Can you imagine ‘summer’ without ‘vacation’? Or the other way round? When you become a working professional, summer no longer comes with a vacation. Or when you want (or are granted) a vacation, it’s not necessarily summer. Very soon, given the vagaries of climate change, we might need something called a global warming vacation! However, that’s not really the point I want to make. The point is what a vacation ends up becoming. Does it really live up to its Latin roots of vacationem which means “leisure, being free from duty” or from vacare meaning “be empty, or at leisure”? Without offending the fans of vacations, I want to suggest that the curious marriage of summer and vacation is just another seemingly convenient arrangement to get more work done.
To substantiate this claim, just consider what the idea of vacation means to different people. For most people, vacation means taking a break from a regular routine, going away with your family, or on your own, to some far-off place where your routine life cannot intrude. Today, people never really get away too far. Mobiles and internet-enabled laptops sneak the work routine in and unleash it while they’re enjoying a beer under the umbrella on the beach or bowing before a stone deity in a temple, praying for nirvana. Most people in corporate jobs don’t get a vacation: in fact, the idea of vacation might be tantamount to jeopardising that next step up the ladder. Or they are usually combining hectic business with paltry pleasure; a leisurely drink over a business chat. The technology spider weaves its worldwide web into the intricacies of our daily lives in a way that guilts us away from vacation.
Back in the good old days (of booking trunk calls, telegram news, train journeys), part of the summer vacation was always spent at the grandparents’. I remember the year 1995, when I had just entered the eighth grade and was practically rid of holiday homework. Without my usual extra bag of books and notebooks, the first few days were sheer bliss, spent eating mangoes and sleeping the day off. But the best pleasures are often short-lived. My younger cousins, whose mathematical abilities were as poor as their language skills, came in a week later with their set of holiday homework woes. Struggling with surds and verbs alike, they diffidently asked me for help. For me, it was fourth grade flashback when the sweetest of mangoes had been rendered tasteless by these intransigent concepts. So I put on my mentor hat and made my peace with yet another vacation of holiday homework, though not mine. While the vacation hadn’t exactly turned out as I imagined it initially, I did discover how much I enjoyed teaching. The act of enlightening only has bright sides to offer.