Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

To do or not

Navtej Sarna

IT takes a lot for an ordinary man to do nothing and yet manage to exude an air of comfort and general well being. The task is calculated to test fully the inexperienced soul and leave him a mere shadow of his former self, graying at the temples and starting at the sound of passing cars. Doing nothing is obviously an art cultivated through years of assiduous practice and no doubt requires the singlemindedness of an exceptional calibre.

One would think that its as easy as swiveling in a chair. Which is why so many people who look perfectly in place in opulently upholstered offices decide to take a holiday. You know, rough it out, get away from it all… Onto the sun-drenched beaches or among the silent mountains all ready to do nothing but soak in the generous sun or waltz to the music of the wind in the trees.

But it would be too much to expect our holiday-maker to actually manage to do nothing. A three-ulcer executive used to dictating telexes between pauses on the telephone while his eye follows the dips of a graph cannot suddenly take on the languid loll of the beachcomber. He likes things in place. The beach clothes, the sun umbrella, the beer chilled to the right degree, the sandwiches (half with peanut butter and half without), the sun tan oil…it all needs organizing. He loves that. And does it.

He begins to set targets. And feels satisfied when he achieves them. Walk three miles. Breathe deeply a hundred times. Weigh yourself every morning and watch that needle.

After a few days of such “taking-it-easy”, he decides to “keep-in-touch”. Reads the newspaper carefully. Stays in the hotel and calls up the office. Our friend is evidently surprised when he finds that they haven’t had to pull down the shutters in his absence. The wheels of progress have not ground to a halt. He doesn’t believe it and insists that they send him all the important messages and ring him for directions. And then waits in his room the rest of the day for the miserable phone to ring.

Then there are those days when he decides to do nothing but play “a spot of billiards”. In the dark green of the room with its magical captivating hooded lights. You will find him desperately racing his opponent to a hundred. His eyes narrow, sweat glistens on his brow and his pulse races as he bends over the table in a desperate effort to do nothing. Then he chews on his cue while his opponent unleashes a series of immaculate cannons in the manner of all opponents.

I have watched dozens of such holidaymakers who come back to office more tense than before, suffering under the happy delusion that they did nothing in these treasured days. Through careful elimination of all but the most necessary actions, I have chalked out an ideal holiday. Here it is…. Get up in the morning. Think about breakfast. Bathe and change while you think of the lovely beach and the strenuous swim. Ring up yesterday’s acquaintance and wonder loudly whether he would be lunching in. Let him do the ordering. If possible, watch him pay.

Siesta. You have earned it. A gentle stroll in the evening is recommended for the more active.

Watch somebody playing billiards and have dinner in the hotel. Then lie back in bed and look at a good book. Don’t read. Don’t fall asleep. Let sleep overtake you. Now thats called doing nothing. Or almost.