Monday, April 29, 2013

In Pursuit of Happiness

I was reading Srikanta, a semi autobiographical novel by Saratchandra Chatterjee over the weekend. Who? The man who wrote Devdas and Parineeta.
I have also been talking a lot to my friends, and recognized a pattern in our conversations, and hence this post.
But the book first. It’s an account of the life of a wanderer, a “bhoboghurey”. I was first introduced to it by baba when I was a child.
The first story baba ever told me was of “The Mayor of Casterbridge. No kidding. Michael Henchard rocked his world, and in effect, mine. Also, if you think I'm strange, now you know why.
That’s my earliest memory of a bed time story. Of course, dad would abridge it to fit a 5 or 6 year old’s mental capacity and then add details through the year till one summer vacation, when I was in class 8 and badgering him for a rerun, he gave up and handed me the book itself. I think that kind of killed our story telling routine, but I’m freakishly like my dad (and as days go by, I think I’m becoming more like him. No wonder my best friends are boys who now like to call themselves men.) I didn’t mind.
From there it graduated to “what are you reading now? Is it good? Ok let me have your book when you’re done with it.”
The other book that is a very similar early memory is Srikanto, or rather, that of  baba reciting the opening paragraph of the book, in which a wanderer looks back on life and begins by thinking of how it has been wasted. A whole lot of “chi, chi, chi.”
But of course, if you have a life that can be made into an entire book, it can’t have been a waste, and it is not. It is a rich collection of experiences, meeting people, knowing people and growing as an individual. And traveling, and finding happiness, or not finding happiness.
And for us, who can’t afford to be Srikanta or don’t have the guts to try it, learning from his experiences and yearning and hoping to be the better for it.
As I was reading it for the possibly 15th time or so (yes, I do that with favourite books and movies. I recently watched Shakespeare in Love twice, back to back!), and talking to friends across this country and that, I suddenly began wondering why is it that most of us are unhappy?
I mean, I don’t mean unhappy in the eternally depressed, morose way. No normal person can go through life that way and there is enough good food, discs, music and shopping to take your mind off things that really matter and give you the illusion of happiness.
But if you ask any average 20-30 year old, “are you happy?”, why is it that the answer is “no”, if they are honest (and close enough to confide in you), or an embarrassed and/or thoughtful pause?
I’m talking of reasonably well-to-do, has a roof over their heads, can buy themselves little pleasures as and when they like, reasonably well educated people with decent, if humble jobs. Kings and queens, compared to the millions of underfed, uncared for poor men and women around the world. And yet, the answer is barely ever a full throated “yes!”


This is where Srikanta helped. In a weird way I cannot explain ( or maybe because it has Indra in it) that book, and talking to my friends suddenly gave me some clarity (or so I think) and the gall to put up this post.
You see, I realized that most of us are not happy because we don’t know what we want. And in case we do figure it out, we don’t work towards making sure we make it/those/them a part of our lives.
Worse, we give ourselves excuses for not working towards that and think we’re doing some great service towards mankind by behaving this way. (If I quit the job I hate, my parents will be heartbroken. Or my wife will not be able to cope with the change in lifestyle if I toss my banker’s job and become a teacher. Duh, really?! Change the wife AND the job if she can’t see how important it is to you. You can’t change your parents, but they'll hopefully want you to be happy at the end of the day, so don’t use that for an excuse. Remember the old hindi adage? Jo khudh khush nahi hain, who kisiko khush nahi rakh sakta.)
Doing any one of those is bad enough by itself, but if you’ve hit a place where you’re doing all of them and trying to convince yourself you are doing a good thing, let's just say you may need to revisit some actions.

