840 words and approximate reading time- 7 minutes
Have you ever wondered what shopkeepers do when there are no customers? I don’t know how it is these days. Everyone’s got a smartphone! Back in the 90’s, it was quite different. If you ever wanted to see and experience the full glory of small-town shops, you should visit Srirangam. It is a famous tourist destination renowned for one of India’s most revered temples and the town is always bustling with crowds and temple festivities.
Imagine a narrow street with hundreds of shops lined on both sides, for about 4 to 5 blocks, all leading to the main entrance of the temple. Everything from clothes, medicines, arts, crafts, food, gold, shoes, books are sold here. During the evenings and festive days, the streets are crowded with pedestrians, tourists, and shoppers.
During summer holidays, one of my favorite activities was to stroll the Main Street during the middle of the day, because it was much quieter as the temple is closed. What used to be fascinating was not the shops or the stroll or the errands.
It is the men and women who behaved like they were part of ONE HIVE, portraying the common traits of their fascinating tribe.
The Shopkeepers! Yes..you heard it right. The Shopkeepers!!
Okay..so walk with me here…
I was always drawn to this one particular sight. Shop after shop, most of the shopkeepers would just be sitting quietly and looking to the street. What’s even more interesting is the stoic expression on their faces. Other than the occasional hellos, gentle head nods and hand waves to acquaintances, they would just be sitting and looking onto the street, as if it is an empty gaze. It didn’t seem like they were paying attention to the music playing on the radio in the background, nor were they chit-chatting with their neighbors. Even the dogs on the street lying down in the shop’s shade, would lift their heads or walk around once in a while. But NEVER the shopkeepers.
No restlessness, no impatience, no anxiety for lack of customer. They would just stare as if they had nothing to do. I wonder if they were part of a secret mindfulness society?? As a teenager, that state of doing nothing bothered me. Are they daydreaming? Visualizing a busy evening? Were they complying with their union’s secret pact, that specified certain hours of just sitting and staring?
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that you can never simultaneously know the exact position and the exact speed of an object. What if the shopkeepers are behaving true to the uncertainty principle? What if they jumped on to “ready positions” once they saw me?? Well, I never figured it out…
Evenings and weekends were quite the contrary. The whole street would be bustling with activity and the shopkeepers were quite enchanting. They smiled more and engaged more with the passers-by. The difference in the shopkeepers’ attitude and responsiveness was night and day, ironically I might add! Anyways, I moved out in the 90’s and have never thought much about the shopkeepers since!
Recently, I was recovering from a surgery and was forced to rest. The first few weeks were spent on a tight schedule of binge-watching and binge-reading. After a while, I caught myself doing a whole bunch of itsy bitsy things, mostly sitting idle for extended periods of time, doing pretty much nothing.
One particular day during this aimless phase, my son (let’s call him R) came home from school and below was the conversation that answered one of MY life’s greatest mysteries!!
R: “Mom, how was your day? What did you do today?”
Me: “All good..blah..blah..blah..Unable to wait to blurt out my new discovery, I go “Well, I came across a fascinating word.”
R: “Really? What’s it?”
Me: All wide-eyed and ecstatic – “IT IS LOLLY-GAGGING”
R: Confused he asks – “Lollypopping!?!?!”
Me: “No Silly… It is lollygagging – It means “to spend time aimlessly” It is an “extended state of idleness and procrastination”.
Me: Feeling very proud at this point that I have an additional viewpoint, I continue to speak. “You know what, I also found that research after research says that this state of idleness helps boost productivity. There are even TED talks about this!!” and stopped, looking for his expression or reaction.
R: Thinks for a minute… and says “Wow..mom..YOU are a LOLLYGAGGER after all!!” and walks off.
Me: Speechless and Disappointed. Thought to myself “Wow…teenagers are ruthless”
Deciding to put a positive spin on his comment, I patted myself on the back that I did find something meaningful after a day of lolly-gagging.
Then, that instant, I had a flash, an “aahaaaa” moment! Eurekaaaaa!!
“They were all lollygagging..that’s it…my favorite tribe of people was all lollygagging”
The shopkeepers spent time aimlessly but it wasn’t without purpose. As research indicates, they were probably priming and getting ready for an evening of extreme activity. Consciously done, it is meditation. Isn’t it? In their own way, they used that time and opportunity to unwind, day dream, decompress and get ready to be productive, for yet another day!
Fascinating isn’t it? So, do you lollygag?