The quest for happiness

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There are instances when you experience moments that transport you to the past and you cannot help but reminisce the good old days. On one such occasion, on my way back to the university, I came across a group of undergraduate exchange students from India in the campus bus. While I was lost in my own thoughts about how our quest for happiness changes as we grow, the energy of these youngsters in their early 20s enticed me. I could easily sense that they were making memories in that moment. Moments that will be forever etched in their minds as the complexities of life will turn happiness into a sorcerer’s stone. And as I started thinking about memories and moments, I slowly drifted away to the joyous past.

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It sometimes surprises me how unknowingly we can experience happiness in the purest form and in the most simplest of the moments. But what amuses me more is how we can spend our entire lifetime looking and praying for that ‘one big happy moment’ just to realize that years later we will find it in the form of laughter shared with school friends on a movie day, the dance of the butterflies when the childhood crush reciprocated the smile or the hearty meals with family when dine outs were a once in a year soiree.

Unfortunately, as we evolve, our notion of happiness becomes complex. We start looking for those big moments to define our life – qualifying that one big exam, securing that one big promotion, buying that one big car, and splurging on that one big fat wedding. While the idea of happiness is extremely personalized, I sometimes feel that we truly miss out on the real journey that itself leads to the big moments of life. The joke that soothened the anxiety pang just  before the exam or the nervousness to meet the last sales order that lead to the promotion or that last one dollar that made up for the down payment of the car or the years of togetherness that culminated into marriage, all are overshadowed by that one big moment.

May be this is the reason that why most of us are leading an unhappy life. We pretend to be happy, but we are still confused if we are really happy because the concept of happiness has become blurred. In our quest for happiness, we end up climbing up the mountains, diving in the ocean, and trekking in the dark forests, just to realize that it was always sitting next to us. And maybe, it is then we realize that life is nothing but an ensemble of little pleasures that makes us truly happy.

PS – I hope to get this tattooed someday as a reminder not to overlook the little moments of joy in life. 🙂

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The battle of the two ‘E’s’

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Last week, I visited the biggest city of Java island as a part of my South East Asia sojourn. As I prepared my itinerary, I decided to spend some time at St Mary of the Assumption Cathedral and Istiqlal Mosque on the first day of my three day trip. When I took the motor taxi to visit the cathedral, I was pleasantly surprised to see the mosque located right opposite the cathedral on the other side of the road.
While this was not my first visit to the church, I attended the daily mass for the first time. I was mesmerized by the enchanting recitals. As I was about to leave the church, I could hear the azaan and see a group of men heading towards the mosque. With an already simulated spiritual self, I was intrigued by the tall minaret of the mosque glistening in the evening sky. I followed the men, cleansed my hands and sat in one corner of the prayer room. As the namaaz was in progress, I couldn’t help but appreciate the peaceful coexistence of two different religious groups in the same neighborhood and how seamlessly the locals have embraced diverse religious beliefs.

While I was impressed with the serenity, it still made me question whether differences can always invoke equitable and ready acceptance. Do we really embrace differences or do we feel embarrassed of them? A simple yet powerful instance from daily life reminds me of our general intolerance towards differences. Just a couple of days back, I saw the lawn mowers plucking the weeds in the garden right at the backside of my residential block. This regular exercise of weeding out ‘different’ looking plants exemplified our lack of acceptance in daily routine. May be we are so used to living a life modeled on a visible pattern that we tend to become hostile if we encounter any deviation or difference. Be it in terms of religion, sex, color or beliefs, we create such high barriers that we cannot appreciate anything that comes in a different figure or form. I couldn’t agree more with the thoughts of one of my fellow blogger, Bamboozled who recently posted about our general inability to embrace the different.

Being embarrassed and being able to embrace are two extreme shades of human reactions. Our brains are by default set to ‘embarrassment’ mode when we see someone or experience something that comes with a stamp of ‘different’. But then there is another mode that our brain is not used to, ‘embrace’. Probably, switching over to this mode will demand us to become more open and respectful towards life in different forms. While for an individual it may take years to become more accepting in nature, it may take a lifetime for humankind in general to move from one ‘E’ to the other. Probably, the day when the lawns will be sprawling with greenery and plants of all form, shape and size, we can truly regard ourselves as educated. Till then, we still have a long way to go.

