By Yoginder Sikand, New Age Islam
12 Apr, 2012
It was not without some hesitation that I decided to quit my job recently and vowed never to take up paid employment again. The job was a handsomely-paid one—salaries for university staff having been phenomenally (and most undeservedly) hiked recently—and the work was hardly demanding. Initially, I had thought I would stay on with the job for a couple of years, by which time I would have saved enough to buy myself a fancy apartment or even a luxury villa and stock up a decent sum in the bank to see me through old age. But the idiocy of it all dawned on me soon enough.
Was I going to spend the rest of my active life—perhaps the next fifteen years or so—doing just this, I began to ask myself not long after I took up the job: getting up early in the morning, six days a week, gobbling down my breakfast and rushing through streets clogged with snarling traffic in order to reach office on time; sitting in the same little corner of the dingy office room, from mid-morning to evening, pretending to do the same routine work; meeting the same folks; smiling at the same faces; gossiping with the same colleagues about the same petty office politics; and trying to flatter the same irritating boss in the hope of a promotion? Was it really worth spending whatever remained of this life of mine torturing myself in this way simply in order to inflate my bank balance and to massage my dreams of perhaps living one day in a luxury villa? Who knows, I told myself, I might die well before that dream could ever come true, in which case my life would truly have been a miserable waste. And, then, did I really need a luxury villa at all? Wouldn’t just about any roof do to cover my head?
I might never have begun asking myself these questions were it not for Nigar, a dear friend. She knew how meaningless I found work at the office—that had become the chief topic of our conversation—and what a terrible toll being treated like a minion by my boss was taking on my nerves. She insisted that I quit my job at once. The fat salary I was getting, she said, was simply not worth the tension and anomie that the job entailed. And as for my fear for the future, she simply said: ‘Fear not, God will provide.’ She really meant it.
As someone who doesn’t conceive of the Ultimate Reality in quite the same way as most religionists do, I didn’t see things exactly as Nigar did, of course, but her reply made me realise aspects of myself that I had never paid much attention to before: how attached I was to my possessions and to my dreams of possessing things that I desperately hankered after; how what I possessed and what I dreamt of possessing fundamentally defined who I thought I was; how attached to and dependent I was on material things to give me a sense of fulfillment; and how willing I was to sacrifice my present and endure who knows how many years of a torturous job in exchange for the hope of happiness in a future that might never actually come to be.
Within a fortnight of that conversation with Nigar I put in my resignation papers. And I did that with great excitement and celebration, and a tremendous sense of release. No longer would I ever take up a job just for the money, I told myself. I had done that for years, and would have none of it anymore.
Quite expectedly, some of my friends felt I was being utterly foolish. ‘Why did you leave such a prestigious job? How are you going to survive now?’ they asked me. ‘You’ll soon be on the streets’, some of them might have predicted to themselves. I tried to assuage their fears. I had saved a fair deal in the bank over the years, I told them, and the interest I earned from these deposits would give me enough to lead a fairly comfortable life. True, I could no longer dream of a fancy villa and regular holidays abroad, as I once did, but, honestly, I no longer dreamt those dreams any more. I was quite happy staying in a rented place as long as I got basic food to eat and had a bit of money to occasionally spend on books and, sometimes, to travel within India. What more did and could I really want from life?
Initially, I have to admit, I wasn’t too sure of myself when I spoke this way. At the back of my mind the thought kept troubling me that while I might have saved enough to have a roof above my head and three basic meals a day for as long as I lived, my savings were perhaps inadequate for good-quality emergency medical treatment if the need so arose. Perhaps, the thought kept needling me, I needed to save a couple of lakhs more so that I could be sent to the best hospital around if I fell seriously sick—and for that I needed to work for a couple of years more.
The more I tried to shrug this irritating fear off, the more it began to trouble me. Then, one day, I decided to confront the thought head-on. Even if I had all the money in the world, and were treated in the world’s best hospital, I told myself, it would not stop death from overtaking me when it had to. After all, I had to die one day, and no amount of money could prevent that from happening. What need, then, was there for me to torture myself by working in a job that gave me no joy simply in order to have more money so that I could die in a more expensive hospital instead of in an ordinary nursing home, my own house or even on the streets?
My death had to come, and perhaps the day of its arrival had already been fixed. Being a little richer than I already was would make not a whiff of a difference, I realized. And, with that, the last of the fears that held me back from truly experiencing the joy of freedom from the drudgery of forced employment that I had suffered for many years finally disappeared. That’s how I became truly, and very happily, unemployed and unemployable.