Action is hardwired into us, and that is why we must consider all work as noble, and perhaps the noblest is work that you can do with your own hands, which gives you both purpose and a sense of dignity
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
There’s always something or the other to do around the house or in the car in between routine servicing – in particular when it is several years old or reconditioned, my own car belonging to the latter category. I had sought an appointment with my usual mechanic to sort out some minor noise that was coming from the left front wheel area. If there is a genuine or dire emergency he would not refuse to help promptly, but as this problem was not he booked me in after ten days.
As I met him for the test drive, there were already several cars being attended too, and others parked in a space outside the working area, with other owners like me coming up and handing over the keys of their cars, exchanging a few words and leaving. In the five minutes or so that I waited for him in the car – his workers meanwhile busy with their own assignments – he was constantly on the phone before he took to the wheel and we drove out.
‘Secretaire pas la’ (‘the secretary is not here’), he said with a wink – referring to his mother who had gone to Australia to celebrate Christmas with family there, as part of an extended convalescence after she had undergone an operation some weeks earlier. She was a chirpy and cheerful little lady who answered calls, made appointments, took in the payments and issued the bills and receipts, inviting the client to sit down as she wrote them out and always having a little word to say – at 71 years and widowed, she had seen plenty in her life, and there was always some little family anecdote or other incident that would throw some light on our grassroots ‘Mauritianism’. This was the value-addedness that lifted the visit to the mechanic to another level.
‘Travail-la nek donne bal, mo dire ou’ (the work is never-ending I tell you) this hard-working professional added – and I could sure see that! But he was as cheerful as his mother, never seemed to be ruffled however busy he was – even more so now as he had to double as ‘secretary’ too. There was no doubt that he enjoyed his work, being thoroughly knowledgeable and skilled, besides being of a pleasant disposition, which explained his large clientele. ‘For you work is worship,’ I told him – in English, which he understood perfectly. ‘I must note this down,’ he said, ‘where did you hear this?’ he went on to ask.
Work and pray
I proceeded to tell him how, at a workshop in Harare. Zimbabwe that I was attending as WHO Representative several years ago, the then Regional Director Dr Ebrahim Samba (he was from Gambia) had requested the delegates to give their views about the next day’s work plan, it being a Sunday, as we broke up for lunch on that Saturday. Before we resumed the afternoon session he would take ten minutes to hear us out and then take a decision.
And so when we got back in, he opened the floor to discussion. Here it must be pointed out that in all such meetings in Sub-Saharan Africa there would always be three blocs – Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking from Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde) who mainly practise either Christianity or Islam. The major point at issue was at what time Sunday’s session would start, and views diverged according to the preferences of the delegates for attending masses or prayers at different times.
When ten minutes were over, Dr Samba spoke into the micro in his clear, authoritative voice. ‘Ladies and gentlemen’, he said, ‘I have listened carefully to what you had to say. What I can make out is that you want to both work and pray. Excellent! As you know, there is a proverb that says work is worship. There is therefore no need for you to go to the mosque, temple or church to pray. I request you to be here tomorrow morning and start work, which means that you will be worshipping. And as you know, a request from the boss is an order. So I will see you all tomorrow morning at eight o’clock sharp. Thank you,’ he concluded as he struck the table with his president’s gavel.
You bet we were all there on time the next day!
My brother tells me a similar story about his mechanic too, and around the country most such people with skills and dedication have their diaries booked weeks if not months ahead. Especially around this time of the year, when a great many of us want to tie up the loose ends in the house, the garden and so on, we are on the lookout for the guy who is free to do the job. As we have known for a long time now, busy people have their own load of work and are loathe to do ‘banne ti travail’ (the ‘odd job’), and for regular clients who need their services they will do their best to accommodate, coming in even after hours. But even for the ‘odd-jobbers’ who are good at their work, the occupation has become practically mainstream – and they may be a little less but nevertheless quite busy too. To do some essential plumbing work, mow the lawn, tidy the garden, do some touch-up painting as we prepare to welcome the new year in a fresh mood.
The person who came to spruce up the wooden doors of the cabinet under the sink in my kitchen which had darkened because of fungus (Curepipe!) himself had some work in the garden that needed doing. And he told me that he contacted a guy in his locality, whom he knew quite well, for the purpose as he happened to be passing by the workshop. And that was the reply, ‘Mo ein peu deranze dans le moment la, pas pou capave’ (‘I’m a little disturbed currently, sorry’). What that means, I learnt, was that the chap was either in a drug or alcohol ‘phase’, and obviously he could not perform. And yet, it seems he was quite a good worker. So you see, continued my interlocutor, ‘si ou conne travail ek la main ou dire pena travail, fausse sa!’ (‘if you know how to work with your hands and you say that there is no work available, that’s false!’).
Unfortunately, that also is a reality, and quite good workers who go astray like this do harm not only to themselves but fall short of fulfilling their responsibilities to their families especially if they have wife and children, and that can be particularly distressing for the latter at a time when others would be readying to enjoy in the festive season. But again, as day-to-day experience shows, for those who are serious about both work and family, the sky is the limit, to the extent that they have to defer assignments till after the year is out, like my furniture guy who tells me he is concentrating on what he already has at hand, and is not taking any more bookings till after the New Year.
And ditto with a painter whom I contacted to get some essential work done, although he managed to squeeze me in as it were on recommendation. And those who are good, that is efficient, clean, quiet workers who do not ‘faire l’air’ (‘waste time’), will always have work awaiting them – and those who have things to be done prefer to bide time rather than getting anyone else.
Work is worship echoes what is said in a sloka (verse) in the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, sloka 47, in Sanskrit:
Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani
The meaning of the verse is –
You have the right to work only but never to its fruits.
Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.
Thousands of years ago, that was said by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to the intrepid archer Arjuna on the battlefield when he was confused and faltering. Indeed, the central message of the Gita is that from the time we are born we cannot avoid to perform action – why, just to keep alive we have to do so, even if unconsciously as we breathe, digest, move the blood around our body and so on.
So action, that is work, is hardwired into us, and that is why we must consider all work as noble, and perhaps the noblest is work that you can do with your own hands, which gives you both purpose and a sense of dignity. That is how many of us, after a lifetime of so-called work behind desks, go back to what is more natural to us – pick up the spade, roll up the sleeves, connect the hose – and get going with gardening, cleaning, washing, you name it!
And so, let’s work and live, for indeed work is truly worship!
* Published in print edition on 14 December 2018
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