My uncle’s getting married tomorrow. I won’t be there.
It’s not that I can’t get the time off to get to Guwahati. But I also have the wedding of a long-time family servant next month. And my cousin in Chennai called last week to say he’s engaged, too, to save 15 October for sure. Before that, there’s my best friend’s wedding, my nephew’s annaprasanna and my parents’ 40th anniversary.
That’s just what’s scheduled. God forbid someone falls sick or goes through a divorce or threatens to take over our property. Then I have to resort to Plan B, which probably means you wouldn’t see my smiling picture and folded arms here week after week.
But first let’s discuss Plan A, the one filled with events we can expect and accommodate, or at least try. In an economy defined by unread e-mails all marked urgent and conference calls at 3 am, how can Indian workers manage to, well, still be Indian? That is to say, have huge families and put on a good face for all of them, show up in time for the mehendi to be applied and stick around until the bride’s tears have dried?
I haven’t even mentioned the holidays that most non-Indians—presumably some of whom are on the other end of the aforementioned calls and e-mails—can’t pronounce: Durga Puja, Diwali, Pongal, Baisakhi, Bihu, Holi. Nor have I mentioned the equally large clan of in-laws. But let’s put that aside: To keep the peace, I’ll just stick to complaining about my own family.
I spent this week asking Indian workers how they’re managing their chutti, that delicious word that somehow blends the concepts of vacation, holiday, release, all in one. Yet some 20-somethings couldn’t remember the last time they attended a family wedding. Those who dutifully attend such functions say their vacation days are wiped out, and much-needed holidays to relax become rare. Others dodge phone calls from parents—too distracted to talk at work, too exhausted to talk at home. One told me she took just six days off for her own wedding and honeymoon.
It’s not even that managers and companies won’t give time off (boss: that line’s for you) but the consequences of missing time at work might not quite outweigh the joys (most of the time) of extended family.
“Nobody tells me, ‘You don’t take leave.’ If I tell my boss, he’ll not object,” says Pallavi Chari, an analyst at Hewlett-Packard in Bangalore. “It’s just that there are so many targets to meet and you have your whole team to manage. It’s more, like, self-imposed. Although you do get burnt out.”
Her colleague, Neeraj Trehon, also 25, says he’s stopped trying to translate that reality to his parents in Goa.
“It becomes very difficult to explain why you work so hard and why you can’t take leave and just come home,” he says. “This is what I have chosen as a career. You have to keep explaining that this is what life is all about...
“Their times were very different and ours are very different. Our times are very competitive. The kind of numbers the company wants, it’s not easy to make your mark if you’re not here.”
To its credit, Hewlett-Packard allows employees to field US conference calls from home, if needed, and gives the week between Christmas and New Year off. Trehon welcomes the break but his parents remain out of luck. (Have you ever tried flying to Goa in late December? You’d have better luck with Paris on Valentine’s Day.)
A year and a half ago, Shweta Juneja, who works in information technology for Capgemini consulting firm in Mumbai, took less than a week off for her wedding. Only an Indian bride would understand that that’s nothing short of a miracle.
Juneja says she has memorized the calendar, Hindu, Muslim and Christian, and knows which three-day weekends she and her husband have chutti in common. She plans getaways far in advance.
As for the parents and in-laws: “Nowadays, they understand,” she says. “You’ve got to prioritize. Definitely compared to a generation ago, we’re more tired.”
Indeed, this is the pain and drain of migration, both foreign and domestic, and the reality and trade-off of economic success. My father, who left for New York in 1971, missed three of his seven siblings’ weddings, while my mother missed five of her nine siblings’. Now I understand: By the time the plane would have reached Assam, someone else would snag the promotion. Better to stay aloof, away—and employed, as vice-president, no less.
To be fair, my relative getting married isn’t a direct uncle. He’s my paternal grandfather’s cousin’s son. But really, we’re close. Well, we were.
So dear uncle, my apologies and best wishes tomorrow. Let’s try not to have more than a few kids each so they have a better shot at making each other’s weddings. Besides, in New India’s sequel, web cameras might come affixed to the mandaps.
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