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A forced holiday

Last updated on March 24, 2020

Amid coronavirus spread people are forced to stay back and work from home; some are enjoying the free time while others feel bored, underutilised and miss the thrill of a challenging work life

PEOPLE ARE creatures of habit, and the Coronavirus pandemic has forced people to change their habits. In many parts of the world, it has disrupted economic life in significant ways. It’s a global phenomenon and Delhi has not remained untouched. The government has introduced stringent measures to deal with this menace: schools, bars, theatres are shut, courts will only take up urgent matters and gatherings of 50 or above have been barred.

Amongst a population following the tenets of social distancing is a big set of busy people who have achieved much in such a short time, and are accustomed to leading a hectic life, thanks to their penchant to put in long hours on a regular basis. Their life is a high octane regime, years have rolled by so fast.

Now they are suddenly forced to break their usual work-cycle, globe-trotting for work, and find themselves confined inside the four walls of their homes. They are made to live a life where they have little to do and have to find ways to spend time huddled in their homes with their family. Though they acknowledge that in the past spending free time with the family was a luxury they had, more often than not, forgone for their professional pursuits and this is a welcome change, it has been brought on for all the wrong reasons.

It’s a good opportunity to retrospect, take a break, slow the pace. The days stretches before them, they are looking for ways to kill time. Initially, it was fun, a break from the usual. But then it started to pinch. Apart from pecuniary loss, not working for some can be exasperating.

These are early days but this work vacuum is being felt by lawyers, corporate executives, retailers, restaurateurs to name a few and this will only get more intense in the weeks to come. Some are enjoying the experience of driving for long on Delhi’s empty roads, some have taken to revive their old hobbies–music, art; some have gone back to their hometowns.

Akshay Sahay, 25, a lawyer who graduated from the prestigious National Law University in Jodhpur a couple of years ago, has since been working with a leading criminal lawyer in Delhi. His usual work schedule starts at 6:15 when he goes to the gym, by quarter to 9 he’s at work giving final touches to the matter listed for the day. He is in court from 10 am to 2 pm, and thereafter he comes back to the chambers where he works on the cases listed for the next day.  If he gets back home by midnight, he doesn’t consider it late. He has had many late nights at work, almost bordering on early morning.  He also works over the weekends without exception. The only respite from his gruelling schedule is Friday evenings. Sleep deficit mounts, and for a casual observer, Sahay’s routine is like racing towards an imminent burnout. But that’s not the case because Sahay loves the “thrill” of working against time.

Now that the courts are shut, only taking up urgent matters, he gets back early, at decent hours. At work there’s not much to do for the last three days, even the pending work is done with. He utilised the opportunity to travel with family on an extended Holi weekend, also hanging out with friends in the confines of their homes and catching up on his reading.

Sahay is relaxed and for the first few days he liked the change, now an ennui has set in, and he’s already missing the “thrill” of a demanding job. Sahay never really regretted long hours, day after day, for months, for “We get chunk vacations,” he says and lists: “A week off during Holi, seven weeks of summer vacation and three weeks of winter vacations, respectively.” The coronavirus shutdown won’t be too long, he hopes, it has adversely affected the earnings of lawyers like in the other sectors of the economy.

“The quantum of work hasn’t reduced very much, but the mode of work has shifted to digital or virtual platforms,” says Bhupender Singh, President and CEO of Teleperformance DIBS, the Digital and Integrated business division of Teleperformance, a leading business services company with over 330,000 staff across 80 countries. He travels extensively for work. His new assignment would have led to his relocation to London in a few months, but before that could happen the pandemic gripped the world. “Our attempt is to prevent a reduction in the economic activity (of the group),” he stresses, but of course travels have reduced substantially. And he works from home.

“I’m mostly home,” he says. He dresses up in formals as if going to the office. “You don’t feel serious unless you’re dressed up for work,” he explains. He works from one of the rooms of his house in Gurugram and meets people via net and manages work online.  He has even shifted a table to the room, which otherwise is a cosy home-bar. When he’s working, at least 12 hours a day, he locks himself up in the room and “it’s almost as good as not being there.” The consolation is that he can have meals with his wife Nisha and two school-going children. It wouldn’t have been possible if he was travelling. Singh, despite all odds, while working from home, is trying hard to keep the business going.

Yash Narain, 30, is a senior executive with a multinational online retail company. The instructions are to work from home till the end of the month, much like Singh. Narain, who recently got married, and used to spend more than 12 hours at work, is enjoying this break. Business activity and sales have also suffered because of the pandemic, which means the quantum of work has dropped significantly.

Narain used this opportunity to go back to his hometown Prayagraj. He works from home and spends quality time exercising–something he couldn’t make time for–and meeting up with friends. “Staying with parents is relaxing, and I have got an opportunity to introspect about life and plan my future career moves,” he says.

Recently he drove his wife to Varanasi to visit the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple and hang out with local friends. “I like driving, not to work in Delhi traffic, but for pleasure,” Narain explains. Though he knows social distancing is an effective way to stay safe and prevent the spread of the pandemic, he won’t miss the opportunity to hang out with family and friends.

“I have read that social distancing prevents the spread of the pandemic, but not without a price. It might set in an economic recession; the pandemic will also lead to a rise in cases of depression. Isolation and loneliness are health hazards,” he says advocating caution but not paranoia. “As they say life finds a way to go on…even during the times of coronavirus. This too will also pass.”       ■