I remember a very interesting scene from Eat Pray Love. Yes, it is a mediocre adaptation of a mediocre book, but just one scene stays etched in my memory. The ethereal Julia Roberts, who is staying as a tenant in a dilapidated apartment in Rome, cooks a beautiful plate of spaghetti, fish, grilled asparagus and carbonara for herself, plates it, garnishes it with care, sits down on the floor of her living room and slowly starts eating her meal. “Dolce far niente”, she sighs— a phrase she has recently picked up — and relishes her pasta.
Dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. “You Americans are always running”, one of the characters in the film tells Roberts. “You need to slow down and enjoy every moment, lady. You need to know how to enjoy not doing anything at all.” These wise words are a turning point for Roberts’ character in the film, and she goes on a spaghetti-pizzapesto spree. For me, the phrase struck a chord with my innate passion for daydreaming, lazing around and enjoying a constant state of non-activity.
“Aulosh”, the Bengali word for “lazy”, is the oft used rebuke hurled at children who are not hard working. Interestingly, the word hints at the existence of acumen but the absence of slogging-your-ass-off. It has a Mycroftian connotation, hence making the bearer of this tag even more annoying to their parents and elders. “Why are you wasting your talents? If you can score so much without studying at all, imagine how much you would have scored if you actually did! You won’t do your riyaaz daily, you won’t touch the paintbrushes, the tablas are gathering dust!” Is the said child interested and talented enough for all those singing-painting-sculpting-elocution-dramatics classes she is being sent for? Of course. Does she give a shit about them? No. Said child is busy fighting goblins on the on the terrace with a long twig for a sword. Or wiping the secret, invisible hormone trails and watching the long line of ants suddenly lose their sense of direction.
Laziness is a delightful Indian pastime. I recently took to puffing the hookah and I realised how absolutely unnecessary the apparatus is (unless some holy herbs are added). But, it is still deliciously addictive, and you can keep bubbling the water pot for hours, exhaling clouds of thick smoke in circles, watching time pass by. The Bengali obsession with “adda” or informal conversations on verandahs or roadsides, or over tea or something stronger, is another example. While it might evolve into something meaningful and insightful if the company is good, the need to self-importantly argue and criticise is a part of the Bengali gene. You will see men talking or hours at alley corners on weekends, holding bags full of vegetables and fish, about Messi and Mamata, till they realise that it is nearing lunchtime. The “addabaaj” Bengali man comes home to a furious wife. She screams at him. He is quite used to it. These days of course, we have cellphones, and all she needs to do is constantly keep calling him. And even though wasting time can be easily equated with social media, it does not encompass the joy of doing nothing. We don’t spend hours on our terraces any more, squinting for magical characters in the clouds. Or spend a summer afternoon unravelling cassette tapes and screwing them back in with a pencil. Or hold a pair of spectacles in the sun and watch it slightly singe the newspaper. Or make shadow animals on the ceiling at night, with sound effects and dialogues. With jobs and families and Saturday nights and New Year bar crawls and Sunday morning brunches, we have become socialisers. “What’s the scene?” and “What’s the plan?” have become questions that relieve and terrorise us in equal measure. Ironically, for a generation that might not have had a dinner table conversation with their own family in months, Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) has become a hashtag. As a generation, we are either intoxicated, occupied or asleep.
When was the last time you cooked a fancy meal just for yourself? Or didn’t check your phone for a day? When was the last time you relished doing absolutely nothing? There is something delicious in being unproductive sometimes.