Roma Patra, 35, from West Bengal, works as a maid in New Delhi
Once upon a time, there was a king who had everything he could ask for in life—wealth and health, a loving family and many caring friends. But he could never feel happy. A saint offered him an easy solution. Happiness would come his way if he wore the shirt of the happiest person in his kingdom. So his men searched far and wide and finally found a truly blissful soul in a grimy shanty on the fringes of the town. But when they asked him for his shirt, he couldn’t offer one. He had none.
Roma Patra, a 35-year-old maid, has that radiance. And she certainly doesn’t possess the metaphorical shirt.
Far from her “home”, South 24 Parganas in West Bengal, Roma lives in the grubby Kishangarh village in Delhi and cooks at several Vasant Kunj flats. She smiles even as she tells us her tale of sorrow and misery. She lost her mother when she was just a few months old. Her father, a peon, died when she wasn’t even ten. She was brought up by her grandmother, who didn’t have the means to educate her. “I never got anything in life,” she tells you, eyes still sparkling. What is it that keeps her cheerful? Pat comes the reply: her son and daughter. She works hard to send them to school and for tuitions in the evening. “I hope my children will get ahead and do better in life,” Roma says. She derives happiness from dreaming of a brighter future, for them.
Photograph by Nilotpal Baruah
“The title win did give me a high. But what gives me real happiness is when my daughter, Anika, does well.”
Pratima Hegde is the national champion in Tenpin Bowling. She is based in Bangalore.
Far away, in Bangalore, happiness lies in the future for 32-year-old cook Bhanumati as well. She comes from a respectable family, is saddled with an alcoholic husband, works for 12 hours a day to ensure that her children get a good “English education”. “I will be happy the day my children settle down well.” That may take another decade. Till then, for Bhanumati, happiness is a work in progress. Cut now to Pratima Hegde, the Bangalore-based wife of a well-to-do businessman. She is the reigning national champion of Tenpin Bowling. A title she won in the city a few days ago. The papers were filled with her beaming smile. Did the win make Pratima happy? “It gives me a high. But what gives me happiness is when my daughter, Anika, does well.” The income divide does not dissect happiness derived from others.
Happiness has often been compared to truth—never absolute, always relative. No self-help books can deliver it you in 10 simple steps, nor can a guru lead you to it. It could come to you randomly and elude you when you chase it the hardest. So, what is happiness for ordinary names and faces, “you, them, me”? Could there be universal truths in our individual experiences of joy? Could these experiences resonate and touch a chord in other regular people like “us”? Perhaps yes, maybe not.
“We feel happy when we cook and eat a mutton dish twice a week. We’re happy when we get a ride in one of the swanky cars we guard.”
Sanjay & Prakash Singh, in their late teens, are security guards in Bangalore
So, unlike Roma and Bhanumati, Bikram Das, a lift operator in one of Bangalore’s plush shopping malls, doesn’t think of the future. “I never feel unhappy. I earn around `4,000 a month and eat it all up. I am happy that I don’t have to send money back home,” says Das, from Silchar in Assam. Similarly, security guards Sanjay and Prakash Singh, who are at the edge of their teens, feel happy when they “cook and eat a mutton dish twice a week”. The migrants from Ketikan in Uttaranchal also feel happy when they get a ride in one of the swanky cars they guard all day long.
As opposed to their recklessness and determination to live for the moment, 40-year-old Rita’s sense of social responsibility offers another genre. This former maid spends her weekdays teaching kids and adults a mix of math, English and Hindi, and reading them passages from the Bible, which she connects with her pupils’ day-to-day lives in the slums of Saiyad ul Ajaib, Kusumpur Pahari and Nepali Camp. Associated with the Delhi Bible Fellowship for the last four years, Rita feels she is doing what truly brings her joy and peace of mind. “It makes me glad that I can make a difference in people’s lives.” Happiness comes with a touch of the spiritual, it’s not about the selfish self, or close friends and family but reaching out and giving a helping hand to strangers out there.
Unlike her, for 27-year-old Vinod Kumar, an art director, happiness comes from his own self. It has been all about the big and small achievements in his career and having made it in life on his own steam, from scratch. “Be it studying mass communication or opting to work in TV and films, I have taken decisions on my own,” he says, proudly. Kumar’s father came to Delhi from Dwarahat in Uttaranchal with nothing in hand. “We used to live in a single room, but now have a modest home of our own,” says Vinod, beaming.
Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari
“I enjoy meeting people and impact their lives—that’s what getting into shape does. I really love helping people make these changes.”
Michael Jacob 35, is a gym manager in Ghaziabad. He moved there from Mumbai.
There are others who have found joy and fulfilment in their calling and have gone all the way for it, even forsaken the joy of being with their families. When gym manager Michael Jacob’s setup folded up in Mumbai, he shifted to happyrun a spanking new gym, Charge Fitness, in the suburbs of Ghaziabad. Even though his family is back in Mumbai, he’s happy with the move because the 35-year-old gets to do what he loves best: “Meet people, talk to them, impact their lives directly, because that’s what getting into shape does to you. It changes your life. And I love helping people make these changes.”
