Wednesday, July 24, 2013

78. Give me a break

And there she was, engrossed in reading a book on the deck of the houseboat, oblivious of the exquisite beauty of the Dal lake. Second time in as many days, one could not hold back from intruding: 'Aren't you on a vacation?' Violation to her privacy notwithstanding, she was candid in her response, 'No, I'm on a sabbatical.'  I must confess it took time for me to get the essence of her response and hence our conversation was truncated then.   

Years later I discovered the subtle but profound distinction between a vacation and a sabbatical. The young lady on the deck was on a trip to unwind, explore and regenerate herself. Whether it was employer-supported or not, sabbatical for her was a desire fueled with fantasy. And, all fantasies carry a shadow of uncertainty for which she seemed reasonably prepared over the next three months of her sabbatical.

Sabbatical is considered a Biblical act, when God rested after creating the universe. Present across ancient societies, the idea was to not only ‘take a break’ but allow nature to take a break too. Agriculture activities were given a break for the land to rest and recover, what in modern parlance would be considered an ‘unproductive phase.’ Majority of our present day problems are precisely borne out of over-stretching everything, from the living to the non-living. 

Many forms of sabbaticals have been invented. In some, absence from service is fully paid, whereas in others some companies offer unpaid sabbaticals. Universities do encourage their faculty to avail sabbatical and so are some government offices. In practice, very rare! Given the immense pressure of deadlines and targets, employees run out of steam for randomness, spontaneity, and serendipity — all of which are crucial to creativity and innovation. But rarely do employers acknowledge the need for employees recuperation and regeneration! 

India's youngest Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, is credited for not only cutting a typical week to five working days but for introducing 'leave travel concession' for employees to escape from their daily ordeal to explore the country. It is no secret that the opportunity has been squandered (or misappropriated) to such an extent that a month's basic salary is what most employers currently offer, whether or not one travels! No wonder, a recently retired acquaintance does not know 'what worth he is after relinquishing his desk job at the bank'.  
Indians love predictability and continuity, and so are their employers! Rarely if ever, they inspire themselves or the others, status quo suits them the most. In contrast, a `sabbatee' is a different beast, ready to 'go away to assess whether or not s/he still likes thyself'. Ready to explore and reinvent, a typical sabbatee returns home a 'new person' after re-discovering oneself. 
Indians often go on vacations, capturing pictures of themselves against important landmarks. but rarely submit themselves for sabbaticals. Rarely do they challenge themselves and hence are bereft of any inspiration. Going out of their comfort zone is a big NO. Consequently, neither do they discover themselves nor the world - remaining somewhat like a lost society.

Wonder if Vasco da Gama had not been on a sabbatical we may have been discovered at all!

This piece was first published in Deccan Herald on Oct 10, 2016.