How I Became a Big Loafer

Overdressed at a Nude Beach, San Francisco.  Unfortunately there was not a single soul when I went loafing there.  

Published  first in Tehelka Jul 2013. 

When I was growing up,  my folks,   like  any  middle class folks  in   small town India,   had my career sorted out. I would join the IAS. If not IAS then become a doctor or an engineer. If not that then at least join the army or write the MBA exam. If nothing else I could  take charge, like my good old cousins , of  our apple orchards back  in Himachal.

But I belied all their expectations and became a loafer.

 I exhibited my inclinations for loafing pretty early. In school, while my friends were drawing out intricate career charts,  I was well on my way towards idolizing Huckleberry Finn- the 19th century American vagrant.

Thank God my grandmother is not alive to see this picture. She would have been thoroughly disappointed.

After half-hearted   attempts at compliance with societal expectations, I ended up a photographer.   Photographers of course go by heavy  honorifics such as art photographers,   documentary photographers,  contemporary photographers, photojournalists  and sundry important  sounding polysyllables. These are actually jargons my parents  use for my nature of work when they are  introducing me to their friends (and names I use  in genteel company )

 I had got carried away with these elegant  labels myself until my maid who on   an otherwise dreary morning showed me the light. While dusting my cupboard  that had an assortment of camera gear, books and underwear she asked me;

Or this one where I spent two months unbathed and unshaved with the Indian Army on a glacier during the Kanchenjunga Expedition.


‘’ Bhaiya aap kartay kya ho ? ( Bhaiya what do you do)?

‘’I am a photojournalist’’, I told her not looking up.


‘’ Hmm.  Dekho’’ , I began,  looking up and dislodging the Mac off my lap.

‘’See I go from place to place. Meet people on the streets. Take their photos. Talk to them. Then meet more people. Walk around town, travel, meet…‘’.

’Mera aadmi bhi puray din yahi  karta hai. Bilkul Bekar hai.  Usko be apna sath koi kam mai lay jao’’ ( My husband  does exactly the same thing the whole day. He is completely useless. Give him some job also).


Snowmobiling in the Arctic, Lapland

In essence, every photographer worth his name, is in the business of loafing or should be.

Henri Cartier Bresson one of the greatest in the profession was into it too. He was of course French and as is their wont, the French elevate everything to   high art.  So in French a loafer is called  a flaneur; a far more  respectable terminology.  Balzac  another Frenchman,  described the  flaneur as the sort of person who is a connoisseur of the smells,  the sounds,  the drama of the streets he walks in and he described the activity of  loafing as the ‘’gastronomy of the eye’’.

Sky-scrapping at the Willi’s Tower, Chicago


There are perils of loafing  as any  good loafer would tell you. Rip Van Winkle one of the greatest loafers of them all, loafed his way into sleeping for 20  years.  I meanwhile have had my share, including being mugged in Africa in 2009 when one evening, I was (what else? ) loafing . In an Tanzanian town,  two knife wielding thugs  waylaid me, leaving me bereft of my  loafing gear ; my camera, my lenses.

At the police station the  corpulent  cop leaned forward on his desk and asked me pointedly, ‘’ But what the heck were you doing in the street at that hour’’?

Loafing,  prompted every honest cell in my body. But I let that pass.

On an African Safari in Serengeti just days before getting mugged.


In 2011 there was a spurt of escalated loafing in my life owing to a fortunate personal incident ( Not of my doing if I  may hasten to add) where I suddenly became single and free and as Dickens would say  in David Copperfield ; was left without any ‘’encumbrances’’.

Since then, I have been on a spate of loafing which are only increasing as the years roll by. In year 2012 , I was out loafing for over 8 months. By the time this year is done, I would have hit a  new personal loafing high.

But it is more important I realized , for good loafing, to be unencumbered of other human afflictions such as beliefs , ideologies, identities or emotions.  To not be a groupie to a nation  or religion, cult or cabal and thus unburdened, waft about unfettered,  free.

