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On Holidays

THEN
It was my first piece as a reporter. The elections were over and we were awaiting the results. Prannoy Roy was just making his mark as a psephologist and there I was contributing to a small time magazine-the name I forget- I think it went something like ‘Career Entrance Master’or ‘Competition Entrance Master’. I had made a careful list of who to interview in Trivandrum city: Two doctors, two politicians, two government servants, two trade union leaders, two tea shop drinkers and so on. The subject -the outcome of the elections and other general blah.

I had an appointment with this genial doctor who had all the time in the world and who happened to be conveniently a relative of mine. So this hotshot journo presented herself at his doorstep and his beautiful wife opened the door and said with smug contempt, “Oh it’s yooou?!”
I took that in with tremendous maturity and replied with deadpan silence. I was ushered into the drawing room and the dear Doctor was there waiting for me. I cannot recall much what transpired at that interview but I remember one question. I must add here that it was an absolutely innocent question born out of my naiveté. But now to think of it he was the perfect person to answer it.
I posed: “Doctor, what is it about Keralites that they just don’t want to work?”
He should know. He had spent five or six years earning a doctor’s degree and there he was on a vacation from his responsibilities. A kind of permanent vacation. ( Some like to call it a national waste but I differ on this. A kind of family solidarlity.) And he had no intention of practising ever. What with four hundred acres of rubber and a race horse named Burning Desire he was not even contemplating it.
And in that white drawing room, the handsome doctor pondered awhile and then answered with tremendous sagacity, “Well, Why would a Malayalee want to work? God has blessed us abundantly. We don’t even need an air conditioner. We receive cool wind and every Malayalee has at least ten cents of land with enough tapioca and coconuts on his land to provide him with his staple diet.”
I went away far wiser. And later when I interviewed two road gazers I understood them perfectly well. (Road gazers do nothing but gaze at the road all day, smoke their beedis and indulge in politics. This is one public service that is done with unbridled perseverance in this part of the hemisphere; without pause and without strike). The doctor’s analysis had completely cleared my head of stupid perplexities.

NOW


We still have that desire to drop work and road gaze, or enjoy the wind or whatever. When they hanged Saddam Hussein in Iraq it was our Chief Minister who declared in the middle of the afternoon we should strike work, go home and protest against American Imperialism. (Newspapers report that the loss to small business establishments alone accounted for 50 crores in that single afternoon. Loss to tourism and other industries is unknown.) When WTO had a meeting in Hong Kong it is we in Kerala who protested with a bandh. We think along international lines and though the common man is often clueless he is no spoiler and he enthusiastically pitches in ( by doing nothing) to make the bandh TOTAL or SUCCESSFUL.
And that adds to our endless national holidays. (In Kerala it is a crime to work on a National Holiday. The District Administration is mighty quick to take action in case of any deviation from that law. Well that’s another story.)
In less than a year while working for a newspaper I did three features just on holidays- dwelling chiefly on how fortuitous it was that holidays were bunched up together. It was fortuitous indeed! The boss would say- just spread it Minu, with a cartoon it should fill up quarter the page. “People love to read about holidays.” We sure do.

Yesterday I read another holiday story- some other hotshot journo had usurped my space and spread it across the page- on the four day holiday and a bandh thrown in taking it to five.
I always assumed this was a local newspaper invention till I read Moni Mohsin’s novel “The End of Innocence” from across the border.

Excerpt (You must read this through to the end.)
Tariq turned the page to find two columns on the news of a forth coming holiday. He read
“Capital Wears Deserted Looks”
“Capital city Islamabad , has assumed a deserted looks owing to large outflow of government employees to other stations because of twin holidays on eve of the birthday of the Holy Prophet (May Peace be upon Him). The government employees have left for their native towns and cities for three days holidays including two holidays of the Holy Prophet’s birthday, weekly off and one casual leave they have taken to add to the strength of their duration of enjoyment among their near and dear ones who are always considering them some super creatures. Islamabad which stands distinguished due to its specific cultural milieu can be seen dejected like hollow-eyed virgin, who is disappointingly staring at the vast expanses before her to search for the nearest one who has lost into the bottoms of unknown destination
.”
He laughed aloud as he read the last line…… “These inane newspapers.”

Alas, as a holiday writer I wish I had carried out my duties in a similar style. That, I regret I did not.

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