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I can afford the choice of not working full time—it took two decades of planning and discipline

Reuters/Fayaz Kabli
While I fed my freedom fund, vacations meant a bus ride to the mountains.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Liberty is the rosary of choice, on which I count my many blessings.

I choose where to live within my nation—unlike the Chinese, who need a hukou, a residence permit.

I chose whom to marry—unlike millions in South Asia, whose parents arrogate that decision.

I choose what clothes to wear—unlike those who reside in jails, or work in banks.

The state curtails my many freedoms—to buy land in some parts of the nation, to have sex with other men, to read some books, or watch some films.

Yet, it disturbs me even more when we willingly yoke ourselves to conformity, a burden that eventually deforms us. When the stays chafe, and we notice our shoulders sag in the mirror of contemplation, we shrug. “Life’s like that.”

It is not, but we make it so.

Last week, I wrote about how life is too short and precious for a full-time job. It struck a chord, and many readers wrote in to say they have been wanting to quit for years but just can’t seem to find the courage to take the plunge. I didn’t do it overnight. It took two decades of careful planning and discipline. And compound interest.

Management guru Michael Porter wrote: “Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs, it’s about deliberately choosing to be different”.

I chose to be different very early. Within a year of joining the ranks of management trainees at a multi-national corporation, I realised that I was not meant to be a corporation man, that I needed to live in nature, to watch the peaches grow. In my spare time, I drew up business plans to run a dairy farm, or drive a tourist taxi. Most importantly, I realised I needed to build up a war-chest from which to fund my freedom. My F*** You Fund, I called it.

For the next two decades, I fed my fund. I changed jobs and moved homes; started a business and watched it crash; joined the stage and learned to light plays; worked with street children and shared their dreams. But I never lost sight of that FY Fund. It was my finger to the world, my faith in my own future. Irrespective of my material circumstances – and they were often strained –  I never used that money to pay for my daily life. Michael Porter again: “The essence of strategy is knowing what not to do.”

When I left the corporate world, I lost my company car. I didn’t replace it for 7 years, wrote TV scripts at home, and cycled to the editing studio. Expensive suits gave way to denim jeans; hand-made shoes to Hawaii chappals. Holidays were a bus ride or a friend’s car into the hills, a tent in open fields, or a run-down room in a dak bungalow. On one of these trips, waking in a clearing in a Kumaon forest, I realised the home of my dreams would be here.

Meanwhile, with the magic of compounding, and the deepening discipline of material restraint, the FY Fund had grown, and stretched to a small plot of fallow land, and a one-roomed cottage of stone and pine, built by a local mason. No architect, no interior designer. No furniture, except for a picnic table, and a cast-off sofa. To this day, we sleep on mattresses in the loft, and my work-space is the sill of our large window on the garden.

The winter view from our cottage in Satoli

During the six years we lived in our forest Eden, we had no phone, no road to our door, little money, and no shops in which to spend it. Banks, telecom and groceries were over an hour away, and we made that trip less and less often. Our financial plans for our time in the mountains were drawn up on the basis of gradual depletion, but that didn’t happen. The joy of living close to nature, close to our essential nature, and close to each other pared our needs to the bone, and we needed less and less to get by.

In the late 90s, dot-coms boomed, stock markets surged, and the FY Fund bloomed. As the century turned, and financial markets crashed, the fund ebbed. But our resolve didn’t, the money stretched, and my wife found off-line work to do in the quiet of our mountain home.

The Delhi of this decade is a different time and space, and I have a new-found familiarity with the world of business, with the adrenalin of large M&A deals and larger egos. Young professionals take 5-star holidays for granted, wear labelled clothes, and change phones with the seasons. I admire the ease with which my son’s generation leads a life of affluence, and struggle to find a balance between his need to belong and my own habits of abstinence.

But, above all, I pray that he will find a dream to nurture, and the focus and self-discipline to achieve it.

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