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The pleasure principle vs. work

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  17 April 2016 12:00 AM GMT

D. N. Bezboruah

It is an acknowledged facet of human ture that we like doing what pleases us rather than what needs to be done right away—sometimes even for sheer survival. The equation is that of preferring the pleasure principle to work that has to be done at once, but work that we do not like to do. Take, for instance, the daily task of cooking that someone in a home has to do every day. That ‘someone’ is usually a woman—a wife and a mother. It is unreasoble to imagine that she likes to cook three meals a day, week after week, month after month and year after year. She does not. But the idea of sending Hubby to work and the children to school on empty stomachs appeals to her even less. So she takes on this daily task of cooking three meals with equanimity, and derives pleasure out of the pleasure that she gives to her family with her culiry skills. Most women take pride in being able to do a job well, and this trait helps most of them to become good cooks. I know a lot of women who claim that they love cooking. And in most cases they are quite honest about their claims. The number of women who have turned cooking into a fine art is legion. This is a typical case of people training themselves to relish what they know they will probably have to do all their lives. And that is perhaps the most sensible way of turning the work that has to be done into an endurable and even enjoyable quotidian activity. I know a whole lot of engineers, doctors, architects, jourlists, teachers and people in other professions who enjoy their work and have long ceased to look at it as something that has to be done but more as something that they would like to do. And they do their work uncomplainingly day after day for decades. The pleasure they derive from their work has much to do with their ability to choose their professions according to their aptitudes. But not everyone is quite so lucky. In a land where the unemployment rate is so high, I have come across people who did their Masters degree in Zoology ending up as income-tax officers and people with M.A. degrees in Literature retiring as police chiefs in different States. In most advanced countries such jettisoning of their chosen fields would be regarded as sheer expensive waste of their education. After all, the requisite qualification for careers in the Police or Revenue service or the IAS is a simple B.A., B.Sc. or B.Com degree.

At the same time, there are millions who do hard manual work that can never be interesting no matter what beneficiaries in other vocations may have to say about their work. There are janitors and cleaners, diggers and assistants to masons, charwomen and truck drivers who are not likely to find ways of deriving any enjoyment from their work. There are bus drivers, train drivers and people who work for power supply systems and hospitals who are expected to make significant persol sacrifices so that life can go on smoothly for others—especially during festivals. Society will have to find better ways of rewarding people in such essential services, considering that we are so heavily dependent on them.

However, it is not just people’s professiol work or their vocations that I have in mind when I think of the pleasure principle as opposed to work. As I said, there are a lot of people who enjoy their work. But they constitute a minority when compared to the millions who do not like work in any form at all. But there is hardly anyone among these teeming millions who does not want an enjoyable life without work. If it were possible, many people would like a life with all its pleasures but without any work. But no society, no government has the magic wand that ebles such preposterous aspirations to be supported. People must work in order to make a living. The distortions that are associated with the budgeting of salary incomes hinge on individual idiosyncrasies and priorities. But the compulsion to have the means to support oneself and one’s family forces one to earn a salary and a pension for old age when it is no longer possible to work. So most people have to work whether they like it or not.

In Assam, the distortions to the principle of work being necessary for a decent livelihood are several and varied. Foremost among them is the belief that one does not really have to work in order to earn a salary. It is enough to carry out a daily pretence of work. This is a belief that has long received endorsement from politicians and those in the corridors of power. In Assam, we have thousands of government employees who come to office at about 11:30 a.m., take an hour off to pick up their children from school, and filly call it a day by about 3:30 p.m. Most of them put in about two hours of work a day. However, the pursuit of pleasure is pretty strong in all of them. And this pursuit of pleasure is most visible at festival time.

All human societies have festivals that are observed with enthusiasm and passion. All over Europe, the preparations for Christmas and shopping for gifts begin weeks before Christmas Day. In India, we have many festivals throughout the year when the switchover from work to the pleasure principle is most pronounced. And somehow even the government is very tolerant about people who stay away from work on the plea that they were busy as office-bearers of one festival committee or the other. In Assam, where there is so little of actual work going on, the tendency to stretch festivals to several days is very strong. Just look at how we have maged to stretch Rangaali Bihu—a three-day affair—into almost a month-long celebration. In Kartaka, Ugadi or New Year is a one-day affair. So is Pongal in Tamil du and Om in Kerala. People have work to do. They cannot afford to squander precious time on festivals.

I have often wondered whether the pursuit of pleasure and reluctance to work stems from our work ethics distorted by the absence of satisfying work in a society almost totally starved of industrial activity even in the 21st century. Assam has the highest unemployment rate in the country. As a consequence, we maged to turn terrorism and abduction into industries. The fact that some people used the euphemism ‘insurgency’ to talk about terrorism has not changed the reality. We have had terrorism in one form or another unleashed by one outfit or another since 1979 or 1980. In the same manner, we seem to have turned our most cherished festival into a sort of business. We have commercialized Rangaali Bihu. And when people commercialize a festival, the urge to extend it to several days is very strong. After all, one needs some time to get the desired return on one’s investment. And three days are just too short for a lot of enterprising people. People in very knowledgeable circles have alleged that some office-bearers of Bihu committees mage to make enough to live on quite comfortably for the whole year. Any Bihu committee worth its salt must be able to pay top-notch singers anything between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 6 lakh for a single night’s programme. Obviously, Bihu committees mage to raise huge ‘dotions’ for such lavish expenditure. Whether such games played in the me of Rangaali Bihu are in the best interest of the festival itself or of those who celebrate our cherished Bihu calls for serious introspection. But using Rangaali Bihu as the season for jettisoning work in favour of the pleasure principle and stretching Bihu to a month-long affair to be able to neglect work for a whole month is surely a perversion that we can do without.

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