Artificial Intelligence will soon be out there to take our jobs. But as the popular Internet meme goes, machines can’t take our jobs… if we become machines.
And so, working crazy is primed and stress has become a currency to flaunt. Taking a breather is for losers, real men take a paracetamol and email the project file at 3 am on a Saturday night. The gulag-like slavery and peanut-sized paychecks are so mainstream that if you leave office at 6 pm, people ask you if you’ve taken a half day. And do you dare ever ask for leave?
Going on leave is so demonised in Indian office culture, that employees feel guilt and shame even asking for a few days off — about as stressful a question as asking your boss for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He looks at you with the same level of love Arvind Kejriwal reserves for Narendra Modi; the tension could be cut with a knife.
Every leave application turns into a leave negotiation that would put a sabziwala outside Malad station to shame. “Why do you need three days for your sister’s wedding? I’ll give you three days for your wedding. Chal, two days extra I’ll give even for honeymoon hahaha.” You pretend that was funny because you have a job to keep, but you know what’s coming next. In a velvety soft tone comes the dangerous question that’ll decide the fate of your “vacation”.
“You’ll carry your laptop, right?”
This right here, ladies and gentlemen, is the word of the devil. You can judge the evil in the framing of the question itself. It’s not asked in a polite and neutral tone – Will you carry your laptop? That’s where decency and niceness lie. But ain’t nobody got time for that in desi office culture. The question already assumes that you will carry your laptop. That’s what normal people do right? Go on a trip to Bali so they can work on spreadsheets from a beach. Right?
The other 364 days of the year, you’re an incompetent buffoon who can never get anything done and is an embarrassment to the organisation. But on this one question, if you respond in the negative, you will be subject to a long barrage of “how deadlines are important, how your work is important, how we operate on a tight schedule in a competitive environment”. Yes, everything is important, except your honeymoon.
In Indian corporate offices, there is work in office, there is work at home, and then there is carry laptop on leave. It is an attempt to squeeze some work out of you even when you’re on a camel in the middle of a desert safari or in an underwater staring match with a dolphin. There is something rooted in basic common sense and logic that bosses fail to understand, which is that working while you’re on leave is not leave. It is the textbook definition of work. And work ≠ vacation unless you’re a Yatra.com tour manager or a fashion blogger.
You’re always told there’ll be no work, you need to carry it “just in case”. They always make it sound sweet and innocent, maybe you’ll have to just update a file for a couple of minutes or forward a mail, it’s going to be nothing really. It sounds like merely a formality, akin to linking your Aadhaar to your bank account. But we all know how that one ends. You will receive a message every 12 seconds and eventually you’ll want to kill yourself in a foreign environment.
Carrying your laptop on a vacation also has wider psychological impacts. The first time you take the laptop out of your luggage bag on your vacation, you feel inexplicable guilt and shame like the first time you uploaded a washroom mirror selfie. But then you get used to it. Even friends and family travelling with you keep continuously mocking you for being a fucking loser, like Hrithik Roshan from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
If you ever think your work from a remote location in Himachal in the middle of a trek will ever be appreciated, you’re in for another thing. In India, whether it’s kids, students or adults, we don’t believe in being appreciative of anyone’s work. It’s always important to point out mistakes and the one time your network wasn’t available in the middle of an important meeting. They’ll never understand, it was just Airtel having that time of the month.
There is no other way to get out of this situation, except a straight-up refusal. When it comes to the office laptop question, always deny. Not only are you allowed leave as per company policy, you are also allowed statutory leave and the whole point of leave is to tune out work, chill, and relax the fuck out. Regardless of what managers try to tell you, no one dies if an Excel file isn’t finished or a mail doesn’t get sent when you’re away for six days. Besides, knowing that you’re on leave, it’s their job to assign it to someone else and get it done.
After all, the hint of a manager’s role lies in their designation, it is literally their job “to manage”. He gets a salary that is three times yours — let him also justify his paycheck.