Similarly, Bangalore-based Sudha Kanago, who heads operations for a clinical research company, has managed to find happiness even in a long-distance arrangement with her husband Sushobhan Mukherjee, who is currently posted in Singapore. “We’re both successful, and this is a necessary compromise,” she says frankly. What makes them both happy are small and big holidays they don’t forget to take despite their busy schedules (“we try and go to a new place every time”). Despite adequate financial security, what keeps them going is not looking out for the big house or fancy car but looking forward to the little moments, as Sudha puts it: “Like planning our next holiday, making plans to meet friends, the next book or play to watch out for....”
Diametrically opposed to Michael and Sudha, Rahul Verma has found happiness in opting out of the mainstream. His mantra for life: ‘The rat race is all that rats have won’. “I’ve never worked for anyone, never drawn a salary,” he says. Rahul chose to stay home, while his journalist wife negotiated a typical newspaper schedule. “I enjoy cooking and would hang around the house feeding my culinary aspirations.” For this food writer, eating out, meeting friends and reading weigh heaviest on the happiness scale. He also lends time to causes he believes in, like for Sahmat, a group that is trying to promote communal harmony.
Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari
“The path to happiness is not direct, but goes around in circles. I’m taking baby steps towards it.”
Kalpana Misra, 52, is a writer based in New Delhi
A few people are born happy, they have it in their genes, are gifted with the knack of finding silver linings than dark clouds. But most grow and find happiness, most often as they age and mature. Writer Kalpana Misra, 52, readily confesses to not being a born optimist. “Even traffic jams used to get me,” she says. For her, happiness has been a journey through the years. “It is not designed, the path to it is not direct but goes around in circles. I am taking my baby steps towards it,” she says. The mother of three daughters broke away from her marriage and found joy in her beautiful Persian cat, Phil. As well as in Buddhism, prayers and meditation. Much like several other urban Indians who are seeking peace and solace in spirituality.
For 42-year-old Nalini Varshney, a homemaker, happiness has been a similar mystic journey. Having gone through the ups and downs of life, she is confident of having finally found it. “I am at a point in life when nothing ruffles or bothers me,” she says. Now that her two children have grown up, she is restarting her professional life, in alternative healing, angel card reading and voluntary social work. She says happiness is a daily personal choice. “I don’t give the power of my happiness to any outside factor or person. I chose to be happy for myself,” she says.
So, what do we have at the end of this disparate and engaging debate? We asked Girish Kasaravalli, the renowned film director. He was in the midst of a shoot when we asked what was more difficult to portray on the celluloid, happiness or sorrow? He voted for happiness. When asked to pick a scene from one of his films which portrayed happy people, he struggled and promised to get back.
That’s the thing about Indians and happiness. People are unsure. Some seek it in success, others in opting out, still others find it in the rough struggles of life. It could be in little, mundane things or in big, overwhelming moments. Hedonism is pleasure for some, while everyday things like a workout, a melody or hearty repast may bring joy to another. Among most people Outlook spoke to, family and enduring relationships are conjoined with the idea of happiness, as it is with working for the community rather than for oneself. For others, happiness lies in the pleasures of philosophy and spirituality that confer a sense of depth.
There are as many definitions of happiness as people. But what they all agree upon is that happiness is ephemeral. It won’t last long. So seize it while you can. And smile—that helps.
By Namrata Joshi with Sugata Srinivasaraju in Bangalore, Arpita Basu & Neha Bhatt in Delhi
Happiness is a state of mind (Couldn’t Prevent Jack From Being Happy). It has nothing to do with haves or have-nots. It all depends on how one comes to terms with oneself.
The pompous, self righteous and highly judgemental Outlook journalists espically the likes of Namratha and sugatha should also be part of the happiness survey.
For example what will make the likes of Sugata happy? Or for that sake most of Outlook journalists? If a work of art that defames any of the characters of hindu mythology is well received, that would thrill the folks to great happiness. Sugata will be the happiest person if the BJP government at Bangalore gets out and replaced by a Congress/JDS government. Saba Naqi will be the happiest person if Narendra Modi(or any BJP leader) gets to jail in any case. Likewise each person has his or her own bias. Happiness can never be universal. One man or woman's happiness could always be at the expense of another man or woman's misery. Trying to bring in an index of happiness in India only shows that Outlook wants to divert the readers from the misgovernance of the UPA2 Government.
From Outlooks pictures it is obviously true that for every THREE women who look happy, there is only ONE man ( and even he does nt seem tooo happy, kicking someone else! ).
a. ) Could it be that Outlooks photographers exclusively take pics of only the fairer gender?
Or b.) could the stereotyping that 'only women look happy' on the way?
...or yes, there ARE three handsome, young, boys in the pictures too. NO run-of-the-mill-hardworking males.
Happiness is not ephemeral. Pleasure is ephemeral. Happiness derives from certain adaptations and certain commitments that are enduring. Happiness may not be everlasting, but it is lasting.
Happiness is a state of mind It has nothing to do with haves or havenots. It depends upon how one comes to terms with oneself.
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