The non-executive chairman of L & T, AM Naik, who was awarded a Padma Vibhushan this Republic Day for his contributions to India’s infrastructure had completed 50 full years at the company. Interestingly, according to a report in http://www.news18.com, Naik collected an extra Rs 19 crore at retirement after encashing his unused leaves accumulated over five decades at work. Clearly, Naik’s passion for his job was so staggering, he almost never took a holiday. Or fell ill. It appears there is absolutely nothing else he has wanted to do in the last 50 years, except clock in.
Since Naik’s base salary was in the excess of Rs 27 million it is safe to presume that his motivation for dogged slogging wasn’t to collect this spectacular sum at the end of his tenure. Reams have been written about the dichotomy in extreme wealth, and that once you cross an X amount the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Beyond a point money is just a number and ceases to be something worth aspiring to. Undoubtedly, it’s a superhuman feat to be marvelled at that Naik didn’t seem to need to take off, just to chill and recharge. However, it’s debatable whether it’s all that admirable to live so myopically and completely shut out all other aspects of one’s life. Even if Larsen & Toubro was the most exciting place on earth, most regular people will (with reason) want to shoot themselves immediately, if they were told they would be working there without a vacation break for the next 50 years.
There’s a reason that the ritual of an annual holiday found its way into our work lives and it can be traced back to Biblical times. Since the Middle Ages, the Church recognised cessation from work one day a week, as essential to mind, body and spirit. Sundays came about as a day for worship and prayer and over centuries devolved into a universal day for relaxation. The Roman poet Ovid, born in 43 BCE said: “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism all favour setting aside a period of time for lazy contemplation. All religions, in fact, recognise human frailty and have inbuilt rituals to rescue people deathly bored by societal expectations of virtue, work and routine. Festivals like Holi, a day of reckless abandon is ordained by the Gods knowing fully well that humans are not robots. The occasional giving in to intoxication and colourful debauchery via traditions like these, or the myth of the ancient Greek Bacchanalia is a quiet acknowledgement that to stay sane, we need a change of scene.
The self-sacrificing pressures of modern life can be stifling indeed but the most important reason to take time off is that the glare of the present can be blinding. Concentrated rest allows us to reevaluate our lives and choices and strengthen other relationships or cultivate new hobbies. It provides an opportunity (no matter how pointless) to reflect on what can be done if we have entirely missed the proverbial forest for the trees. Even Roger Federer doesn’t play tennis every day. It could be said that without relentless strivers and workaholics like Naik and Jeff Bezos of Amazon, human ingenuity would reach a dead end. These are the guys with the big ideas to colonise Mars and who create jobs that improve the lives of millions. Unfortunately, this appears to have become the world’s only prevailing success narrative: that we should all be so lucky to be one-dimensional human machines.
This breathless devotion to ambition as the aim of existence ultimately stigmatises those who lack drive and don’t necessarily feel that life is defined only by what you do. To be sure nobody, wildly productive or not, is immune from the trials and tribulations of life. Let us at least not be fooled into believing that time spent smelling the roses is lost, rather than gained.