PS – I have not seen my garden for a long time now. May be its time to go back home. 🙂

A Christmas Wish

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Long time ago, I had nurtured a dream to travel the world and write about my backpacking adventures. But as years passed, I lost track of my dream and buried it away just like other secret Christmas wishes. Maybe Santa Claus and his reindeer were as mythical as the Christmas folklore or maybe I was too innocent to believe in them. The fact remains that when we live in our own utopian world, we rarely make conscious efforts to reconcile it with the hard realities of life.

This probably explains the endless wait for Santa to secretly fulfill my wishes all these years. But with growing up, I realized that we have to become our own Santa sometimes if we want to keep the magic of Christmas alive. So with the start of the second quarter of life, I decided to revive the old dream and took on the journey to the secluded archipelago of Philippines with the intent to bridge my world with reality. The bridge seemed a little wobbly at the start, but with each step I could feel my fears wither away as courage made its way.

As a writer, one is expected to have the natural art of transforming emotions and thoughts into a melody of words. To be honest, all throughout the journey, I was jotting down my delirious thoughts to build a story. But when I eventually started working on it, for the first time I was rendered short of words for what I experienced. I could feel so many hues of emotions – gratitude, happiness, and solace all at once. I felt at home when I swam with fishes, explored the secret lagoons, joyously swung on the beach, and experienced the warmth of sunset. Closeness to nature was so overwhelming that I think I will not be able to justify the moments of joy by etching them into words. So I would want to safely keep this experience in my magical trunk of memorabilia.

While I may be short of words, I cannot thank enough the people I met during this journey. Be it my wonderful French host in El Nido or the lovely Filipino family who shared the scenic island drive or my co- travelers from Netherlands, US and Chile who kept me engaged in delightful conversations during snorkeling tour or my fellow hosteler from Brazil who warmly expressed his love for India or the honest and jovial local guide who taught me to pronounce “Mabuhay”, all of them reinstated my belief that the world is indeed a beautiful place!

And for the incapacity to describe my experience this time, I hope these few shots by the novice photographer would explain the reason for the loss of words.

PS- I still believe in the magic of Christmas and I hope to meet Santa someday. Till then, I am happy to be my own Santa and will continue to surprise myself by fulfilling all the past and future Christmas wishes!

20 something and still unsure?

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In this fast paced life, you come across individuals from different age groups each having unique aspirations and goals. However, I am more fascinated with the people in their 20s. Their stark ideology about life makes me wonder if they are really travelling in the same boat.

20s is a phase when newly classified adults are actually struggling with the title of being an adult. While for some, it may be a smooth sail but for rest it may be a long arduous journey. Some like to stick to the usual norms of the society that marks successful accomplishment of their transition to adulthood whereas some prefer to just make their own rules. While each to their own, I couldn’t help but think about the ones who take their own time to accept adulthood in its full form.

In these few years of conscious living, I have come across extremely motivated, inspirational and energetic guns in their 20s who are really clear about what they want in life. Not only are they happily working towards the predicted milestones set by the society, they tend to overcome the biggest hurdle of defining the purpose of life that daunts some of their counterparts who may not be as receptive. So does it mean it is the end of the road for the struggling 20 something individuals who are slow, indecisive, unpredictable and unsure about their life?

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Right from childhood, we are encouraged to plan our life well as every action is linked to the future. We are taught to think about the future and work towards it. We are expected to have a vision in life – what we want to become, what we want to achieve and where do we see ourselves in the next few years. We become so accustomed to plan our future that it becomes a part of our life and we feel motivated to work towards it every day. But do you think that all of us can easily assimilate what we are taught from childhood? May be no. And this explains the reason for the poles apart thought process of people in their 20s. Probably, the ones who could not accept this process in their formative years tend to question its purpose when they prepare for transition to adulthood. And it is these slow yet inquisitive fellows, who would want to experiment and fail till they make their own rule book that they can happily follow.

