We look forward to certain festivals in the year. The holiday mood sets in. It is the time for re-living rituals that reverberate within our souls in inexplicable ways and evoke a reassuring sense of continuity in an otherwise fast changing world. Families and friends come together over good food and gossip. And it marks a break from work…That is the common template. For some of us, that ‘break from work’ bit…well, that never happens completely! It is strange how despite our best efforts, there are still tasks and deadlines that sneak up upon us. This is one of those mysterious, unexplained phenomena that scientists or even conspiracy theorists need to consider.
Accusations of ‘you don’t know how to manage your time’ and ‘you can’t even leave work at a time like this’ are levelled. A ‘Why don’t you go ahead and have a good time’, expressed with honest intent, is invariably misinterpreted. Surviving work and festivals and families calls for some special skill sets. Being able to practice patience and restraint (particularly in speech) helps! Judgement, based on experience, also helps. So, one needs to definitely take out time for the family and then figure out when you can work and earn less rebuke and guilt. Forget finding balance. Find a level you can live with!
Nonetheless, there will be times when that festive spirit will touch even the most work obsessed person in some way. Those moments of joy, planned or unplanned, experienced in quietude or companionship, are pretty special. So, mixed up, family cum work driven days with some stolen special moments … That is not a bad template for (some) holidays either!
I have had this reaction – uttered in tones ranging from absolute lack of comprehension to sinister suspicion – countless number of times. When does this happen? When I am asked my profession. By relatives. By acquaintances. By strangers trying to make polite conversation. The answer invariably stumps most.
Sometimes, I say ‘social worker’. There is a moment of silence. Maybe, it marks the end of their hopes of a dizzying career for me. Then the questions come out, hesitatingly for a few and but like torrential rain for most. ‘So, you do exactly what?’ ‘And you get paid for it?’ ‘How much?’ ‘By whom?’ ‘Are foreign agencies involved?’ Here, invariably, the voice drops – ‘The church…from abroad, na?’
Sometimes, I say – ‘consultant’. Often, nodding of heads follow. Some then state approvingly– ‘Aah…for the corporate sector. Very good.’ Then, I have to jolt them from that surety! Now, I get to pick from ‘NGO sector/not for profits/development sector’. And that quizzical look returneth. When I add, helpfully ‘child protection’ and ‘adolescent health and nutrition’, it does not help. Does not help at all.
After years and years of this torture, I have (I think) developed nuances in my tone. So now, my tone does more of the talking. Sometimes, it suggests – Yes I do this. End of discussion. Very rarely – Ok…I am willing to tell you my entire professional story. I have found that being open, particularly while traveling – is often downright dangerous. Before you know it, someone has asked you how to ‘open an NGO’ and also shared that it has been their sole burning ambition for varying periods of time. One may even be assailed with episodes of their goodness and voluntary-ness in graphic details. These are possibly the only times I wish I did something else for a living!