Storms ruled the first thousand years of life.
By the time I claimed my room, I turned into a zombie...
Suspended somewhere between the worlds within and outside...
Vaguely aware of either...
But then, existence needs more meaning, and spectacles need a windowpane...
Right here, I found mine…

Who am I? An average woman - trying to work on my share of maze through layers of haze...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

100 Days of Doing Nothing

When I do nothing, I often do this with my two-year old! (Pic taken by me on 19-Nov-2017)
On June 29, 2017, I resigned from my job of 7 years. Beyond my student life, I had never before been jobless. The decision came as a shocker to many.
To sum up my professional life thus far, I was offered my first job while in the pre-final year of engineering back in 2005. The offer was from a reputed Indian MNC that focused mostly on providing IT and network technology solutions to the telecommunications industry. I joined work within a month of completing my degree. An enthusiastic learner eager to snatch every opportunity to prove herself, I slogged with the zeal of a worker bee. To make my mark in the roaring world of the Indian IT industry was the dream that fueled my days. 11 years later, I often felt battered.

What went wrong?

Stressors from multiple fronts allied up to corner me.
  • My toddler, in addition to being a very fussy eater, continued waking through nights all through his second year. In India, we co-sleep with our kids until they’re six or more. Two years of chronic sleep deprivation started taking its toll on me.
  • On the professional front, for a long time, they expected me to lead production support — which means odd and unplanned working hours to address critical system failures at the client side. Repeated requests for change of role landed me under a workaholic who took glory in massive overcommitment on the team’s behalf.
  • My aged, accident-prone father kept slipping deeper into dementia with each passing day and required constant attention.

Every waking moment of my life felt like the rightful property of someone else. The time-division multiplexing that kept me racing from one night of poor sleep to the next failed to factor in ‘me’. Overwhelmed, I gasped for air and lost vision of what I was pursuing.
The decision involved many months of discomfort and panic, for unlike many new mothers in India, quitting wasn’t a natural choice for me. I had never asked anyone for money in the last 11 years. I fulfilled my passions (buying my two-wheeler, laptop or DSLR, completing my Masters’ etc.) with my own paycheck, donated for charity every year, saved prudently, loved a guy who had made an utter mess of his career, was ready to support him for years to come, and when I married (not the guy I just mentioned — he cheated on me), I was particular about sharing all expenses equally with my husband. I equated quitting on the ability to run a family by myself to quitting on my education and my upbringing.
Yet, June 29 happened; and after serving a notice period of 2 months, I walked out of my office premises for the last time in the evening of Aug 24, 2017.

100 days of doing nothing

Bob Dylan once said: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
It’s Dec 2 today — the 100th day of my career break. In the months before I quit, life hardly allowed me the mental space to ask myself what I wanted to do with my day. A deep fatigue engulfed my thought-threads even while I rested. The last 100 days often made me feel closer to success than my once-fat paychecks could, and that surprises me no end.
So let me take you through my 100 days of doing nothing -
100 days of having my own physical space - A couple of weeks before my last working day, I made available for myself the terrace room of a building close to our home. I was keen to ensure that the entire time freed up by my career break wasn’t lost to the hubbub of daily chores. While this room isn’t particularly beautiful, it guarantees me my own un-intruded space.
Like most other introverts, to be happy, I need to relax. To relax, I need to let go of stress. To let go, I need to cut myself off — for at least a few hours a day.
Seated in a room that is meant for my sole use, facing a window that lets in breeze and rain for my sole skin, in the company of books that await my sole eyes, I’ve come to own my life again. Here I’ve set up the ‘semblance of an office’ where I spend 6 hours a day in a ‘job’ that pays me nothing, yet makes me richer by the hour. I revel in the joy of solitude that I thought had left my life for good.
100 days of being a persistent reader -The last few years saw me leaving jewels of novels like ‘God of Small Things’, ‘The Glass Palace’ and ‘Shadows of the Wind’ halfway through because I had lost the quality of being a patient, persistent reader. I’ve chosen to utilize my newly gained space to remedy this loss.
On the 100th day of my career break, I stand at Page 387/503 of the book ‘My Name Is Red’ by Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel laureate in Literature. Reading through this timeless novel that delves painstakingly into the workings of maneuvering minds has often been a test of patience for me. And yet I’ve stubbornly hung on. Pamuk is going to revive the patient reader I once used to be, and I am going to offer him a nice bouquet in afterlife as a token of gratitude.
100 days of striving to be a consistent writer - Writing brings me closer to who I am, yet seldom did I prioritize it over the ever-urgent melee of activities that consumes years unnoticed.
Of late, I’ve come to realize that poverty of thoughts and words isn’t unpardonable; what’s truly unpardonable is that the last 11 years (before I quit) saw me writing 1.545 pieces per year on an average! In comparison, in the last 100 days, I’ve not only written 12 pieces (including fictions, poems, journal entries, drabbles and memoirs), but also tried to fetch them as many views as possible. I’m happy to see the initial barrier of internal chaos I face while trying to write getting thinner day by day. I presently contribute as a writer to 5 Medium publications and earn my share of applause.
100 days of learning to accept - I’ve always been fond of to-do lists and periodic personal goals, and the last 100 days weren’t exempted from this ritual. However, this period saw me patiently accepting numerous disruptions to my plans and repeated re-jigs of my deadlines because of reasons beyond my control (illnesses, accidents and theft — to name a few!). While I didn’t stress over the continuous onslaughts to my progress, I didn’t resign either. I learnt to prevail without feeling threatened by uncertainties and saved up my energy for the fights that MUST be fought later.
In a nutshell, in the last 100 days, almost nothing made me feel that my world was crashing, and earlier, every little thing that would go out of the way would make me feel so. When you’re relaxed, you’re secure.
100 days of learning to ask - I learnt to ask my husband to pay my credit card bills without being nagged by the fear of succumbing to gender stereotypes. And this is an exception to who I’ve been as a person all through my adult life.
I asked my mother to look after my toddler while I spent long afternoons in my rented room reading and writing stuff that I certainly could’ve done without. I had my husband take care of him on many nights while I enjoyed long and peaceful sleep in the hall.
Basically, I allowed myself to ask without letting my self-respect be affected by it. For one, it was magically liberating. The only thing I promised myself was that I would remember the support my family extended to me, and that it would not be taken for granted.
100 days of a lot more Mommy time - In the last 100 days, my kid accompanied me for beautiful, leisurely walks. Together we explored neighborhood streets and watched caterpillars cross the road, chameleons change shade and a snail move an inch up along a damp, mossy wall. Our walks didn’t get me late for office, nor did they require me to cut short on my work and return early.
When our domestic help went on a fifteen days’ leave due to medical emergency, I stayed at home full time and invented recipes to suit his picky palate. Project deadlines didn’t make me tear my hair out in distress. We filled notebooks with meaningless doodles of many a color and played with tiny little cars.
I invested days in looking up pre-schools and daycare facilities for him, visiting each of them multiple times to feel the vibes. My son joins a nice little preschool day after tomorrow. I will be there by his side to make his transition happy.
100 days of embracing wishes - I put up the very first set of wall decor in the flat where we moved in 2.5 years ago, and didn’t resort to store-bought options. I instead paid a tribute to the initial years of our marriage when both my husband and I took a fancy to painting, and sorted through those amateurish yet fond expressions of our heart to get the best ones framed. Our walls now have a character.
I accompanied a photographer-friend to old age homes and spent hours listening to the residents narrate the stories of their life.
I planned a simple, homely party for my son’s birthday and enjoyed blowing up every balloon.

