So, how was your day?

The answer to that requires one to tread a clothesline, where you shouldn’t sound like your life is too dull and yet, you shouldn’t make it sound like you had a swell time.

 |  4-minute read |   13-08-2017
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A conversational evening in English-speaking urban India, spent among friends or strangers, begins and ends with two classic sentences. The first is “How was your day?” The last sentence of the evening, muttered with grim self-importance, is “Better get going. I’ve an early morning tomorrow.”

I’ve never been too sure about the first question. Is it merely rhetorical, like “How are you?” If one answers it with some seriousness and loyalty to fact, then the reply will vary from individual to individual, trade to trade.

To “How was your day?” a shopkeeper will say: “Well, business was slow in the morning, even slower in the afternoon, but picked up a little in the evening.” An ISIS suicide bomber will say: “Woke up, ate dates and raisins, popped some Captagon, blew myself up in the afternoon, and was in Paradise nightclub by 11pm” The vigilante will say: “Since I’m unemployed, I woke up late. Went to the railway station. Beat up a man transporting bananas. Celebrated in the evening with a Morarji cola.”

If one really starts answering this question in earnest, it can get tiring. With a writer, even more so. “How was your day?” “I spent it staring at my computer screen.” The truth is that staring at the blank page is better done in bed, with a notebook and pencil. But you cannot say that you spent the day lying in bed, scribbling in a notebook. Or surfing the internet.

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One day, an editor called me regarding a column I was supposed to write. She wanted me to write on something specific. She said, “I thought I should call you now, before you write it — because right about now you must be ideating your next column.”

“Ideating” I figured is a word about writers that we sort of understand. Now anyone asks me how my day was, I say I spent it ideating. Ideating has a concreteness and respectability that thinking, dreaming and scribbling do not.

Office goers have it easy. “How was your day?” “Meetings, meetings and more meetings.” What do they really do at meetings? Do they ideate at meetings? I wouldn’t know.

An extension of this is: “How was your weekend?” No one is really interested in how your weekend was. This doesn’t stop people from going and “doing” things, just so that when they are asked “How was your weekend”, they can then say: “I went rafting.”

“I spent the weekend reading a book” was acceptable till a few years back but not anymore. Reading a book means you did nothing. Doing is about action I suppose, and mental doing doesn’t count for much.

What is acceptable now is this: “I finally watched all the seasons of Game of Thrones.” Somehow, lying on your couch and watching an entire season, now counts as having done something. As if you wrote and directed all the episodes yourself. Browsing random episodes doesn’t count as a weekend achievement; it has to be a proper season. Doing seasons now counts as socially-approved activity, which you can put on your personal activity graph on Facebook.

The answer to “How was your day/ weekend” requires one to tread a clothesline, where you shouldn’t sound like your life is too dull and yet, at the same time, you shouldn’t make it sound like you had a swell time. Too much of a good time makes Indians jealous. Don’t say, even if it happened: “What a brilliant day... a friend turned up from San Fran with branded edibles, my ex dropped in after three months and we had the greatest sex, the New York Times called asking if I’d be interested in an assignment, and I finally I got my long-awaited membership to an exclusive dining club.”

This is too much of a good day. This will only prompt your friend to say: “But who reads the NYT anyway, and that dining club: been there so many times, sir, lost count, sick of it.”

Safest to say with a casual yawn: “Nothing much today, mostly ideating and some meetings.”

When the evening draws to a close, the guest will gather his/her belongings, push back the chair, be the first to stand up and say with deliberate self-regarding pomposity: “Better get going, I have an early morning tomorrow.” Using the easy morning excuse is a way of scoring a psychological point over the other person in a competitive city environment, a mini triumph in the game of one-up-man’s-ship.

This doesn’t mean that the guest has an early morning flight to catch. It’s just a way of saying: “I have a really busy life, far busier than yours.” Why not just say: “Tired. Thanks for the lovely meal. Better get going and to bed.” Or say: “I’m exhausted. Done for the day. The meal was terrific. Ta.”

I have a suspicion that those who say this wake up late the next day, call in sick and are among the first to ask you later in the evening: “How was your day?”

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

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Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

Freelance journalist and author of The Butterfly Generation.

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