January 12, 2020
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Different Folks, Different Strokes

The pursuit of happiness has been like the pursuit of truth, with all its relativeness. There has never been a simple, straight answer.

Different Folks, Different Strokes
People don’t exactly give happy answers to questions on happiness. The moment you ask, ‘What brings happiness?’, they become confused, confessional, agitated, sad, even silent. They start groping within and outside themselves and forward the many myths that surround the idea of happiness.

Some think money is the answer and dream each night of winning the lottery, some others believe it’s in their looks—a shade better to look at and their fortunes would have had an upswing. Youngsters think success could be a sure shot to happiness, for the more contented is the life well led.

We set out on the trail of these happiness myths and met famous people who had in abundance what people normally associate with that state of being. Have their special attributes, possessions really brought them happiness? Quite interestingly, we again fell into a familiar spiral of confusion, confession, sadness and silence! The pursuit of happiness has been like the pursuit of truth, with all its relativeness. There has never been a simple, straight answer. The qualifications and footnotes most often drown out the main issue—happiness.

Does star status bring happiness?

Preity Zinta, Actress

Difficult to say categorically, I enjoy the perks of stardom but not the invasion of privacy, because I am a very private person.

I enjoy stardom, but only when my film does well. I’d love to have my fans go see my films. On the sets, I give time to everybody so when I’m on my own I like to be left alone. There are other things, like I’m always swindled when I’m buying things. On the other hand, I’m taken care of at airports and other places.

I enjoy the fact that earning my own living gives me independence. If I want a holiday in America, I just buy a ticket and go. I’m self-sufficient and secure. I’ve bought myself a house and that’s something I’ve always wanted so I’m smiling from ear to ear.

Here, people are so caught up in the images they weave for others that they don’t allow us to do our own thing. I don’t subscribe to that. When you’re successful, you’re suddenly being complimented and invited for parties by the same people who looked through you a week earlier. And when success hits you, it really hits you. But I like to keep my feet on the ground. I know that once I start flying, when I fall I really crash. But if I keep walking then the fall won’t hurt so much.

Does music bring happiness?

Gangubai Hangal, Singer

She looks frail and her voice is tired, as if caught in the concentric rings of an elaborate alaap, perhaps one she used to majestically preside over with her masculine pitch. A giant of Hindustani music, Gangubai Hangal is alone in her Hubli home, and she has cancer. It seems cruel to ask her a question on happiness, but still.... Even as we make up our mind, she says: "Be quick, ask your question, my fever is shooting up."

"Does music bring you happiness?" There is silence. But in seconds, there is vintage cheer in her. "What else do I know other than music? If I sit down to sing, I forget everything, literally everything, you know. But I don’t know if I should call it happiness. So far I have never thought of giving it a name." We persist: "Has anything else other than music given you happiness?" There are signs of impatience: "In such a long life, several things have given me joy, but I don’t think I can equate them with music. . .

Does genius bring happiness?

Vishwanathan Anand, Chess Champion

He is an acknowledged czar of 64 squares.Since a game of chess carries such deep symbolism, mastering moves create an illusion of mastering the mandala of the universe.So what thoughts pass through Anand’s mind when he is referred to as a genius? "Sometimes I feel these superlatives are for this superhuman called Vishwanathan Anand.At times, honestly, I feel ‘Wow, is that really me!’ But always... acknowledgement and appreciation does make anyone happy."

Can he elaborate? "Happiness is a cause-and-effect thing. You do something on a personal level and that makes you happy. It could be something very simple like going for a walk or talking to someone. On the other hand, you play the novelty of the year and win a beautiful game and that also brings you happiness. It’s the same feeling, but experienced in different ways. You can’t say one happiness is greater or smaller. I think being a world-class chess player is maybe a component of what I do, but I think Anand the person is what brings me true happiness. The chess wizard Vishy is just a part of that persona." My memory is failing...," she trails off.

Does Hollywood bring happiness?

Mallika Sherawat, Actress

This isn’t the question we asked Mallika. She said she was too bored with bawdiness so she refused to be the assassin that she has always been with her oomph. She twisted the sex question around to speak of her journey from Haryana to Hollywood, where she’s now set to be some sort of semi-clad Bond girl to Jackie Chan!

"I guess it’s as improbable as Kalpana Chawla going from Haryana to nasa. More than happiness, sometimes I thought I was dreaming... shooting with Jackie Chan with seven cameras pointed at us. I had to pinch myself to actually realise this is happening," says Mallika.

Is she tired of being typecast as a sex siren? "Hell, I’m only three films old and there’s so much to learn and so much to do. Like most actors, I’d like to do a variety of roles. Doing the same thing again and again is boring, some roles will be sexy, some won’t. I believe in portraying a character as honestly as I can, and sometimes honesty is interpreted as boldness."

But surely, controversy brings her happiness? "No, I’m quite indifferent to it. Good scripts, good roles, and the critical and commercial success of my films bring me happiness."

Does beauty bring happiness?

