Monday, March 1, 2004

On having a holiday

On having a holiday
By Narendra Luther

What is this life if, full of care, /we have not time to stand and stare? complained the poet W.H. Davies. We get so much engrossed in the routine of life that we forget that there are some finer aspects to it. For appreciating that, an escape from the dreary schedule is necessary. A break from work also enables you to have a fresh look at the work you are doing -- and the way you are doing it. You reflect on the worthwhileness of your goals and the manner of their pursuit. In short, even to do the same things better, it is desirable to have a holiday. It refreshes your mind and recharges your batteries. That is why all organizations provide for holidays – some even pay for them. But such is our reluctance to break from the daily grind that we ask for encashment of leave entitlement instead of having a holiday. Much of the misery in our lives and flatness in our dealings would be avoided if every one were forced to go on leave once a year.

I must hasten to add here that I myself have been guilty of not practising what I have preached. Years have rolled by without a holiday. But every time I take a break, I blame myself for not doing it more frequently. One can have a holiday anytime, but the best time for that in India is summer. And the best holiday is to escape to the hills. The best of hills are of course the Himalayas. That is where you can see snow any time of the year—at least from a distance.

The Escape

A holiday came my way last month. My friend, Pavi Sarin had organized the launch of two of my books at Chandigarh. He recommended that after that I could run up to the hills for a week or so. The suggestion was tempting and I succumbed. My wife too was keen to visit Manali, the hill station made popular by Nehru, and now by Vajpayee.
A holiday is best enjoyed in early youth in a group, in full youth with a mate, in middle age, with the family. For an old couple it is advisable to have an intermediary. I chose my wife’s brother, Manmohan for the job. He is a gourmet, a good cook and a good teller of tales. What I can say in ten words or one minute, he will stretch to a thousand words or an hour. He has a razor- sharp memory for details including names of persons, places and dates that never existed. He is rich -- and generous. I envy his faculty for making friends in an instant and mixing with strangers in no time. He makes an excellent foil for a couple, who left to them, would have nothing to say to each other.

Heavenly abode

Pavi had arranged for a break for us at Palampur. He said that the view of snow-capped mountains from our resort was magical and was guaranteed to lift our spirits. In five hours we were there. He was right. It was mildly cold. Suresh Bhasin, the owner of the Silver Oak Resort, is an amiable ex-Air Force officer. The place was informal with no frills. Food was good and service prompt. We had long walks, visited Sarin’s tea estate and enjoyed two nights there. Pavi had also thoughtfully arranged a lunch meeting with some of the eminent persons of the town. Dr. Ahuja of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and Dr. Negi, the Vice Chancellor of the HP Agriculture University told us that they were trying to get the Palampur tea its due place in the export of India. We got some advice on how to savour the true taste of tea -- which meant no milk or sugar.

Dr. S.S. Johl, the eminent agricultural economist of India, and a former chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission, has a house in Chandigarh, but escapes to Palampur ever so often Despite being knowledgeable, he is a charming conversationalist. Once someone asked him why he did not bring his family with him to Palampur. He replied, ‘You go to heaven alone, not with your family’. When he told a friend about the bliss of staying all by himself in the hills, he was told that only those who are full up inside could stay alone. These two statements say volumes about Palampur and using it as a retreat.

I had picked up three books awaiting perusal, but on second thoughts, I dropped them all. What is the use of going to a scenic spot and getting curled up in the bed reading a book. One should go to a holiday in the hills for enjoying nature, not to spurn it. In the event, I had human company -- and nature. Looking back, it was a good decision. If you do not take any book to the hills, you can bring back material for one.

Our Qualis van, which swallowed miles on plains, took time to negotiate the hilly bends and climbs. It is very frustrating to go up the hills only to come down, again to go up. Sometime all this up-and-down business had to be undertaken only to cross a rivulet, or to go from one range of mountain only to go up another. In that respect, I found Italy has done a remarkable job. That country is eighty percent hills. Yet the highways go in a straight line. They have cut through mountains with miles of tunnels. My host in Italy drove me 120 kilometers in ninety minutes flat. The same distance in Indian hills through serpentine roads takes five hours. I hope one day there will be bridges across gorges and tunnels through mountains to cut the travel time and to bring hills closer to plains. The continuous murmur of rivulets all along the journey was soothing. I was reminded of Shakespeare’s famous metaphor of finding brooks in the running brooks tongues in trees and sermons in stones. Our stay at Manali was the highlight of our holiday. When our cell phone stopped working there, Manmohan invoked Johl’s line: there are no phones in heaven.

New insights

As with Bacon, travel is education. One is exposed to new sights, sounds, landscape, and ideas. I found that in Delhi and Chandigarh, seat belts for cars, and helmets for two-wheelers are taken seriously. In Manali, you are fined if you are found carrying a plastic bag. There are vast open spaces in Chandigarh, and a park for each square. No hoardings are allowed; no encroachments are tolerated. The city breathes and allows you to breath fresh air. We too could do that only if we had the will.

The best part of a holiday is when you start unpacking. I write this as we are doing just that while contemplating our next holiday.


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