With a Bedouin in Wadi Rum, Jordan.


On a Hillock in Sur, Oman



Los Angeles to San Francisco on the Amtrak


39 Responses to “How I Became a Big Loafer”

  1. Shweta Berry says:

    Simply WoW-‘Wonderful way’ ‘tO’ ‘Work for a living’

    After reading this blog, even I want to joint the LoAfEr’s band

  2. Brilliant!
    What an amazing article!

  3. Dinesh Khanna says:

    That’s the life . . live it fully and guard it zealously

  4. Manjunath Shenoy says:

    Wonderful. When I grow up, I want to be a loafer just like you.

  5. Manoj Bharti Gupta says:

    ” Traveling is reiki of life ” and Sanjay sir you doing it full time…fortunate enough to lisen you in the apex !!

  6. Sandeep Torne says:

    Ha Ha Superlike the post/blog Sanjay.Manjunath grow up fast before hamari aakhen hamesha ke liye band ho jaye

  7. Umesh Pandey says:

    A good story and totally agree with your maid.. 🙂

  8. Ritu Bhatia says:

    Lovely account and indeed an enviable position to be in

  9. Rajni Dhanda says:

    loafers enjoy life better … 🙂 like the conversation part 🙂

  10. Kalpana Sunder says:

    Loved it! Probably because I am quite a loafer too :))

  11. Papori Bharti says:

    better to be a loafer anytime than a 9-5 kind of a person!

  12. Kanishka Singh Deo says:

    Very well written. What a wonderful dream. And even more wonderfully lived.

  13. Sahil says:

    Is loafer and a lafanter same….I’ve beencalled lafanter many a times 🙂

  14. Shruti says:

    lolzz.. toh, maid ke aadmi ko saath le gaye kaam pe?! 😛 Fun read, as always!

  15. Nishant says:

    Remember … and still want to live your Kanchenjunga trek … 🙂
    If another one come in your kitty and you dont feel like going .. you can divert it towards me 🙂

  16. Ramit Mitra says:

    Reading each sentence was broadening my smile Cm by Cm, the brain trying to say well, this guy can do it, not you…so don’t smile, just read and go back to ur work!!

    So after reading many of your posts over last many months now, aaj aisa laga ki “Boss yeh Loafer as a Lifestyle Blog” mein kuch baat hai….inspiring me to now loaf around beyond my own Dilli…and not feel guilt afterwards….which I think what stops one from the next Loafering Adventure!!

    So I gotta continue the loafing around….will tell u if my guilt stops me again…

    Cheers & happy loafing!

  17. Bharati Motwani says:

    Nice piece Mr. Austa. You make it sound better than it is :-).

  18. Kavita says:

    Very nicely written. The loafer inside me wants to break out and become brave and free to…………… well loaf. fulltime.

  19. Atul Kumbhkarni says:

    I had always admonished when I was called myself as a loafer. Henri Cartier Bresson or Blazac have really a brought a feeling of heighten romance in a word such a social outcast word, loafer. I praise these French and respect the way they transforms mundane things into a art form, even snail eating is also an art at which I’ve miserably failed. I guess I should broaden my french vocab which is limited to Oui! Oui!

    All these years I had been happy calling myself a journeyman and living life of blissful guy who travels but is not a loafer. But incidentally, actually this post is that incident, I feel I was only a loafer, journeyman is just a tag, an adjective.

    At times when someone asks me what I do and the answer had been ‘Nothing’. But this piece of your had set me thinking should I add some more appeal to Journey by stating it as Journeyman, The Loafer or something else. 😉

    Really interesting read!!


  20. Global Indian says:


    The “flaneur” and the “feulliton” genre of travel-journalism was what led to the epic era of journalistic excellence – from Bresson to even William Shirer and Joseph Roth, who wrote some of the greatest ‘documents’ and exposes in history during their “loafing”..of Europe in the ’30s and under the noses of the Third Reich.

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