Shah Rukh Khan is on vacation. But his schedule for the rest of the year is already packed with various film and advertising assignments.
On my television screen, meanwhile, I had to make do with a repeat of the Jay Leno show—Leno is on “hiatus”.
In India, the summer “hiatus” is over. In the US, it has just begun. But no matter where you live, the summer vacation is an established ritual all over the world with people either taking off or just returning after their break.
The signs for 2008 have not been great. The economic downturn, rising inflation, a hike in fuel prices and airfares mean that fewer and fewer people considered long and far-away breaks and more and more people chose to stay closer home, or even just at home (American media have coined a word for it: staycation).
Let’s face it, summer vacation is no longer what it used to be—and let’s not blame just economic conditions for it. When I was in school, the summer break meant two months of pure goofing off, with a long train journey to spend a month at my grandmother’s where nothing more pressing than playing cricket and cards and rediscovering cousins and friends awaited us. There are others who remember similar month-long time outs in the hills or by the coast, where the family relocated year after year after year, seeking nothing more ambitious than just reconnecting with their roots.
What a long way we’ve come from that time. First, when was the last time you took a whole month off? Two weeks? Tough. A week? More likely. The new globalized work culture most of us have embraced has seriously cut into time out. Moreover, technology has resulted in what professionals call “job creep”. In simple words, this means you’re on call 24/7. Your boss has a sense of entitlement in calling you whenever, wherever. And because the office has already dumped a BlackBerry into your unsuspecting hands, you’re never switched off. That handy laptop your department head hands over to you just before you’re setting out for three days to Matheran means you’re expected to log in, every day, regardless.
Even if you are so fortunate as to have an employer who graciously grants you 10 days off, most of us would hesitate. Let’s face it, the emails won’t stop because you’re away and work will pile up. So, at the end of the day you’re left weighing 10 days of me-time against the next 10 days of horrendous pile-up which will result in even later hours at the office once you’re back.
For most families, the summer break translates into a quick week (or four days/three nights) at a resort in a destination that fits into the budget: a pre-packaged consumer experience complete with instant photographic memories recorded in the digital camera, hurried postcards sent back home and cheap souvenirs bought for friends and loved ones.
Back home, the children are home alone so they’re made to sign up for various summer classes to keep them gainfully occupied—and away from the Internet. Not to forget, most schools believe in doling out a trunkful of assignments and summer projects. Fun? Not really, but it helps keep children out of harm’s way.
There’s a growing recognition in corporate India that leisure time is essential in preventing burnout and workplace stress. Taking a vacation actually prolongs life, studies show. A study in 2000 by the State University of New York looked at 12,000 men aged between 35 and 57: those who took annual vacations reduced their overall risk of death by 20%.
I’m not denying that vacation is a privilege of the haves. Most of the labour force in India makes do with absolutely no time-off, not even sick leave or maternity benefits. The bulk of our working class that works for daily wages simply cannot afford to take off. And to the majority of our population, vacation is an entirely alien concept.
Yet, even those of us who can afford it, don’t. We either don’t apply for leave or when we take it seem reluctant to switch off and tell the boss that we’re on vacation, please don’t call. We don’t take off because we don’t want to appear like slackers before our employers, we’re afraid of work pile-up or we’re just plain insecure about our jobs: the company might discover that we are dispensable after all.
But guess what? Going away will ensure that you return recharged, raring to go with fresh ideas. Better still, your boss might finally recognize your true worth, after dealing with less than efficient replacements in your absence. Now, if that’s not an incentive for taking off, what is?
Namita Bhandare writes every other Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org