Get ready for Sabbath

An offshoot of the Slow Movement, the Sabbath Manifesto has taken hold of the urban Indian psyche, with men and women around the country, and even abroad, turning to the 10 principles of the Manifesto, expounded over a website, to cut the fat from their hectic lives. Top on their list: Avoid technology, connect in person

Proteeti Chandra, a 40 year-old educationist based in South Mumbai loves her Apple Macbook, her two dogs and her weekly game of tennis, in that order. A few weeks ago, however, when she came across a link on a friend's Facebook wall, it struck her that perhaps, something's got to give. 

Neha Thakur, 29, business support head for an online firm and
Anuja Singhal, 27, an art director, play the  guitar; Deb Saha,
27, a software engineer sings, and Anil Kumar, 38, a creative
director in an advertising firm, drums the Djembe.  The quartet
decided to follow the Sabbath Manifesto together. Pic/ Rupa Ghosh

The website,, was founded by Dan Rollman, co-founder of video platform RecordSetter, and part of Reboot, a non-profit thinktank of Jewish professionals that also includes Jill Soloway, executive producer of serials like United States of Tara and Six Feet Under, and Greg Clayman, publisher of News Corp's digital newspaper, among others, in 2010. The project, says Tanya Schevitz, communications manager of Reboot, "was developed in the same spirit as the Slow Movement, to bring some balance to our increasingly fast-paced way of living."

The Sabbath Manifesto was launched in tandem with the National Day of Unplugging (NDU), where the creators asked their 'followers' around the globe to 'unplug' for a day. This year, it will be observed on March 23 and 24. For the rest of the time, the Manifesto lays down 10 principles, including Avoid Technology, Eat Bread, Avoid Commerce, Drink Wine, and Nurture your Health, among others, that followers are required to observe once a week, from sunset to sunset.

"The idea is to take time off and observe each of the 10 principles one day per week, from sunset to sunset," says Schevitz. Despite its religious undertones, the movement is a secular snowball that is gathering technocrats who inhabit the World Wide Web. Last year, the site received more than 36,000 visits in the month leading up to the NDU (which was twice the visits in 2010), and over 2,50,000 post views on Facebook. India is ninth on the list of countries in terms of visits, and a majority of visitors come from Mumbai and Bengaluru.

While Schevitz admits that the Manifesto is based on the notion of the Sabbath and incorporates traditional Jewish principles, she points out that the creators have received feedback from Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists from around the globe, who have not only participated in the NDU (which can be observed anywhere in the world), but also practised the principles on days other than Saturday, the traditional day of Shabbat for Jews. 

The idea is both compelling and challenging, and has prompted a growing number of urban Indian working professionals, mired in too much connectivity and technology, to try it out. Shiju Thomas, a senior manager in a US-based travel management portal, who left Mumbai to settle in Sydney in 2008, can attest to that. Like Chandra, 34 year-old Thomas came across the link on a friend's Facebook page a month ago, and was immediately drawn to it.

One of the reasons he gives for that is a dawning realisation that his relations with people were increasingly becoming impersonal. Thomas has been a working professional for over 12 years, and took a break in the late Nineties to pursue a postgraduate diploma in management from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bengaluru.
"Technology no longer enhances human connections; in fact, in our lives, it has nearly replaced them. The real connections come with conversations in person. Even business is the consequence of a relationship, not a transaction," feels Thomas.

At the same time, Thomas also caught himself checking his email on his smartphone, every time he woke up in the night. "We'd be better off answering all emails in a two-hour window, rather than through the day, and night," he says. Bengaluru-resident Deb Saha couldn't agree more, but the 27 year-old software engineer, who works for an IT solutions company, realises just how difficult -- and therefore necessary -- it is to stay unplugged, especially in his line of work.

A few weeks ago, Saha got together with a group of three friends to observe the Manifesto. The plan, he reveals, is to observe all the 'tenets' once a month, to begin with. However, 27 year-old art director Anuja Singhal, who is part of the group, tells us that they are well on their way to adopting the Manifesto as a way of life. Two weekends ago, the group found itself in Kudremukh, a mountain range in Chikkamagaluru, 338 km from Bengaluru, after spontaneously embarking on a four-day road trip.

Following the Manifesto principle, Get Outside, the group of five took food supplies, camped under the open sky near a stream, and spoke to each other late into the night over a bonfire. They also switched off their cellphones, although, ironically, the place they chose to camp at had little connectivity. "It was an unforgettable experience," says Singhal, who went on a 'phone Sabbath' last Wednesday. She didn't answer calls, or check her phone through the day. She was however, available over e-mail.

"The most interesting thing about the Manifesto," says Chandra, "is that you can interpret it any which way you want." Chandra, for instance, gave up smoking altogether. She also drinks alcohol once a week, while it was several times a week a few months ago.  "The Sabbath Manifesto was designed to be entirely open to individual adaptation and interpretation, so those principles can be applied in whatever way they fit into one's life," says Schevitz.

For instance, although one of the principles is Avoid Technology, Reboot has launched a smartphone app that allows users to create and share their personal Sabbath Manifesto with friends and the public. Upon the first login, they are prompted to enter 10 of their own principles to develop a modern, personal interpretation of a day of rest that can be shared broadly.

"The Unplugging pledge asks people to take a tech detox for the 2012 National Day of Unplugging. We are not anti-technology at all. We recognise the value and importance of technology in today's world. The idea really is to take a pause from the technology that consumes our lives and reconnect with the people and community who are around us, but are lost in the noise of today's relentless deluge of information. It is about having a balanced life," says Schevitz.

The 10 principles
Avoid technology
Connect with loved ones
Nurture your health
Get outside
Avoid commerce
Light candles
Drink wine
Eat bread
Find silence
Give back

The story of Sabbath
The Exodus, a book in the Old Testament, tells us the story of Moses, who heard the voice of the lord on Mount Sinai, and returned with two blocks engraved with the Ten Commandments. One of the commandments is to mark the holy day of Sabbath, or God's day of rest. "You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.

Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest.." goes one translation. In our modern technocratic world (wide web), where creative genius is the new godly virtue and instant connectivity the new chant, many have begun to realise that a seven day work-week actually signals "death" and "a soul cut off from his people".  

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