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Millennium Post

Life @ work ...work ...work ...

Work is proceeding in a blurred rush in the office of a leading national daily in Delhi on a Sunday evening. It is time to take out the evening edition and the stranglehold of the deadline is complete. Suddenly a worker in the editing department cries in anguish, ‘Oh my God, it is 7.30.’ Then he turns to his boss and pleads, ‘Sir, can I leave immediately? I am getting married tonight.’ The boss looks at him indulgently and says with affection, ‘By all means. You have every right to.’ As the bridegroom reaches the door hurriedly, his boss calls him and tells him sternly, ‘Make sure to return by 10. You have to bring out tonight’s edition.’

This is a joke I heard in 1995 at the outset of my journalism stint in Delhi. It is an exaggeration of the way work was done in the media industry then, intended to make people laugh. But the story worked as a joke only because those who heard it found it experientially close to reality. A reality painfully endured by workers not just in the media industry but other corporate sectors too, both in the private and public domain, in the economic reforms era which began in 1991 and yielded a mixed package of huge changes in all spheres of life in India.

Corporate workers in India, especially in metros and big cities, have stoically pulled along with killing work schedules simply because there is no way out for them. It is time the biggies charting India’s economic course gave this a thought. For the statistics have looked both good and bad since India began making its desperate bid to arrive on the world economic scene, but cold figures have never told the gut-wrenching story of how India’s workforce has been crushed and mauled underneath the strides the country has taken on the world stage.

There are pockets and perches of ease on the work scene, but they are uncommon. And only a privileged few can get there because, besides talent and hard work, which a lot of people can offer, getting there needs superlative levels of luck and politics. And superlative levels of anything, by definition, are rare.

Workers have endured the grind of the 9-to-5 workday and the five-day workweek for long with groans and sighs as an unavoidable part of life. It is never fun to be in bondage and this grind is nothing but bondage, however sophisticated and civil it may be made to look. Work tied to an unrelenting routine and various layers of subordination and constraints has no chance of being a joy. Joy comes with freedom. But what about a 9-to-9 workday (or a 12-hour workday with other timings, often quite unearthly) spread over six and more days a week? There’s only so much the body and mind can take.

When I worked in Delhi for a widely read news magazine in the early years of the previous decade, we were expected to deliver top-notch creative headlines (the magazine proprietor’s role model for his magazine was the American Time, no less) at 3 in the night after we had already put in 14 hours of work. The magazine has done well for decades, but my colleagues said that if you squeeze it, it will release the wails and tears of those who work to bring it out. It was just an imaginative lament arising from disgust and exasperation, but that’s what workers were reduced to –silent wails and invisible tears –when the choice before them was to either be at their creative best at 3 in the night or be fired for not being good enough.

Work loses all its appeal and charm if it has to be done in these kinds of distressing, agonising circumstances. All workers look forward to then is the time after work, but they can’t find it because it is simply not there with a 12-hour workday and six- to seven-day workweek. This schedule, with some variations, is common in the corporate world. So if at least six days a week, a worker slogs 12 hours, sleeps six hours, wades through traffic two hours, eats and snacks two hours, gets ready for his day in an hour, he is left with an hour for himself, his family and his society.

The duration of different activities varies from day-to-day, but this break-up of a corporate worker’s day gives a rough idea of the way his life is perpetually under siege.

He may decide to completely ignore himself even at the cost of his physical and mental well-being, but he can’t endlessly ignore the needs, duties and chores that come with family and social life.

The inescapable tensions, anxieties and worries of his work spill over into whatever spare time he gets and end up consuming it too.

If India has been a rocking party scene for the past two decades, the revellers are having a great time because there are people who are doing a lot of running around serving them. People who don’t even have the breathing space to step back and sigh, ‘Ah, some party this.’

Amit Shekhar is a senior journalist and columnist
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