Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Doing things for myself

Navtej Sarna

YEARS ago, I use to live by a time-tested principle that is on some days I would do things only for myself without a thought for traditions opinions or reactions.

You know those little things that make all the difference between living and existing. Like getting up at a lazy nine o’clock in the hostel and having a leisurely double-omelet breakfast. My transistor radio blaring on the table (disturbing many a crossword puzzle addict), my newspaper spread across the other guy’s jam, my teacups bottomless. Simply not letting myself bother that people might think me uncivilized, which they invariably did. The breakfast followed by one of those hot-water, soap-flecked, song-filled baths which make other waiting inmates of the hostel tear their hair with impatience as they stood shivering in a towel, with a bucket in one hand and a borrowed shampoo bottle in the other. I would come out, duck a bathroom slipper, carry on with the song and stubbornly refuse to apologise for singing off key. Not that anybody knew the difference in any case.

Then I would venture out gaily. Dressed in that pair of trousers which only I thought made me look like a throwback to the romantic fifties. And that ancient scant draped around my neck, which every-body else thought was held together by tape.

A ride in those “phut-phuts” or fourseaters and into those unforgettable corridors of Connaught Place.

Once there I would let myself go. Imagine the sheer ecstasy of lying in the winter sun on the central lawns and eating an orange simply because I wanted to and not having to eat a rum-raisin ice-cream (ugh) or a stuffed hamburger (the same) merely because some whimsical girl thought it would be “such fun”.

Then the inevitable browse through the bookshop. I would finish at least one book of modern verse. No disrespect meant but you will agree that they don’t really need much reading. And I would not lose my cool about what the bookseller thought of my morals, ethics, parentage, upbringing. I would even buy myself a book instead of meekly waiting for my birthday when people would give me books which they liked and I pretended to.

Self-indulgence would reach a climax when I would step up nonchalantly to the boot-polishwallah. It used to be a pleasure to watch him spit on his hands and have a hearty go at those weather-beaten, battle scarred veterans which I still called shoes. But more of that some other time. The details of my exploits with boot-polish-wallahs can form a separate place.

The point I’ve been trying to get at and I’m sure you’ve noticed is that in the recent past, such, days have become progressively rarer.

Must get up early. What will the servant think? Must wear decent clothes-sober, matching ironed out. The respectable image, you know.

Must not order all those things at once. The others might think that I’m a hog. Get home in good time-can’t be seen roaming the streets at night. Say Good Morning to that pain–in-the-neck, smile at that Gawd-help-us. Social responsibility, good human relations.

I like that book but must give it to the cousin. I love those flowers but must send them to the aunt. Self-restraint, self -sacrifice, self-strangulation.

You get my point, don’t you? There is a limit to which a man can be pushed. Then comes a stage when something in him perks up, twirls its moustache and says-THAT’s IT. One has to take a stand.

I reached that stage last week when I bought a wallet which cost me more money than I’ll ever have to keep in it simply because my companion thought it was “so-dashing.” Enough.

Now I’m going ahead to have one of those Sundays. I’m getting up late because I want to and not because the alarm failed. Wear that sweatshirt, get wet in the rain, not watch the movie on TV…