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November 19, 2017

Food For Thought: Time Is Rapidly Becoming One Of The Most Coveted Luxuries

Text by Madhu Jain. Illustration by Swati Sinha

It is getting to be the most elusive of them all as we rush to meet deadlines, catch a train or bus to work, write an article or book

I write this as October is upon us. There is a je ne sais quoi-ness about this time of the year in Delhi, as summer definitively turns its back on us and the early-morning nip in the air makes the tea go cold before the first sip. Nature is readying itself for the season of letting go — frantic card parties, soirees and all the guzzling-down of food and booze as if there were no tomorrow.

Tomorrow, alas, always comes — as does repentance.

But, meanwhile, let’s enjoy the advent of merrymaking and indulge in ‘luxuriating’. I have always loved the word that branches off from the noun, luxury. It could be static, limiting, a thing — a yacht, a private jet, a wardrobe without labels (actually labels which only those in-the-know would recognise), second and third homes, a holiday beyond the means of ordinary mortals in places where only the very rich and famous congregate according to the ‘season’, a clutch of trained domestic staff. Those who refer to domestic help as ‘staff’ — as if they lived in some equivalent of Downton Abbey…. The cherry on top is well-trained, uniformed staff that moves about silently. I could go on.

In its verb avatar, the word luxury evokes much else, including relishing the moment and daydreaming. To luxuriate involves the ability to follow your imagination, to marinate yourself in a reverie. Or, just simply to soak in a bubble bath with all kinds of sweet-smelling bath salts and essences to pamper you, music to serenade you and a glass of wine to lift your spirits — with no clock ticking away nearby.

Procrastinate in peace
The 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire pinned it down, as only he could, in a line from his masterful poem Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil). The French painter Henri Matisse used the poet’s incantatory line ‘Luxe, calme et volupté’ (‘luxury, calm and voluptuousness’) as a title for a painting. It, too, is about an escape to ‘an imaginary, tranquil refuge’.

This early, pointillist painting was done when Matisse was on vacation in Saint-Tropez on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France. The women, a bit like those in Paul Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, lounge languorously on the beach. You could say ‘luxuriate’ in their healthy, if quite plump, bodies, by the Mediterranean Sea. The women are nude, indolent and clearly unabashed about their nakedness, as if time had stopped for them to celebrate sensuality — of their bodies and of this stretch of sand and sea made famous in the 20th century by Brigitte Bardot. The French actor, who lived in Saint Tropez and has often been described as the first sex bomb, incarnated sensuality (and yes sexuality) after she starred in Roger Vadim’s iconic film And God Created Woman (1956), which was filmed there.

The Joneses, Jains and Friends
Ah, languor is increasingly impossible. The luxury of being a flaneur, of wafting through life without a steering wheel and a brake is no longer easy or appreciated. Time is rapidly becoming one of the most coveted luxuries. It is getting to be the most elusive of them all as we rush to meet deadlines, catch a train to work, write an article or book, or finish projects….

Dressing up, putting on a face and just going about the simple business of life also require time. We seem to be running around in the same place, without this most elusive of luxuries. In our desire to keep up with whatever — the Joneses, Jains, neighbours, friends, countrymen and countrywomen, we go about like headless chickens, ever aware of the ticking clock. The line from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland springs to mind: I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!

Luxury is not just about having the time to do the things you want to do. It is also about having the time to think about what you want to do and who you want to spend your time with. Time is getting to be like a handloom outfit one puts into a dryer, where it shrinks irremediably. What we need the most in our world of dwindling choices is the licence to daydream, to be able to let the mind wander.

Time as phantom
Alas, time is an increasingly fragile commodity. ‘Time’ for the self has become a luxury, one that many can no longer afford. The busier we get, the more the world intrudes upon our downtime; the more the demands modern life places on us, the greater is the need to create impressions in a hyperconnected world in which self-promotion is the regle du jeu. Time becomes a phantom. Time, as the cliche goes, is money, and the luxury of time becomes all the more elusive.

The other day, a savvy friend ‘lectured’ me about the greatest luxury of all — the time for oneself. One of the cardinal rules of this high-achieving CEO of a corporation is to carve out ‘me time’ regularly. It is imperative, she iterated, to ‘luxuriate’ in just being, living in the moment, with the world outside shut out for a bit.

Baudelaire had it right: luxe, calme et volupté. Let tomorrow wait.

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