Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Why I'm tired of working from home

Believe me, working from home is the best thing that can happen to anyone. You don’t have to expose yourself to the mad traffic, the sweltering heat or the inconsiderate humans on the road.

But I am not talking about those who choose to work a few days from home and a few days from office. I am talking about some of us who work solely from home, day in, day out. I’m talking about me.

I need not get dressed or wash up in the morning. I can work in any shabby outfit, hair unkempt, seated in my favourite corner of the house. When I’m bored, I can go sit in another corner of the house – just for the heck of it. I can sleep at 11 a.m., just because I am sleepy, and sit through the night with my work. I can re-organise my work so as to catch a favourite movie in television, and work during the commercial breaks. I can have my food in front of the television or the balcony looking at my plants if I wish, and if I decide to skip meals, I can do that too. I am my own boss, and no one can demand anything of me. No one sees, and no one cares.

If it is so great to work from home, why do I say I am tired of it?

I have been working from home for seven years now. I will give you a moment to heave a sigh and let that sink in. Seven years – in which I have been pretty much confined to home. As a mother, it is a great thing. I can see my son off to school, and I am at home to receive him. I don’t have to plan my “household chores” (that lovely name for a load of tiresome daily tasks) around my working hours. I don’t have to ask my maid to come before I left for office or after I return. She can come at any time because I am “always home”.

All that sounds perfect until you actually try it, and allow seven years to pass.

The household chores can be done at any time, which means that half an hour into my work, I remember that laundry needs to be done. Oh! The plants have not been watered either. There is no rush whatsoever; everything can happen in slow motion. Once I get the laundry and plants out of my way and settle back to work, the maid comes to clean the house and her walking around the place distracts me. By the time she leaves I need to prepare lunch – which is when I remember that I have not eaten my breakfast. Have you any idea how much time we waste daily for food – the preparing and the partaking of it? If we could just walk around with an IV line attached to us for nutrition, we would save so much of our time.

In other words, finding a couple of hours of uninterrupted work is a challenge.

Everyone assumes that I am at home so I must be available. I get calls at any time during the day from people who just decide that they need to chat. When I used to work in an office, people would call only in an emergency and would cautiously ask, “Can I talk to you for a moment? Are you in a meeting?” Or at least they would think twice before calling. Not now. Some people just call and start talking. How many times can I tell them I need to get back to work without sounding arrogant? I once told a person I have a meeting (I meant a conference call over Skype) and the response was like “oh, you’re just making that up.” Whatever you think, my friend, whatever you think.

“You can drop in at any time; she is always at home.” I hear that so frequently about me. Some people think me claiming to work is cute. As though their work is real, mine is not. No sir, I am at work. My time is precious too. I need to work eight or ten hours a day too. I get paid for it, contrary to what you may think. I like it that you all can count on me, but don’t take me for granted. I may be at home, but I am not always available. I may choose my working hours, but that is my choice, not yours.

If I wanted to add a touch of sexism to this, I would comment that men working from home may not face this much of interruption or distraction. “Oh, he is busy; don’t disturb him.” I have heard that as well, oh-so-many times.

Someone (a very busy professional) I meet at least twice a year asks me every time, “So, what do you do all day?” “I work.” “Oh! You work?” Again, the next year, “So. Don’t you get bored sitting at home all day?” “Err… no, I am busy with work.” “Oh! You mean you have to work all day?” The year after that, “I can’t imagine being a housewife like you and doing only household chores. I would be so bored.” “Yeah, well, I do have my work to keep busy.” “Oh! Indeed? You get work daily?”

Then there are the sympathies. Oh, the sympathies just kill me. The sympathies of the sympathisers and the advices of the advisors. It's all I can do not to turn into a defensive, fierce, fearsome, ferocious tiger. I am happy, dammit! Eleanor Roosevelt apparently said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Madam, you have no idea. I don’t know where you came from, or what you had experienced, but there is a limit to the amount of slander you can take from the people around you. After one point, you stop resisting. You start wondering if what they say is true. Then you struggle to convince yourself that they don’t know anything about you. You begin to distance yourself from them, because that is the only way you can hold on to your peace. What you don’t hear doesn’t hurt you. When you decide to distance yourself from certain people, you avoid opportunities to meet people. This is a vicious circle. You’re back in your prison.

Now that everything gets delivered to my door, I don’t need to go out at all. Which means I need a real, solid reason to get out the door. Soon I will become like Jodie Foster in Nim’s Island, an Agoraphobic writer. She is afraid even to open her door or step outside. She goes through a severe panic attack when she needs to open the door to get her mail. Yes, that bad. And that day is not far in my life; I can already spot it in my horizon.