You see, there’s this philosophy I follow in life — when you break up from a long-term affair, be it with a person or a career path, try not to rush towards the next. Instead, let the void persist. Utilize it to stabilize. Stay away from chaos. The void need not diminish you. Life often buries parts of you that once defined you. When you have time and space, be whole again.
My heart hasn’t seen an iota of regret in the last 100 days. I’m rather more convinced than ever before that sabbaticals and career breaks should be welcome in every industry, and that to deny working adults a chance to sit back and indulge in the small pleasantries of life once in a while is a crime.
Humans aren’t robots. Professional life may span decades, and the best of performers may lose their motivation over time. Challenges, recognition and incentives do provide stimulus over a short span, but to keep the human mind productive and healthy across decades, breaks are often a necessity. Hope every employer across the world sees this simple truth.
The coming 100 days should see me work towards finding my best fit in terms of my next career destination. And learning Kannada — the language of the state where I’ve stayed for 7 years now. A long trip to home town is on the cards. And books, books… I think I’ll pick up a couple of short novels next…
Life, what are your plans?
(Life winks!)

Originally published in The Ascent.


  1. Very lucid article and one that I completely empathize with. I also took a two year break at the age of fifty after having gone from one phase to another without a break, adding designation after designation wife daughter in law, mummy etc etc. And I thoroughly enjoyed my break just like you read and wrote and found the magical world of blogging. I am back to working and although i like work too but i am plotting and planning how i can cut down on it and go back to carefree days of doing 'nothing' earning nothing but getting more and more enriched :) Happy to have bumped into you.

    1. Hello Dahlia, I'm so happy to have bumped into you as well! Thanks - not only for reading this piece, but also for your lovely heartfelt note. Hope you get back your carefree space soon :-).

    2. Amen to that!

  2. Normally, I just type out what I want to say by the time I have read a blog but I am not sure today. I am sorry for the bad time you had at your workplace and its spillovers at home with your baby. Your decision to take a rented attic where you have taken to reading and writing brings to my mind the resolve of a Steve Job and the condition of a Ruskin Bond. As for 'My Name is Red', I couldn't put it down once I picked it up, I reread it not long after —I guess I owe it to my particular taste for the intense and the alien, but it could also mean a relative peace of mind on my part. The last two years have been particularly disruptive in my life and I haven't been able to read out many books. If I had even a fraction of the courage you brought to bear upon your bondage, I'd burn the walls of my workplace. Keep writing: you are an exquisite exponent of the art.

    1. Uma, every new post to this blog awaits your eyes and thoughtful words. Thanks again for caring to read and leave a note. I think reading a long novel requires a certain training of mind (and of course, peace - as you rightly said). I had turned into an impatient, poor reader who needed plots to unfold and wrap up sooner than what Pamuk did in My Name is Red. I'm happy to declare that I finally finished it last to last night. And Pamuk and I have together trained back into myself the lost patience :-).

  3. You did do a lot!