Mahatma Gandhi's 388km Salt March in 1930 was in protest against the British Imperial monopoly on the must-have mineral. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mahatma Gandhi's 388km Salt March in 1930 was in protest against the British Imperial monopoly on the must-have mineral. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Your future depends on what you do today,” said Mahatma Gandhi on hard work, but India annually celebrates his birthday, October 2, by shirking work for a national holiday. The time is overdue to rethink certain public holidays.

Lazing around seems a contradictory way to celebrate the birthday anniversary of the father of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), his revolutionary life made possible through determined hard work.

Yes, the universally hopeful way to deal with Monday morning blues would be stretching the laid-back sunshine of a Sunday to Monday, the day on which October 2 falls this year. But as Mr Gandhi said “My life is my message,” I wonder what he would say at India honoring his life’s message by not working.

India’s central (federal) and state governments sometimes ask for community service on October 2, such as cleaning the neighborhood, organizing blood-donation camps etc. But offices, banks, and educational institutions are shut nationwide, just as they are during India’s numerous other public holidays.

Including differing regional holidays, India’s public-holiday calendar  adds up to 143 days off in 2017. Meanwhile mainland China has 25 public holidays, Thailand 27, Sri Lanka 24, Hong Kong 19, and Japan and Germany 16 each. The Indian calendar includes skipping work (in West Bengal) to celebrate the birthday of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), who  reminded us: “Dreams can never become a reality without hard work.”

Mahatma Gandhi working on his bed, even while fasting for peace, on September 11, 1947, in Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

It is certainly acceptable to relax on weekends, enjoy an annual holiday or festive season, but more moderation in public holidays would help India.

Since even the smallest good work is better than no work, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who is said to work every day of the week) might consider declaring October 2 “National Quality Work Day”. People could choose voluntarily to work harder that day, for an hour or two more.

The Mahatma might have preferred such a “more-work day” as a more useful birthday honor than a national day of slacking.

Given that “Gandhi-ji” began his working day at 4am, it seems peculiar to honor his life by waking up on October 2 at 9am. He wished to see a developed India, but life’s good things generally do not come by dozing at home.

Not just in India, but worldwide the great people whose lives inspire would have preferred their country benefiting by investing in more hard work, to using their birthday or last day as license to laze. Obviously, those greats did not achieve greatness by dodging work.

The US this year enjoys five Mondays as federal public holidays, including having ironically honored Labor Day with a holiday on September 4. Next Monday, October 9, is Columbus Day. The adventurous Christopher (1451-1506) started working at age 14; I bet a packet of cream crackers that he would not have taken too many days off amid his work to discover a new trade route to India. He discovered the New World instead, and who knows if a “USA” would exist today if Columbus had enjoyed shirking work.

Circa 1475, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) aboard a sailing ship. 

Officially avoiding work to “honor” the likes of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr, or even true saints, actually reflects useless lip service instead of paying practical respect, such as practicing their inspirational qualities, like non-egoistic, very hard work.

Unfortunately, we have an infamous expertise to deify national heroes, but quickly forget to practice their life’s messages.

Instead of working hard to follow in the footsteps of true greatness, we project our weakness on to the lives of great people. And so in the name of honoring their beneficial work, governments dishonor them by authorizing work avoidance.

Seven holidays a week seems alluring, but our existence only gets some meaning in the work we do.

If lazing around were worthwhile, successful people like Mahatma Gandhi would have been lolling about reading comic books most days. But they disliked wasting a moment.

Unfortunately or fortunately – as with bitter medicine and sugar-coated poison – life is more about what we have to do than what we like to do.

Fortunate are those who like doing the good work they have to do. And then hard-working days become as enjoyable as holidays.

Raja Murthy

Raja Murthy is an independent journalist who has contributed to Asia Times since 2003, The Statesman since 1990, and formerly the Times of India, Economic Times, Elle, and others. He shuttles between Mumbai and the Himalayas.

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