(Written originally in 2011)
The term fell on my years, sometimes in an implicit way, sometimes directly for some years now. It was only the Mumbai posting, however, when these words of wisdom began to get registered. Ten years in service, I want to share my understanding (or the lack of it!) about this with my younger colleagues as a piece of ‘unasked advice’; and seniors for comment and an occasion for a smile. Jalna was the first place, where ‘work- life balance’ had a different meaning. Work was life! And hence there was no cause for conflict. It was similar to this instance that someone mentioned once. He confidently said there was no conflict ever between him and his wife, because they had a mutual understanding. Whenever there was a dispute, she went her way. And he went ……….her way!
Jalna was the perfect place to experiment, work at one’s pace. It was a field to try out whatever came your way, whatever your heart felt close to, whatever brought you success. The more success came your way, the happier you felt, and the more you worked. The more ideas you experimented with. The success was the opium. You did not feel tired. Your newly wed wife would be in ‘awe’ of your work and feel proud about it. She felt complaining about less time at home would make her guilty of an obstruction in the big work of ‘Nation-building’! You had arrived. Felt blessed. Not that you did not take time off. You being your own boss would practice flexi timings to your desire. When you felt like working, everyone had to be there. You would s m s work to everyone any time of the day. And night! You felt the time to do work was ‘then’ and not later. There were inhuman goals and aspirations. There were demands from God to allow you and your team to let that all happen. And you could not fail Him! Everyone loved you, so you thought. And it was not very incorrect also. The success was everyone’s, so everyone was motivated. All management principles, never studied formally, were experimented with. You enjoyed the title of being ‘mad’. And when your body/ mann did not feel like working, you were allowed that as a deserving break. Whatever life has to offer – friends, good food, happiness, love – it was all pouring as a byproduct of love. So there was no desire to take time off for life! Your boss would also realize that fortunately you were not into things everyone else was (including cricket!!), and satisfactorily commented that, may be due to that, kuch kaam bhi ho jaata hai! Two years passed there peacefully. Then there was an acceptance to the idea of moving ahead. In between also, there were offers to move to ‘better’ districts, but thanks to advice of some seniors (Hussein Sir) and my own gut feeling (which arose when I saw my team members just beginning to immerse deeper in work (?passion), which He would have arranged, I refused to move. After two years, too much affection was beginning to get uncomfortable. Things that had been avoided could not have been avoided for long. So plans began to move from yearly to three monthly. Which were also memorable, in hind sight. With the command and team that has been built over the years, every successive step was easier. By the time it was three years though, you were begging to move out.
In Jalna, one thing had happened that was to change the concept of ‘work life balance’. Ram Lakshman were born. A small child, who comes suddenly may not naturally evoke love and affection in a father as it does in a mother. Till then, blessings were not asked for. But they poured. He blessed in ways more than we could have asked for. How many people would have asked for your wishes, you might never know as well. There was no difference left between family members, friends and others. You would not have relied only on a few close ones for wishes. So many must have come about. Difficult times (health wise) for Nidhi, my wife, effervesced. In retrospect, I feel, it was amazing. Someone said, there is no need to care for a plant…if you care for mother Nature, she will take care of the plant. Something similar happened.
In field, sometimes you have to work even on holidays. Till the time, you don’t feel bad about it, it might not even hurt you. The body has a mechanism to snatch rest from you in case you have overworked. And this it may do irrespective of the weekend. But If you happen to realize ‘weekend’? I and my friend Shalin had gone to Goa for few days in the days pre IAS and post IRTS. We were having so much fun, seeing places around and were sitting comfortably having dinner, when a person, guessing we were Punjabis, made acquaintance. He seemed to know Goa more than us and asked us where all we had been. He took it as a personal insult and made us realize how foolish we were not to have seen the best life in Goa which actually begins post dinner! Two happy friends became unhappy ! We decided not to let life go away like sands from our fists. So we headed towards some beach where party was happening. We were the only two guys there not accompanied by girls. As we saw every one else partying, dancing, enjoying, we felt miserable. Goa was the same! This could happen to you about weekend work as well!
Anyhow, not for fun, but dutifully, I vowed ‘not to work’ on Sundays (something I am trying to follow till date!). This article’s being written on a Sunday as well, by the way. Kids you wouldn’t take for granted like you could take your wife. Besides, you needed at least one point in the argument, if it ever came up – Sunday ko to kaam nahin karta na! With a sweet boss (any boss who doesn’t interfere!) , we also, after a long time – for the first time- planned a holiday. The boss helped arrange a bungalow in Mahabaleshwar. We went there, stayed there for a couple of days, with our cook. All we did was relaxation. For me, it meant the first time to have spent ‘quality’ time with kids. I thought they were too small then to respond. But retrospectively, I think, there is no age to understand love. I loved giving my kids massage and just be with them. I realized, I loved my father. A pleasure for me personally, good food- I have not forgotten the masala chicken made by Nidhi and her lack of reply to Gajanan (our cook’s) question as to how many chapattis I could go on eating. This life too was beautiful.
