoccupied with thoughts of work and otherwise that subtle things of life are missed.
The plans from now to forever, go on so deeply, that perceiving powers lower and so do imagination, creativity — because we are always doing something, hardly giving our selves the chance to be fallow.This summer my mother pointed out to me this restlessness. She said ‘either I see you glued to the Internet or to some book. When you leave one of these you grab the other…why not give yourself some break and just do nothing’ .
A dormant volcano when bursts is much more hazardous than the active ones because it has not been active for a certain phase. Creativity or scholarship or even yourself also have the capacity of that dormant volcano. However, the difference should be that instead of wrecking havoc by doing things that destroy us and people around us, can we do something positive by ‘doing nothing’? I must be sounding preachy and I am sure you will sing this after reading the article:
The one you warned me all about
The one you said I could do without
We’re in an awful mess, and I don’t mean maybe – please
Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep
Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep —
( “Papa Don’t Preach” )
(This post comes earlier than my weekend posts because of some appointments tomorrow)