Holiday modes

I smiled at the irony of death as cause for celebration by a child.

Holidays are special, whether secular or religious, and the joy they gave us as school-children is carried into our later lives and careers, because they interrupt a schedule of study or drudgery at anticipated intervals, especially the weekend, when we badly need a break from the humdrum grind and the obligation called duty, which flouts our true nature. 

An unexpected holiday can bring boundless joy. We were living in a flat for mid-level officials in New Delhi. I was getting ready for my tedious workday at the office when we heard jubilant shouting that we recognised as emanating from the little boy whose mother was our house-maid.

  He was running down the lane to his hutment, having returned from school betimes, with this explanation:  ‘Aaj Chutti hai, koyi mar gaya (Today it’s a holiday: someone has died). I smiled at the irony of death as cause for celebration by a child, but also recalled my own inner festival when, on a rare occasion, the school had to declare ‘a rain holiday’ and we somehow got home in the mud and the sleet. 

Ideally a day off should please both giver and taker, but if the former has to bear the cost of the transaction in terms of the work left undone, the grudge may lead to rupture.  At a school or an office, holidays are red-letter days, but the authority in charge may resent the absence of the regular toilers unless prior sanction is given.  At homes depending on daily domestic help, this contest is resolved only by dismissal or the abrupt departure of the aggrieved worker. 

We admire and copy the expert in our set who is a past master at ‘sandwiching’ an extra holiday or two by using his limited quota of ‘casual leave’ or CL, which no employer can begrudge without antagonising the whole staff.  A statutory holiday which falls on a Sunday can be sandwiched between the half-holiday on Saturday and the CL on Monday.

The finessing of Friday into a long-weekend is traditionally condoned.  Holiday maximisers must thank our pluralism of creeds, castes and ethnicity, the latitude of politico-social democracy which celebrates Valmiki Jayanti and Karnataka day to augment the red numbers on the calendar stretching from Dasara to Divali. It is imprudent and even impudent to ask how Valmiki’s birthday was ascertained or how that sage mastered the ‘anushtup’ meter in Sanskrit poetics. 

We all know the category of holidays called AWOL, meaning ‘absent without obtaining leave,’ where the joy of freedom from drudgery and bosses is undermined by fear of penalty. Military service has traditionally tabooed this type of vacation by personnel in all lands and ages, but AWOL still remains a known acronym among the armed services and even crept into civilian usage in institutions which work for the public benefit, like the police or the postal service.

Those who run such services are torn between sympathy for the absentee worker and the pain of penalties they must face for failure in offering regular service. This is why it is politic for a bank, for example, to print and gift its calendar annually, blunting the vexation of its favoured customers who find its doors locked on a day when they themselves have to pay their staff to avoid stones flung at their cars and houses.

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