Are you busy? That’s what the subject of this post means. It’s also what I increasingly find myself asking.
Just last month, I had a job. I used to get up at around 6:30AM, have a quick shower before running out for what was at least a 40-minute drive in the car. Despite the early hour of 7AM, traffic on the main arterial highway to Mysore is maddening. Trucks brush past my puny car, buses honk in rage, and two-wheelers weave their own dance. In between, tractors plod along slowly, of course on the overtaking lane. Ah, I kid myself. There are no lanes in Bangalore. It’s just a free-for-all-push-shove-scrape-your-vehicle-system. By the time, I reach my office around 7:40 and park the car outside, I can already feel the first vestiges of tiredness creeping in. I sit at the desk for a while, have breakfast, sit at the desk some more, trying to appear useful, trying to think that you are so important to this company, that this job really matters. How we delude ourselves. The company can survive very well without you. Yet, I sit there for almost 9 hours, my eyes glazed over, in an airless atmosphere before I leave around 5pm. Stepping out, it’s a harsh sun that greets me even in February. The traffic has slowly built up to a crescendo – and has reached a heart-attacking inducing catastrophic level. Almost 1 or 1.5 hours later, I reach home, drained, exhausted and mind-numbed. The workout at the gym is mild in comparison to the sheer calorie-burning effort of just getting through the day. I try to read for a while, learn my Chinese lessons, but my mind gives up. The eyes can’t read, and the words soon start to flow. I end the day, glad to just surrender to sleep, and I think of the 365 days I have to do this.
Except that I had a choice. I didn’t have to numb myself, drain myself and reach the age of 40 before I turn 35. So I quit. I thought I would be bu mang (not busy). Ah, delusions! Here, I get up at 7:45AM, by 9AM, I am in class. For the next 3.5 hours, I drown myself in intensive Chinese. Reading, writing, speaking. There are 2 ten minute breaks. It’s a long walk to the South Gate where I usually have lunch – which is around 12:30. Coming back from there to the dorm, it’s almost 2:10PM. By 2:30PM, on some days, the private tutor I have starts knocking. Smile, grin and settle down to 2 more hours of Chinese. By 5PM, I am running to the gym. If not gym, there is badminton with Yoke and Dawei. If not either, run to the supermarket to buy stuff to last you for the day or the week. By 6:30PM, I am having dinner. It’s almost 8PM by the time I get back. Time to do homework, practice your characters. But no. In between, Arabib comes over. A long chat till 10PM. I try again to return to the reading…but the eyes start to glaze over, and the mind is on its own walk. 11PM time to shut down. I end the day, glad to just surrender to sleep, and think of the 3 more months I have to do this.
Is there a difference? I am perhaps busier than I was back in India. I had had time to read a book a week there! Here, I haven’t even glanced at the book I got here with me. Yet, it’s not the busy-ness or the lack of it that matters. I laugh when I say I haven’t even had time to check my mail. Time? That’s what I took the career break for! To get more of time! But somehow, it doesn’t matter really. Instead of working as another face in another company, and how much we kid ourselves that the job we are doing is really important, it so isn’t. It’s a means for me to earn a living. But it’s not living. I find that my life here is infinitely richer. I can go to class with an American, a German, an Englishman, a South Korean, a Thai and of course the Chinese as my teachers. I can have varied conversations on Middle Eastern food with someone from Tunisia. I can be having dinner and be joined by a Czech guy who says that his money is fast running out, and contemplates with brutal honesty an impoverished jobless laid-off existence in Europe. I can walk to the fruit shop, and have the wonderful Chinese woman there (with a oh-so-good-looking husband) give me impromptu lessons on the fruits she has. Go for dinner, and the man who serves me noodles sits down to explain why he hates Japan. Somewhere else, another man will stop to ask me if India and China are friends or enemies – a question that I try to evade answering as much as possible. The tapestry of my life has so many hues, and really in each day, I learn what a year can teach me. Somehow, I will take the learning…no matter how mang I am.