What Should One’s Day Look Like……

 An artist’s life, a writer’s life, what should it look like. What can a productive, good day be? I have been plagued by this for the longest time. As a designer, I ran a studio. I employed people and had a routine that I adhered to. I and my assistants were at work at 9.30 am sharp and left at 5.30pm. My studio was not on the major bus routes – Sarita Vihar was not well connected in the early 1990’s, I would drop the girls off at Ashram crossing and so, I too left then. During these hours one worked with efficiency and for the most part, emotional issues didn’t come up. Not enough to disable the day. I left the studio knowing that a day’s work had been done.

Thereafter, the evening was mine to do what I wanted that wasn’t work related and sometimes it was. Most significantly, the work one did was largely commissioned, or at best one had a client in mind. But now, a now that has been lingering since I shut the studio 21 years ago, there is nowhere to go, no staff to determine schedules, no clients waiting for their specified designs or fabrics. There is no defined order  and the day is mine to do as I please. I work from home.

Coming from a family of professionals, being a designer always made me feel rather inadequate among the IIM and Oxford graduates, the chartered accountants, CEO’s investment bankers, and professors. In the early 1980’s to  mid-1990’s design wasn’t really considered a profession in India. Its inability to generate sufficient revenue, only added to lowered self-esteem. If designing had these undermining issues, there was at least a designate purpose that redeemed it from the more self-indulgent ethic of an artist’s life.

At first I loved the idea of working from home but discovered more and more, that housekeeping interferes with ‘work’ and the defining lines between what is work and what is not, has dissolved.

In Gurgaon, I had a better structure to my day than in Goa. There, the day revolved around what time who came to do what job, fitting myself into that schedule.  And of course I had a major domo of twenty-four years who took away the tedium of everyday housekeeping. I didnt have to do much more than my creative and reflective work. Here, I have some semblance of a possible blueprint that hasn’t quite settled in. With each day I fret because I haven’t found a rhythm that reassures. Either I am creative and get nothing else done, or I am so engaged with cooking and cleaning that inspiring work takes a back seat. Or, if I do a bit of both then yoga and meditation don’t quite fit in. I just cannot do it all as I did before. So far, I haven’t adapted to a discipline of doing some creative work every day. I always try to get past the daily errands, and then scour time and mental space for my art and writing. Feeling pretty useless when I cannot. And equally so, when I do. Essentially,  I haven’t come to terms with the necessary but unfulfilling endeavours. Especially in comparison to the design practice. And given the backdrop to that, it isn’t saying much. The sense of uselessness I felt before, in my self-absorbed life, has only been enhanced by the added household duties.

I usually do get to swim, which takes care of some of the exercise my body has been used to but, I don’t think it is good enough to work-out just once. Twice a day has been the norm for the last twenty-five years, with yoga every morning and either a walk, swim or cycling in the evening.  Today was one of those rare days that I woke up with a firm intent, to do my full yoga programme, which  along with kriya meditation takes me over two hours. I did it. I even wrote in my journal – another aspect of my regular practice that has been faltering. I should have been content and I was. That is, until Amaresh called. He runs an agency that sends Malay to clean my apartment once a week. Every week there is some kind of disruption. Something has come up, so either he is late, someone else comes, or he defers for another day. In the last six or seven weeks, there has only been one week when I didn’t get a call on Monday or I didn’t have to call on Tuesday with a no-show, to find out what was going on. I pay a tidy sum and basically the job is well done, but this weekly uncertainty is unsettling. I barely finished putting this issue to rest when the door bell rang and Philomena walked in.

