Ignoring the rattle of the rupee and Rafale deal on an eight-week holiday

We all want to fly, at least metaphorically. When you’ve had it up to the gills, you need to leave it all behind and below. Douglas Adams says, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that there’s a trick to flying, and it is this: “The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” It’s a piece of advice as deliciously irrefutable as it is impossible.

I’ve only ever managed to crack my head in the attempt, but recently had a glimpse of what success might feel like.

The Guide doesn’t tell you this, but while the part about throwing yourself down is painfully physical—engaging with the world, contributing your two cents—the part about missing is psychological. I imagine that’s the part about learning.

Sadly, you have to be more enlightened than me to do the throwing and missing simultaneously. I diligently threw myself at the ground until I was black and blue, then did all the missing in a lump sum amount of two months off from writing columns. Taking one step back can be two steps forward.

For eight weeks I went back to basics. I had plans to Do Things, but it seemed more plausible to draw on the restorative powers of semi-consciousness. Economising is a priority when you’re on unpaid leave so I went out rarely, and preferably with friends who have recently become rich—so, like I said, rarely. I gave up grooming and walked around shaggy-haired, in shorts, with bearded knees. My bathroom geyser turned up its toes around the same time that the weather cooled, which allowed me enormous savings on bathing water for three weeks. 

But to miss the ground properly, you have to take care of yourself in other ways. I turned my back on the news, merely glancing at the headlines and rationing social media time. Naturally Murphy’s Law kicked in on cue; the earlier shocker-a-day rate climbed to a scandal/scam/outrage every five minutes. I ignored it all industriously. The price of petrol shot up and the rupee wasted away, but I watched copious amounts of Netflix (with a special focus on comedians and British cop shows). L’affaire Rafale became what my father would have called a honthbog—a made-up term for an ugly monster—and any nasty headache for the government should have been exciting, but I just ran lots of sweaty kilometres. (I also made sure not to waste entirely away by scarfing packets of salted chips, moderate amounts of distilled beverages, and three batches of brownies sent by kind strangers.) The Supreme Court dropped four major judgments but I only read three good books. My fingertips itched dangerously when the court delivered a knockout punch to Section 377, but getting away from it all involves steely discipline. Amit Shah called Bangladeshi migrants “termites” and swore to deport them, but I only wrote two bad songs. 

For the first month I did little more than visit friends in Shimla. In the second month I went to Hong Kong for my sister’s 50th birthday, popped up to Shimla again (why not, it’s not like I was doing anything else), and went to the lovely Satpura Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh for my aunt’s 70th birthday. If only doing nothing weren’t such a strain on the wallet, I’d do much more of it.

Satpura had no connectivity, so I had to interrupt my monitoring of the contentious nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. Who could resist watching the senate hearings in which Dr Christine Blasey Ford told her story of sexual assault by Judge Kavanaugh 30-odd years ago, and Judge Kavanaugh replied that he had gone to Yale, and liked beer? It was a riveting display of how patriarchy runs power, and the odds facing those who push back?

The Kavanaugh case was good for my re-introduction to terra firma, because it segued into a hopeful reality in India.

Time’s up for some of India’s most patriarchal fields and institutions, including those that see themselves as progressive. Women on social media are taking a public hammer to some of the worst boys-will-be-boys clubs. After actor Tanushree Dutta’s allegations of sexual harassment by colleague Nana Patekar, multiple allegations surfaced against comedian Utsav Chakraborty, who tweeted an admission of wrongdoing. Since then, more and more women are speaking up to allege sexual harassment or assault by journalists (including one from this newspaper), judges, writers and academics. We’ll know how serious India’s progressives are about junking sexist culture from how many listen to these women, and how many face real consequences for predatory behaviour.

Aaaand I’m back.


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