This all sounds very twisted, I know, because who is stopping me from changing my dress and walking out and going shopping or meeting friends or something? The answer is Me. I am stopping myself from doing these. Because, of course I have work to do. There is always pending work from yesterday. There is that damn novel I have been clawing at for two years. Which are just excuses, as everyone knows. My life is more or less confined to the rooms in this house. I talk to the furniture and the plates and my plants, for God’s sake. This is a weird kind of self-imposed imprisonment.

Having said all this, I do know that people working from office have their own share of problems too. After all, I did work from an office once, and I should know. Many of my friends yearn to abandon their offices and work from home. They ask me if I know of any opportunities. It is a grass-is-always-greener-elsewhere world.

Every time I tell myself, working from home is the best thing for me. And I keep quiet. One must not tempt fate by declarations that have the potential to make matters worse. But seven years is a long time, I say. If you haven’t been here, of course you wouldn’t understand.

And that’s why I hate working from home, as much as I love working from home.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Experiencing the extremes

Everyone should experience poverty at least once in a lifetime, if you ask me. Not the extreme kind, necessarily, like sitting on the pavement having to beg for every rupee, enduring the sympathetic and hateful glances of the passers-by, though that would be ideal. Also not like old Bruce Wayne who goes underground to "understand" his people's suffering. That is no real experience, when you know that Wayne Enterprises is just where you had left it, right around the corner, waiting for you to shed your rags and walk in.

No, I am talking about the kind where you have barely enough to survive, month after month, week after week, day after disappointing day. You worry about where the next rupee is coming from. It will come eventually, trickling down a drop at a time, but by then you are panicked out of existence. You live on that meagre amount arriving on the first week of every month, which seems to leave your hand the moment you touch it. Twelve or fifteen days left in the month, and you are broke already. How do you cross that wide a chasm?

You learn to ponder over every rupee before spending. Do I really need to buy this? You argue with the man who buys old newspapers - you ask him for one rupee more than he is offering per kilo. If he agrees, you get about fifteen or twenty rupees more. You calculate in your mind that it will get you some onions or potatoes for two days. And you are happy - exhilarated, even - that you gleaned twenty rupees from the poor man.

You go to a supermarket and you comb the items you want back and forth, back and forth, to find the cheapest of the lot that will last the longest time. Sometimes by the time you are done, you decide that you don't really 'need' it, and that you could go one more month without it. All the while pretending to others that you aren't trying to save money.

When the shopkeeper gives you the balance of five rupees, you receive it and check, pretending to have forgotten that in your better days you used to generously let him "keep the change."

You see the poor cripple by the roadside, you decide to part with the five rupees you had just saved, and you sigh.

You don't dream about pizza. When you're starving and tasty cheesy pizza bursts into your thoughts, you tell yourself it's a luxury you don't really need, and a banana will satisfy your hunger, and that you will save a bit so that six months later, you can afford a regular size pizza. I'll get there, dontcha worry, you tell your hungry self.

You love your job but lately you are not happy with your pay which has reduced you to this state, and your dissatisfaction affects your performance. Or, you hate your job that doesn't even pay you what you deserve, but you're afraid to quit lest you should remain unemployed for a long time.

And imagine this, for a long, uncertain period of time. That is important. If there is an end in sight, it doesn't become an ordeal. You must hit the rock bottom, so to speak.

Why do I insist everyone must experience it?

Probably because it breaks my heart when I hear someone say that "I buy only expensive ones of the best quality which actually lasts for a long time," or "I bought something extra, just in case."And they are not talking about groceries or basic necessities, they are talking about luxuries.

They don't know. They haven't been there. They don't know such a world exists. It's right next to them. They don't see it. They don't know what they are missing. That's why it's important.

Once you have touched that rock, and surfaced - as hopefully everyone will - one of two things could happen. Either you would forever become careful about every paisa you spend, or you would start throwing money on unnecessary luxuries to make up for that long, unforgettable spell of poverty.

Everyone must also be allowed to experience a period of lavishness where they get to stop worrying about money, spend it on what they want, when they want, how they want, and so forth. Maybe an all-expenses paid sight-seeing trip to Europe or Africa.

Sadly, life isn't made that way. Most of us are stuck in one side or the other, and our journey takes us a little this way or that, and comes to rest in a place we are familiar with.

Unless we get to experience the two extremes,is life even worth living?

To my friends and family who are wondering: Don't.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

തലവേദന, തല പൊട്ടും പോലെ...

ഒരു തലവേദനയ്ക്കു വേണ്ടി മോഹിക്കുന്ന ഒരു കാലം വന്നു ചേരുമെന്ന് ഒരിക്കലും ഞാന്‍ പ്രതീക്ഷിച്ചിരുന്നില്ല. എന്നാല്‍ അങ്ങനെയും ഒരു സുദിനം വന്നെത്തി.