She is new to the job – just over a month into it. Is exceedingly timid and I have to be careful. I like her and usually work alongside, guiding her. But it does irks when she asks, what dish to use to boil the potatoes in, make the soup, keep the salad in, which spoon to use, which cloth to wipe with – an endless list, even as I have told her, repeatedly, to use her own judgement. Today, I wanted her to work on her own so I could get some reading done. After a couple of times when she goofed up while I was giving instructions, I gently suggested she concentrate as I was getting upset. I heard snivelling and looked up to see copious tears running down her cheeks. Stunned, I enquired what was wrong, but got no answer. Not till I asked if she could cook the mattar paneer, a staple for my evening meal on a Monday (when I fast), which I’d shown her how to make and made with her on at least 4 occasions. She said she’d attempt it only if I assisted, otherwise she wouldn’t come  to work. What on earth brought on these staff issues, all together this Monday? I was even more flabbergasted and perturbed.

Philomena is Goan catholic and speaks fluent English, adding confusion to her role in my home. But I’ve realised that speaking English, doesn’t make her more or less competent than others who do the same kind of job.  She comes three times a week in the afternoon’s to clean and helps with the cooking. Mostly doing the cutting and chopping. I was also hoping that she’d do some basic cooking, eventually. But this day revealed that even as the help I have isn’t sufficient, it’s the best thus far, so I’ll have to make do with whatever she is willing to put her mind to. But does it work that way? Must I really feel threatened or intimidated by the environment and its potential, or lack of it?

I had hoped to get some reading done and having started the morning off well, dealt with substantial email correspondence after the yoga discipline, and followed up on the those jobs that never quite get accomplished until one harangues. I deserved an hour of reading, especially after the upsets this afternoon. I wasn’t making any headway with weeping Philomena, so deciding to leave her to her own devices, shut the bedroom door, lay down and picked up the book I wanted to read. May Sarton has an easy going, journal style of writing which is not difficult to follow, but I was distracted. I may gripe about the tedium of housekeeping but I am a fastidious housekeeper, and since I cannot do all the work alone, these things are bothersome. I did a visualization exercise, evolved to tackle my emotions when I don’t have the scope to express freely - where confrontation would compound rather than resolve. It helped release the accruing tension somewhat, and I continued reading.

 A half hour later, I wasn’t sure how Philomena was coping, so  went to check on my meal. Things seemed to be back to normal but, I am feeling unsettled and unhappy about the state of affairs. To add to my woes, after she left, I went to shut the veranda door and the mesh screen distorted. To rectify it, a minor adjustment wasn’t enough. I had to call ‘Habitat’ to take a look. Which meant more disturbance in my personal space on an already fraught day. But I couldn’t close the door, so there was no choice but to wait until they came.

The humdrum of housekeeping never seems to end. Something or other constantly needs attention and despite decades of home management, I haven’t accepted it, graciously. An ideal life would be one where one didn’t have to engage at this mundane level, wouldn’t it? And yet, when I had Mahipal doing most of the work, it didnt feel that way either.

I have been living in this apartment for just seven months and everything is new. Technically I shouldn’t have to deal with repairs just yet, but damp, monsoon weather is such that the steel racks in the kitchen and bathroom are rusting and have to be taken into the store. Trying to dry dishes without a stand, in a tiny open-plan kitchen, is a foreseeable nightmare. They promise it will be done in two days, but generally mean two weeks. A defunct light, still under warranty, hasn’t been replaced, three weeks and many prompts later. The Acquaguard service has been on the cards  for a week now, but no show.  Such daily follow-ups,  including filing of my income tax return, exhaust me.

And now, I am even more peeved that this forty-nine year old woman, a mother of two grown-up college going boys, is so sensitive that she can cry at the drop of a hat. Threaten to stop coming to help because she didn’t like being told that her carelessness was distressing me. Clearly there is no recourse to express my feelings.  She’s too emotionally fragile and doing so, as today’s outburst indicated, is more trouble.

It just doesn’t seem fair. Not only am I  lumped with more housework than I care to do, repairs I would rather not deal with, but I also have to bite my tongue because there is peril in speaking. There is a limit to self-restraint and mine had peaked a long time ago.

I do try not to let these events mow me down. Meditating on the oneness of being, I  focus  within and deal with the inner angst. As long as matters are relatively untangled, order is generally restored by releasing  emotions through metaphysical practices. But this requires self-control and diligent attention to the littlest of things. Often I have to write copiously, in my diary, to work though the complexity of feelings -of insecurity versus need, to find clarity and move ahead. This can thwart plans for anything else I would like to accomplish. Living this way, day after day,  I feel almost useless to the world beyond my small circle, which more often than not is the staff.