I’ll harp on jobs because I’ve been giving this some special thought.  Are you happy with it? Like Sir tells me, no job will be ever-thrilling like that of James Bond’s. I like being a reporter because it has the potential to come close ;-) But on the whole, are you doing what you always thought you would do, or are you just doing it because that is what is available and you’re too scared to chase your real dream?  No, don’t axe that right away. Chasing dreams is not all poetic and idealistic (I’ll come to that later, maybe in another post), it is important. Unless your dream is to be a junkie that lives off her parents’ money, in which case you just simply need specialized help and my blog isn’t qualified enough to do that.
 I’m not saying we all have to be Don Quixotes. But, are you excited to go to work everyday?  No? Well, work takes up so much of our lives, if that does not excite you, of course you’re not happy!
Bummer, I know. So do you know what will make you happy? No? Ok, not a problem, We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But if you do, are you doing anything to get towards it?

If you still haven’t, why not? What is stopping you? Remember what happened when Madhavan’s character  in 3 Idiots ditched engineering to become a photographer? He became a happy man. If he stuck to his engineering job he’d be miserable, and because he’d be miserable, he won’t even do well in his career. And make others around him unhappy. So why do it?

All it needs is a little bit of honesty. And the gumption to say to yourself, “no, I don’t like what I’m doing and I’m going to accept that, even if that means friends and family are going to think I’ve gone loco.”
For you know what? No one will remember in 3 years' time that you gave up a stupid career after wasting stupid amounts of money on it, if you find your calling and find happiness.  Or, you need a friend like Aamir Khan who'll take it upon himself to see this through. But because it is difficult to find such people in real life, how about helping ourselves?
I can’t not recall what baba told me when I declared I’ll go for a major in English Literature after I chased science for two years. “Do what you are good at doing, and aim to be the best at it. If your skill lies in cutting grass, do it like no one else can. If you can do that, money will not be a problem.”
Profoundness in an express train as we were heading to Calcutta to try my luck in Literature. We really should give dads more credit.

I recently wrote in a blogpost how my parents and Sir keep teaching me simple lessons in life and how those simple things are so easy to forget. Till I remember, and go back to following them and voila! Life’s not that complicated any more. You see, all of this is actually coming from some amount of self introspection and experimenting and is not all talk.

So there go jobs. Same with love and friendship, (the other big problems in the life of the youngs in the cities. Or not youngs. Whatever.) Same questions, same lessons. Are you excited about the person/people in your life? Does being with him/her/them make you happy? (If you have been together for a while and are still unsure, you probably still have a bit more searching to do. When it makes you happy, you know.)

Do you know who makes you happy? Are you doing anything to keep that person in your life? Done and dusted.
And here, I’ll tell you this. Just like you, yours truly has met a few people in life, thought of a few as friends, let a few come close to her and been hurt a few times. Mostly because my ability to judge people tends to trend in the 0 to negative side of the scale and I often need friends and well-wishers to show me, quite literally, how all (wo)men are not good or nice or will not take advantage of your niceness.
But despite that, when I’ve known a person is important to me, I’ve stuck around and made sure they are in my life. Caveat: don't shower affection on people who are likely to take and toss it. Very unrewarding, tiring and effectively, insulting.
When spared these kinds, I've found others who have done the same for me. The making sure I'm in their lives bit, I mean, so it's not all crazy me. Good people behave that way.
I have a friend who had a thing for me. Then he decided having me as a friend was worth much more than fooling around. And we can laugh about it now and we both use each other as a shoulder or a sounding board as and when needed, no explanations needed. Do you know how rewarding that is? Happens when you decide who is important, and treat them that way. After all, it is not about the number of people around you, it is about finding people of the same wavelength. And having found them, keeping them.

Same story here too.All it needs is a little bit of honesty and a little gumption. And if this post is making you sad because you have answered “no” to all the questions, don’t be. No one would be able to answer “yes” to all, especially if you are anything like me. Read: ordinary, working, city dwelling person who gets thrown off by life every once in a while.
But we can all try to make the majority affirmative. Because, it is never too late to do the right thing. And find happiness.

Oh, and if you haven’t read Srikanta, you can begin by starting to correct that.
I'm sure they have translations.

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..