Breaking the Code

February 25, 2024by Rajeev Hora0

“Happiness is not a reward; it is a consequence.”

Notwithstanding his Oscar outburst, Will Smith remains one of my favourite actors. And out of all his movies, I find the‘Pursuit of Happyness’ exceptionally endearing. A story plot about making it in life despite struggles and disappointments. It makes the movie very uplifting even if it is a repeat watch. Exploring the chase of the eternal musk of happiness, the movie makes you ponder about your own happiness state and levels.

Synonyms like joy, thrill, glee, pleasure, delight and ecstasy abound. Yet, we find it really difficult to describe happiness. Even more so, we often hesitate to even admit that we are happy with a lurking fear that it may not last long.

The standard fit in today’s materialistic world is to equate a sense of owning with happiness. Although most of us know at heart as to how flawed that model is, occasional flushes of ‘acquisition’ dopamine is all we seek. The theory of relativity throws in its spanner as well when we look forward to being happier than be just happy. ‘Happier’ than what we were a while back or just ‘happier’ than the Joneses.

I decide to pick the brains of a wise old man, 95 years of age and going strong. A lawyer by profession, he has seen it all. From losing all his possessions during the partition to getting a lot back, he never seems perturbed. I ask, “What do you think Sir is the key to ‘true happiness’? “Give”, he says without a thought, a monosyllabic answer from a man who speaks very little nowadays.

“You mean?”, I query. A bit surprised at my not quite getting it at the first instance, he explains, “Whenever you give, whether it is gratitude, love, time, respect, attention, money, gifts, alms or even your best to a task, don’t you experience an element of happiness? Even ‘forgiveness’ has ‘give’ embedded in it. Also, shared happiness is its own twin in a way.”

I nod in acquiescence but am thirsty for more. He yields and gives me a task, “Try to look around and spot people who you feel are genuinely happy. They may teach you a thing or two.” I take his advice.

The Delhi Greens overlooking our residence are home to migrant farmers from Bihar and Jharkhand. Their farming model revolves around renting bits of agricultural land from the local ‘zamindar’ (yes, they do exist!). The main produce is seasonal vegetables of all kinds which they sell in the local market every other day.

Living in make-shift shanties, the migrant families just about sustain themselves with the meagre profit from their occasional sales. My better half insists on picking up her veggies directly from them during her evening walk. But for some inexplicable reason, she always gravitates towards one particular hut belonging to Sumi.

Before you wonder further, Sumi is a 18-20-year-old girl amongst the migrant crowd. She flaunts her marital status through a prominent orange sindoor on her forehead. Makes her noticeable no doubt. But more than that, the most extraordinary thing about the lass is her ever-cheerful disposition.

Sumi appears to be upending every possible theory about happiness. She is living in abject poverty, toiling away 12-14 hours day and probably being exploited in more ways than one. And yet, the radiant persona, the perennial smile and the sparkle in the eyes are difficult to explain. Far happier than her ‘so called well-to-do’ customers who come down to her humble abode from their condos, she appears to be born with a surprisingly different DNA.

Lit up always is Sumi’s face but not this portion of Gurgaon today. There have been major power cuts at many places although our condo generators have been the saving grace. We go out for our post-dinner walk. We choose this particular road as it is devoid of traffic and the street lights are also on.

A few yards away, we spot a group of villagers squatting on the road. Four to five ladies, a couple of menfolk and a few boisterous children. They are making merry and singing some folk songs in unison. We reach closer and see that the ladies are weaving garlands from a sack full of marigold flowers. I investigatingly ask the patriarch, “How come you people are here today?”

“Saabji, we have to sell these garlands tomorrow morning. There is no power supply in our nearby village. So, we decided to weave them under the streetlight today. We have even brought our dinner along.” “And the singing?”, I ask. He dismissively smiles, “Oh, nothing to that ji. We do that as a matter of cultural inheritance from our elders. With that, our time passes joyfully, and it never seems hard work.” We move on and continue our walk wistfully but a bit enviously. I can’t really make out why.

I also can’t make out how Ramji, my tour driver manages to keep himself happy or rather ‘not unhappy’. By all standards of conventionality, the man should be in perma-depression but he is not. His story is the stuff of which tragedies are made of. Having lost his wife, only child and two more members of the family in an unfortunate accident, his world had fallen apart. And yet grief is not visible on a face which has made peace with life as he merrily hums along while driving.

My hotel has arrived. I pause and reflect as Ramji bids me farewell with a smile. Still not quite there. And then it hit me! A simple truth which I must admit took me ages to realize:

‘Happy people’, are seldom so ‘Because of…..’, but invariably ‘In spite of….’!

Ever learning,
Horax (Casper)

 Postscript: Juvenal in his monumental work ‘Satires’ around the 2nd century had something similar to say, “We deem those happy who, from the experience of life, have learned to bear its ills, without being overcome by them.” Loved the resonance!

First published at on 26/02/24

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