Bringing back the same relentless question of what have I done, what has the day been worth. My concept of life is being redefined and instead of feeling more productive and interactive, it is becoming more solitary. And a day, no longer feels like a day once did, with the satisfaction of something accomplished. It has progressively moved to multitasking which isn’t the same as getting involved with one thing and finishing it. Managing a mish-mash of things evokes a sense of incompleteness. Especially at the end of a day like this one!

What has the day been but a series of nothings. A day like most others, where the only comfort, lies in hooking the thread while making up a crochet pattern, wandering  through the day in my head, wrapping the fabric around an unrelenting stone. Is there a message in that I wonder.

Another ordinary day, fuelling deeper self-reflection isn’t always a comforting one. Time and emotional space are required to let the breath settle, for thoughts to unravel into courage to voice things, to be creative as opposed to reactive.  And too much of this makes me yearn for some intellectual engagment and people conversations. Conversely, when there is a rush of doing the mind gets harried.

From a young age, I  was compelled to get past my feelings rather than express them, which ended up in denial.  When the dam burst and I finally spoke up, I realised that this is a double-edged sword, so I do like to work through things rather than come up with a guttural reaction to events. But, I've not envisaged a monastic kind of life. The world beckons, and mind peeves at the constant rigour of  the mundane.

It is a more, self-sufficient,  organic kind of living. Rather than being utterly professional and keeping one’s emotions under tight wraps, leading to stress of the stuff we tend to brush aside,  eventually piling up and developing into physical pangs.  Here, one does have the scope to deal with the nitty-gritty of feelings as they surface. But even so, the pressure does build up because it takes away time devoted to more pleasurable occupation.

For aeons, age-old Hindu traditions have advocated retiring into the vanaprastha stage of life, where living is organically self-reliant and reflective. And while I’m at the cusp of entering the sixth decade - soon to be a certified senior citizen, I don’t think artists and writers ever do retire, more likely, are always in that mode. And, by that count I retired at the age of thirty-seven, when I discontinued a design practice to follow the calling of art. But I haven’t yet got used to tackling the gravel of ordinariness. It may be  what efficient living  is all about, but its exasperating to be so rooted in the everyday. And when the global canvas of the world enters one’s consciousness through smart phones relaying what everyone, everywhere else is doing, it is unrealistic to be able shut this out and focus on the innerscape and its mulling. Even as our essential prowess, in the external world, lies in doing so.

Soothing my jangled nerves, thumbing the fraying cover of  Sarton’s ‘The House Beside The Sea’, a second-hand edition I recently acquired, it was reassuring to read about her day to day going’s on in a gently unfolding narrative - about daily woes and meanderings through the physical and metaphysical dimensions of being.  She mentions  little things like watering the plants and walking the dogs, which sometimes she cannot move her tired limbs, to tackle even these. At the time of writing, in the 1970’s, she is pretty much the same age as me – maybe a couple of years older. Living in America, domestic help was not available then, even to the extent that I have in Goa today. Often, she remarks on how unbearable her garden looks because the man who helps with it, doesn’t  tend it regularly enough. And everything goes for a toss when the plumber has to be called and other such similarities that evoke a nurturing parity of living distress. So mundane, but reflective - reading her daily chronicle provides solace that, I too will get down to doing the things that enrich the soul, beyond the chores of feeding and cleaning oneself and the home.

A life without the travails of ordinariness is what I have always hoped for, what I imagined would be a charmed life. But each day proves it is this which can actually bring a greater sense  of contentment, if one can allow it. And, much as I resist it, this very ordinariness, the mundane and the everyday is what  keeps one grounded. Mind utilized more constructively than having all the time in the world to explore intellectual  precepts that become too abstract or unrealistic in their pretensions. Unnecessary.......