I told my saala one day when he asked me whether family was more important than work, to which I replied in the negative. If the question would have been asked by someone else, I might have given the same reply, though less emphatically. But you leave no stone unturned to tease your saala. When I said that, I said that with much conviction. Retrospectively, I think, there was pride in that too. ‘Main’. What family means was to get clearer in my next posting as Collector Raigad. Such a period must come in our career once, for otherwise you’d always believe life is rosy and all iz well. Raigad was stressful, and changed many of my earlier beliefs about political interference, seniors, colleagues, NGOs and everyone. The ‘important’ ones, that is to say. The rest – employees, people were as loveable as ever. The beliefs about family also matured. Again a God sent gift was my acquaintance with Mr. Iyer, a Chartered Accountant by education and a librarian by profession. A chance meeting with him in Pune was to impress me and make us friends till date. He had a practice of going home to home, ring up their call bells (like a salesman!), ask if they had children and if he could show them some books. If yes, he would spend some time with those children and give them books, to be replaced during his next visit. In memory of his father, whose such teaching he fondly remembers, he carries on this work. From him, I could get the idea of having books as an occasion to be with my kids. Finally there was something, I could attract kids with more than Nidhi! Sitting with Ram Lakshman and flipping those pages with pictures gave an occasion to talk to them. Our energy levels required we had to do something only sitting with them preferably! Then affection grew. And we realized what kids mean to parents. With Ram and Lakshman, I am their story man so much so, that once when I called back home, Lakshman told Nidhi- ‘ un ka phone hai jo humein story sunaate hain!’ In wife, after the initial romance years, you might not realise her value besides home maker and raiser of kids. Until you have had a ‘Raigad –like’ stint. She is the stress burster, your closest companion. She understands you and would also advise you to give it back. Much later I realized that the most important thing is honour. The steel frame as we are however do not mind suffering as a necessary price to stay on… which could be for a variety of personal/public reasons. The public reasons (?opportunity for good work) might also be private- like –Main! Or careerist- ‘kitne saal district kiya hai?’ is important! The late evening walks with Nidhi in those days when every thing else was hellish are a sweet remembrance to date. I realized, she was such a good chatter. Actually to tell her my day’s stories, I had to listen to her first. Three fourths of our walk would be over by then. And then I would hint her to ask that question I would be dying to get asked – How was your day? Part of the family was also Raja, our Labrador, who had been with us since the first posting, and who was ignored in Raigad. That he stood up to accompany me for a walk a day before he was to say goodbye forever made us realize what we had missed. Life taught sternly.
Amchi Mumbai was to offer yet interesting lessons in work life balance. Some are called for this early stint in Mumbai, when Government needs ‘good’ officers at the policy level. That is the stated reason. There is Life calling in Mumbai. If you are to get into Mantralaya, a senior advised- ‘don’t choose your department, choose your Boss!’ If beggars were choosers…. The initial few days in Mumbai, much more than elsewhere witness rona dhona of the family. But as the saying goes, the tough get going! It is a new avatar. You get in touch with the ones of your tribe. You are no longer the lion of your jungle. This jungle has many of your tribe and you realize your tribe does not rule. But it is fascinating to know and meet one and all….Each one is brilliant individually. You may pick up from them tips on having a better input/output ratio, different ways of saying ‘no’, and survival as well. Work again begins. You can find work, you can learn work…the years are not wasted. You begin to enjoy the privacy and the fact that you are not indispensable. Not to suggest that your job is not interesting. You begin to realize what you had only heard earlier- the real job of an IAS is policy making! You need to believe in it to keep yourself happy. Main! Especially at the cutting edge of policy making- the DS level, you find a vacuum, and you feel filling this up may lift Maharashtra’s record at least slightly in GoI reviews. For family, it is a boon. Your wife thanks God she is finally in a ‘civilised’ world, similar to one she was brought up in. It is professional, and brings out the best in both of you. Kids get to begin to speak English rather than ‘ye ye re pauusaa!’ You can go out anywhere, wear anything and eat what you had always missed. Every weekend is free – a welcome change from days in the District when such a Sunday comes once in months. No one calls you on weekend (except may be your Boss!), again saving you from dilemma of whether to pick up or not an unknown number on a weekend. Your Sundays go in getting a hair cut, shopping vegetables, lunching outside and Chaupati in the evening. You can also go out movies in Inox with friends. There is a lot, but you can’t afford all that. But the city grows on you. The mornings are busier… you learn lessons in gender equality, shouldering responsibilities of raising your kids. You can no longer claim to be busy enough not to do so! But those responsibilities bind you together. You get a glimpse of life. Having dined at few good restaurants and all, you may begin to feel soon that you belong here.
So you may have an urge to dive back for few years at least in the district. That would let you into believing you can ‘do’ something. Once back, you may however be a changed person. You have been a subordinate, and so you are a different boss. You are sensitive to your subordinates, and although you realize work is important, you also realize people have families back home and they were not all your full time soldiers. Though you could still have the best productivity from them through love.
You have seen life beyond work. And you realize both are beautiful!