Saturday, May 06, 2006

Freelancelot

Freelancelot
First, let’s see what this must seem like from where most of us – barring Bill Gates maybe? – spend most of our lives enviously gazing at what only a flimsy ol’ fence separates us from what must be Heaven. Also known as the Other Side. Or Where The Grass is Always Greener. So you are a corporate slave. Chained to the Eternal grind of Nine to Five, once lured in by the charms of the executive loo, now poisoned by perks, hopelessly trapped in expense accounts, willing vassal to the God of the Office with a View and exhaustedly sucking on a Dilbert after a long hard day of wishing your boss would turn into a eunuch permanently assigned to be Pamela Anderson’s bikini designer. (If he’s a she, then round-the-year PMS will do.)
And this friend walks in. He looks strange. His skin, once as fashionably tinged with the same too-many-eons-in-front-of-a-monitor grey as yours now has an odd glow. As if he’s been spending too much time listening to daises (or is it buttercups?) bloom. The walk, once a familiar rat-in-a-hurry scuttle-‘n-scurry, is now a lazy, loping stride as if from too many goofing-offs to smell babies’ breath. His eyes are stranger still – the phrase “serene, limpid pools” springs to mind. He looks younger, fitter, happier; a man with a new lease of life. And then, suddenly it hits you. It’s happened! The fellow has Crossed Over. He is now On the Other Side! He’s become One of Them! His Own Master. (Though, you can’t help thinking, how much fun it would be being His Own Mistress.) A carefree bird, laughing at your slack-jawed shock and chuckling, “Yup. It’s true. I gave it all up. I’m a free-lancer now.” You think you heard “freelancelot” and why not. Since he now dwells where tables are round because everyone’s a boss – their own. Where office and home merge into each other in one seamless, stress-free, set-your-own-pace, patchouli-scented, alfalfa-powered bliss. Where Time is not a hideous tick-tock mocking that you may have missed the bus (and that promotion) but a gentle steed that you mount to amble or gallop as fancy strikes you. Where life is a train that always stops when you want it to and you get off and as you stroll, you look down at your feet. And marvel – at how the grass has suddenly gotten so green - on your side of the railway line…
You’re jolted back to earth by the sound of your friend holding forth on the joys of learning to change diapers of your inner child. And as the noxious green bile of too many office coffees and envy rises up in a stinking, burning belch, you think how you’ve never hated anyone more or wanted anything more desperately than to be what he has become… Till one day, one fine, snap-‘n-crackle-kellog day, it happens to you too. Just like that, without any warning. This must be like dying, you think. One minute you’re a 6-figure, hot-stomach-shot-to-pieces, high-blood-pressure-powered Executive Vice-Whatnot and the next minute, you’re marmalading your toast at 10 o’clock on a Monday morning as you watch the sunlight dapple your pajama-ed thigh and thinking, “Should I first bath the rubber plant or clean my auras?” The day stretches in front of you like another beautiful unexplored, leafy glade and as you wonder whether you should turn left to watch some beans sprout or right to…. suddenly, you catch sight of your bare toes. Nestling softly in ….oh lord, can it be?…is it?….yes it is! Something tickly-soft and dewy-lush and glorious-green….oh, glory be….it’s grass…..as green…..no, greener than you ever seen it on that or any other side of that damned fence! Oh my God – you’ve just become a Freelancelot!
And soon, you are the envy of friends. “I wish I had your guts, yaar,” they whisper conspiratorially. The pale patch on your wrist where once your frenetic watch used to strap you to day-before-yesterday deadlines now fades away. Strangers cite you as the intrepid Livingstone who had the courage to throw it all up. Harried and hunch-over-too-many-presentations- backed corporate minions gaze at you with awe and whisper your name as The One Who became a Nike Shoe. Yes, you did it! You accept the applause with a secret smugness as you give away your power suits and your Gelusil in a grand gesture of renunciation. The months gently amble past. The contentment grows over you like a warm golden patina and everyone tells you how much nicer you’ve become and look. You preen and wallow in your newfound you-ness. And you discover Time - to shop for fresh coriander and have oil massages and make brinjal pickle and feng shui your loo and linger in art galleries and clean out your cupboards and air your creative spirit and take Hawaiian guitar lessons and gossip with your mum and worry about that hole in the ozone layer and bake banana bread and save the Alabama canebrake pitcher-plant and…Time, where once there was never enough, now lies at your feet in loyal, brimming bushelfuls…
Then slowly - a something, a niggling like a canker in your shoe. Tiny but bothersome. Popping up suddenly like a wrinkle. (Or a pimple, depending on whether you’re fourteen or forty.) A voice saying it wants to go back. Back to the prison, to the slop-from-the-Udipi-round-the-corner, to the LTA and HRA. Back to the other side of the Other Side. To the designation that you can look to know who you are, the visiting card to know what to say to that snooty-voiced, snotty-nosed bitch at the reception. “And you are from…?” I am a Freelancelot; you want to scream at her. Can you not see it in my buddha eyes, the noble insignia of my clan engraved indelibly on my peaceful brow? But it’s not that peaceful anymore. The Inner Child that you discovered has become the Inner Nag. That voice again. “Oh, so goofing off again, eh?” it sneers. “Do you know how much so-and-so got to make last year while you were smelling the rain?” “And did you ask if that was Life that just passed you by? My poor dear fool, yes!”
That’s the funny thing about heaven. And grass. You realize that it isn’t that divine once you get there. Or that green. So you are your own master - big deal. The only thing that means is that when you crack the whip, it smacks your own butt and ow, does it hurt. And this business about being the joys of being self-driven? Well, let me tell you it’s much more fun having a driver. That way you get to look at the scenery, somebody else’s license gets confiscated and you don’t have to worry about parking. And boy, do you miss not feeling guilty doing nothing and getting paid for it. And always having something/someone else other than yourself to blame for the way your life is – your boss, your job, the company, the office décor, your secretary’s way of saying “good morning”. Funny thing is, while they were flashing all that greenness at you, no one mentioned how cold it can get out there on those lawns. Without gratuity and pension and provident fund and whatnot to keep you warm and tanked up on that rainy day. And how scary and lonely without those salary cheques that you realize are like your parents. Always there to take for granted and always there no matter how bad a boy you’ve been. But most of all, they forgot to mention that you need to be a pretty decent runner – to run after people who’ve promised you money (yours that they owe you)/assignments/contacts/anything and how exhausting it can be to do all of this while wearing patient, polite not to mention a blazingly charming smile, when all you want to do is kick the person’s teeth in. (You know, that guy who said tomorrow never comes? He must have been a guy who makes out cheques to freelancers.)
As you glumly brood about the leanness of your bank balance and the not-ness of your body - did I mention what working within an arm’s length of the fridge and the potato-salli jar can do to your backside? – you get up to go for a walk. And as you moodily kick a passing pebble, you look down and suddenly you see it. Scruffy, brown and withered. Funny, you think, it looks just like scruffy, brown and withered….oh my god…could it be…yes it is…..grass! Shocked, you look up, across miles of more such withered, scruffy brown and suddenly there, in the not so far distance, a fence. And across the fence, shimmering in the sunshine, a patch of softest, dewiest, lush-est, greenest……
Moral of the story? The grass is always greener on whichever side of the fence you’re not.

1 comment:

farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

Ratna,

Did you see me quoting you on my advertising and marketing blog:
http://farrukh.wordpress.com

Check it out - and forgive my love for the account execs... LOL.

farrukh