Waheeda Rehman, Actress

Waheeda Rehman breathes life into the construct of a classical beauty in Indian minds. There are no affectations of the modern in her, neither Garboesque mystery nor the reclusiveness of a Rekha or the royal hauteur of a Gayatri Devi. Very few people have carried beauty with such ease and grace. She picks up the phone herself on the second ring and puts across an honest resistance to being described as a beauty: "Let me cross my heart and tell you, I never thought I was beautiful. When I was young, nobody told me I was beautiful. Only when I started getting myself photographed did I feel that "I am okay to look at", "I am not bad". If somebody is beautiful, people turn around and admire them when they walk on the streets. That never happened to me!"

But now that millions of people have acknowledged her as beautiful, does that bring her happiness? "It does to anybody, one feels elevated, but inner beauty is more beautiful. Some people start looking beautiful just with their attitude and conduct," she says, adding, "but arrogance in the beautiful could be very ugly."

What about the fairness myth that persists? "I don’t think that way. I like dusky beauties. For instance, I like Nandita Das. Her face makes me happy.In Urdu, we call it a namkeen chehra," she says.

Does a cause bring happiness?

Gadar, Naxal Balladeer

Gadar has braved the bullets of the police, rotted in prison cells and wandered the forests for years in self-exile, all for a cause: an egalitarian society. Has his life of struggle brought him happiness? Without giving it a minute’s thought, he says "Yes", and goes on to interpret his happiness: "When I sing, thousands join the chorus. What more can I expect from life than this admiration and selfless love from the people...jeevitam dhanyamayitappatu," he says in Telugu to be sure we have understood his idea of fulfilment in life. "I am not a singer like Rafi or Kishore Kumar; when they sing they make people forget reality. I am a people’s singer, I sing their pain, spit at their tormentors, remind them of reality."

But what about the sacrifices he’s made to achieve this happiness? "In the ocean of sacrifice my people have made, mine is only the mythical squirrel’s contribution. When the police shot five bullets at me, I did not cry, but the person who was shaving my chest for the operation was weeping. I asked him why? He said a song I once sang was humming in his head, that was my moment of supreme joy. It makes me forget the fact that I threw my engineering degree, chucked my job and left my wife and children."

But does this mean anything in an age of individualism, when greed and mammon rules? "When you accumulate wealth, you lose courage and happiness," he says. "I can safely assume I have eight crore rupees. There are eight crore Andhraites, each will give me a rupee and food if I ask them." He breaks into a song about unhappy lovers—they don’t have enough money to marry.

Does faith bring happiness?

Sri Sri Ravishankar, Godman

Sri Sri is known to millions across the globe as the "guru of joy". So, when we refer to the Art of Living founder as ‘godman’, he’s irked: "When people see a guru, they seek knowledge and guidance. When they see a ‘godman’, they run away. People are allergic to the term ‘godman’...it’s derogatory, used by the Imperial media to refer to Hindu saints."

What does he see in the eyes of people who come to meet him? "Peace, happiness, gratitude. I don’t perform so-called ‘miracles’...a guru gives hope and encouragement, takes away the misery. In the guru, they find a best friend, guide, advisor and co-traveller on the path."

So what does a guru need to do to retain this faith? "Nothing at all." He clarifies: "He, in fact, puts more doubts; trust that moves through doubt will be genuine. A guru has nothing to gain by the trust or doubts of a disciple. A guru does all he can to help, he does not care whether they have faith or not." And does such a huge following bring him happiness? Sri Sri is irked, again. "This question is so foolish. It’s like asking whether the Sun receives light." . .

Does a medal bring happiness?

Rajyavardhan S.Rathore, Shooter

Chilly Rathore kept a Buddha’s face and spoke philosophically of a thousand deaths after taking silver at the Athens Olympics.So, did his success, that gave a billion people reason to cheer, bring him happiness? "It was years of hard work under trying circumstances wherein others doubted me...like a long lonely walk with no surety on the desired destination. So on winning the medal, there was a big sigh of relief and a sense of accomplishment. There was no euphoria, I had gone through too much adversity to jump up in joy," he says.

Still, there’s a Gold to be won, so does success spark greater ambition, instead of plain happiness for Major saab? "If we were asked to sit, do nothing further for the rest of our lives, how would we feel? Life must move on, it must have direction.For me, it’s the next Olympics, and to do something for my country, be it in sports or any other cause.To keep moving, I must try and do better."

Does wealth bring happiness?

Srikantadatta N.Wodeyar, Prince

If mobile phones are any indicator of wealth in these modern times, then the ex-Mysore Maharaja carries half-a-dozen in a china bowl. But then, a man born into one of the richest princely states of India hardly needs cellphones to tip the scales in his favour. Does wealth bring him happiness? "I believe that money and wealth need not bring happiness," he says. "I was taught to treat money with respect but not be too hung up on it.I don’t aspire for others’ money, but I would like to keep what is mine intact. If somebody tries to meddle with it, I’ll hit back with everything at my disposal," he adds. He returns to the days of glory: "In fact, the Mysore maharajas always had a socialist approach. Nobody was allowed to get too rich. They taxed the rich. Me, I’ve always had a Leftist approach. In fact, I was inspired by Karl Marx in college," says the ex-BJP MP.

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