പൊതുവേ, മൈഗ്രെയിനിന്‍റെ സൈക്കൊസിസില്‍ നിന്നു തുടങ്ങി നാഗവല്ലിയില്‍ എത്തി നില്‍ക്കുന്ന ഭയാനകരൂപിയായ തലവേദനയാല്‍ അനുഗ്രഹീതമാണ് എന്‍റെ കുടുംബം.

അയലത്തെ പറമ്പില്‍ കൂടി തലവേദന ഓട്ടോ പിടിച്ചു പോകുന്നു എന്നു കേട്ടാല്‍ കട്ടിലിന്‍റെ കീഴില്‍ അഭയം പ്രാപിക്കാന്‍ താല്പര്യം കാണിക്കുകയും അതില്‍ അഭിമാനം കൊള്ളുകയും ചെയ്യുന്ന ഒരു കുടുംബം.

അങ്ങനെയുള്ളപ്പോള്‍ തലവേദന വേണമെന്നും മറ്റുമുള്ള തലതിരിഞ്ഞ ആഗ്രഹങ്ങള്‍ എങ്ങനെ?

സംശയം സ്വാഭാവികം.

എന്നെ ഉള്‍പ്പെടുത്തി, എന്നാല്‍ എന്നോട് അഭിപ്രായം ചോദിക്കാതെ, എനിക്കു താല്പര്യമില്ലാത്ത ഒരു പരിപാടി കുറെപേര്‍ കൂടി പ്ലാന്‍ ചെയ്തതാണ് കാരണം. എന്നെ കുറ്റം പറഞ്ഞിട്ടു കാര്യമുണ്ടോ?

എന്നാല്‍ തലവേദന എന്നോ മറ്റെന്തെങ്കിലുമോ ഒരു നുണ പറഞ്ഞു രക്ഷപ്പെട്ടു കൂടായിരുന്നോ എന്നു നിങ്ങള്‍ ചോദിക്കും. അല്ലെങ്കില്‍ ‘എനിക്കു താല്പര്യമില്ല’ എന്ന ദുഃഖസത്യം തുറന്നു സമ്മതിച്ചു പിന്‍മാറിക്കൂടെ?

ആവശ്യം ഉള്ളിടത്തും ഇല്ലാത്തിടത്തും 'നോ' പറയണം എന്നു പ്രസ്താവിക്കുന്ന ഒരു സമൂഹമല്ലേ ഇന്നു നമ്മുടേത്? പിന്നെന്താ നോ പറയാന്‍ ഇത്ര സഭാകമ്പം??

ഉത്തരം എളുപ്പമാണ്.

വെറുതെ നുണ പറയുന്നതില്‍ എനിക്കു തീരെ താല്പര്യമില്ല.. ശരിക്കുള്ള ഒരു തലവേദനയുണ്ടെങ്കില്‍ സത്യസന്ധമായി നുണ പറയാമല്ലോ – തലവേദന കാരണമാണ് വരാന്‍ കഴിയാത്തത് എന്ന്. സായിപ്പ് പറഞ്ഞതു പോലെ... ലൈഫ് ഈസ്‌ കോംപ്ലിക്കേറ്റഡ്...

പിന്നെ, നോ പറയല്‍ അത്ര എളുപ്പമുള്ള കാര്യമല്ല എന്നു നമുക്കെല്ലാം നന്നായി അറിയാം. "നമുക്ക് അരി മേടിച്ചു തരുന്നത്" ഇവരാരും അല്ല എങ്കിലും... പലരെയും ചൊടിപ്പിക്കാതെ ജീവിക്കുക എന്നത് നമ്മുടെ ഒക്കെ ഒരു ആവശ്യമത്രേ...

ഇങ്ങനെയൊക്കെ ആണെങ്കിലും, ഉല്‍കണ്‌ഠയോടെ കാത്തിരുന്ന ആ പരിപാടി അത്ര മോശമായിരുന്നില്ല എന്നതാണ് സത്യം. മലപോലെ വന്നത്... അതങ്ങനെയാണല്ലോ. നമ്മുടെ ഭയമാണെപ്പോഴും യഥാര്‍ത്ഥ്യത്തെക്കാള്‍ പതിന്മടങ്ങ്‌ ഭീകരം. ഒരു വിധത്തില്‍ അതു തീര്‍ന്നു കിട്ടി എന്ന സമാധാനത്തില്‍ ഇരിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ പിറ്റേ ദിവസം ദാ വന്നെത്തി... ആറ്റുനോറ്റിരുന്ന ആ തലവേദന... വിത്ത്‌ അപ്പോളജി:

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