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Leisure as an everyday experience

Updated on: 14 June,2024 06:52 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Abandoning capitalist notions of productivity affords one space to view their body in a state of movement and rest

Leisure as an everyday experience

Leisure doesn’t mean taking a break from activism or being political. Representation Pic

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Leisure as an everyday experience

Rosalyn D’MelloOne of the books our child loves to read centres on a dormouse named Bobo, who is roughly between two and three years old. Bobo was conceived by a Swiss illustrator named Markus Osterwalder, who evolved the character over numerous books, and even a television series. Most of the plots are super mundane, which is why it is so relatable to a two-year-old. The narrative arc is not suspense-filled in the least. It is a book meant to lull, to foster sleep, a book that celebrates boredom in a way. All the scenes are illustrated, so it reads like a comic book and is primarily visual. One such story has Bobo going on an outing with his kindergarten class to a pond. The children hold hands and walk the distance from the kindergarten past a lake, past a meadow until they arrive at a small pond. Then, they each spread their towel on the grass, change into their bathing suits and spend presumably an hour or two in and out of the water. One of the kids had brought along a small boat. Bobo, upon sighting it, asks if he could have his companion soft toy ‘Hasi’—a rabbit—take a ride. Hasi seems to love the ride, until it is tossed into the water by a ripple. What should Bobo do now? Hasi is wet. He reports to his caretaker. She suggests he lie with Hasi under the sun. That’s precisely what he does. His friend Fatima keeps him company.

Each time I read the story to our child I feel surprised by this image because it is, primarily, an image that connotes leisure. It models for the child reading it what it can look like to do nothing for a while, to rest the body, to soak in the sun. It reminds me of conversations I had with artists and intellectuals during my residency at Ocean Space, Venice, about how colonised people mostly fear water and have had a tentative relationship with the sea. Growing up in Mumbai and spending time in Goa, I rarely ever saw women my mother’s age chilling at the seaside or bathing in the sea. Mostly they are either fully dressed or clad in shorts. At best, they will allow their legs to get wet up to their knees. I have memories of being a child in water with my father. My mother usually is to be seen standing at the shore warning us not to go too far.

It was after moving to South Tyrol that I learned to do leisure. The first two summers I wondered why, when the day was so beautiful and the sky brilliantly blue, we couldn’t just enjoy it from the comfort of our home. Why did my partner always say, ‘Come, Rosa, it’s a beautiful day, let’s go outside’. I get it now. I say the same thing to my child. If the weather is inviting, then we spend the day outdoors, by the pool, or in the park, or, sometimes on the weekends, at a meadow. It is the opposite of when I lived in Delhi, where I only ever went outdoors in the summer if I absolutely had to. Of course, I see how this idea of such daily excursions is deeply connected with privilege, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what our lives would be like back home if we had somehow learned to prioritise leisure, not reserving it solely for something you do on vacation but having it be a part of one’s daily life. Would we have more green spaces in our cities? Would we be healthier as a people? Would we be more demanding about the need for clean air and walkable roads? Would our cities be more liveable?

Tomorrow, we go on vacation. In theory, it is our first real vacation in four years. We will be staying on a beach in Corfu, Greece, for a week, a treat we couldn’t afford until now. The only work I will allow myself to do is studying Italian and writing next week’s column. I am scheduled to take the intermediate-level bilingual exam (German and Italian) in the first week of July. I’m happy about not feeling apprehensive about potential failure (at least 50 per cent of the people who take this exam do not pass). What’s important is the process of preparing, which has become immensely pleasurable and is now intertwined with my understanding of leisure. I suppose I have begun to think about leisure as a form of decolonising oneself from a capitalist mindset that is overwrought by notions of productivity. It doesn’t mean taking a break from activism or being political but offering daily space to experience my body in a state of movement and rest.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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