I think at the end of the day, our purpose in life is the same – happiness. But our journeys are so different that we tend to judge people on the basis of the paths they chose in their life. I have noticed that the sorted out 20s tend to frown upon their peers who decide to take the less dictated path. Therefore, as young individuals, it is important for us to embrace different ideologies about life and celebrate the struggle of the ones who cannot fit into the predictable pattern of leading life that is usually preached by the society. Probably, 20s is the only time when we have all the rights to make and break our own rules before we standardize them for our 30s.

PS – I tend to fling between the two ideologies frequently but I think I have a rule-book “almost” in place that combines the best of the worlds 🙂

Gratitude or Request?

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As a writer, you remain in constant search for inspiration to pick up the pen and let your thoughts flow freely. To my surprise, it’s not the experiences in life that inspire me to write, it’s the people who experience life that inspire my thoughts.

Thinking about writing, people, experiences and the world, my mind pondered about prayers and people today. I recall a prayer we were taught in school and were encouraged to religiously recite in morning assembly. But I was always intrigued by its opening lines “Humko mann ki shakti dena, mann vijay kare, doosron ki jai se pehle khudh ko jay karein” (God, give us inner strength, before we cheer for victory of others, make us victorious).

I couldn’t help but rewind these lines again and again in my thoughts to be amazed how a prayer could teach us meaningful lessons in life. The naiveness of teenagerhood pushed me to write my interpretation of these lines after almost 8 years.

I will divide the opening lines into two parts. The first part (Humko mann ki shakti dena, mann vijay kare) is intended to seek courage to overcome the worldly fears, let go of inhibitions and become self-confident so that we can shine in life. We pray for courage because God presumed that every human being will have some fear like failing at studies, career, love, marriage and kids. In short, he knew that at every point, humans will be affected by such self-inflicted fears of different phases of life that are meant to be enjoyed in their good and bad form alike. So does it mean all these years we have been praying to Almighty asking for strength to overcome the fear of “living life” itself?

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The second part (doosron ki jai se pehle khudh ko jay karein) is for requesting Almighty to give us the strength to win over ourselves before we win over the world. Just like God knew that we will need courage to live a fearless life, he also knew that as we grow up, we will stop loving ourselve because we start living for others. And the world will label such humanly actions as being ‘selfless’ which in fact is an outright lie. How can you think of caring for others when you forget to care for yourself? Do you think you can really bring joy to your loved ones, when you can’t smile for yourself? Would you be able to conquer this world, when you cannot conquer yourself?

In these bygone years, I have realized the reason we were asked to recite this prayer every morning. As we grow up, we become overpowered by inhibitions that we forget to appreciate different shades of life. Not only this, we fall out of love with our own self in our efforts to care for others. We fear being condemned by the society for being selfish to think a little about ourselves. Such thoughts just make me wonder if this is what our life was ever meant for – to live every moment in fear while trying to make others happy.

Will this prayer ever become an expression of gratitude or will it always remain a request?

PS – Without any bias, I could never bring myself to recite this prayer after school and I hope my teachers will be proud of me for a lesson well learnt.

MRT Musings

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Pondering over instances that reminded me of how sometimes we meticulously plan our life just to realize that in reality we might be pushed to a dead end, I couldn’t help but think how unpredictable and uncertain life can be. We become so optimistic about plan A that we totally ignore plan B. At least that’s what most of us always do knowing that a failure may just throw our life out of gear. But then you realize, this is life, you live it only once with no backups and no sureties.

Then how do we survive through the dark tunnel that terrorizes us till the time we see some rays of hope. In such moments, we are reduced to our most vulnerable form and our insecurities come alive. The feeling of helplessness is uncalled but slowly slithers in like a snake. It’s in such situations that we realize we are undergoing a real crisis.  It becomes extremely easy to lose ourselves and feel miserable not knowing what to do. But as it is said that judge no man’s character in sunny times, wait for the storm to barge in and see if he is still alive.

Thinking of dead ends and standstills, in this quarter lived life I have bumped into my share of such phases.But what surprises me is how I have learnt to enjoy and discover myself when life comes to a halt. I remember my first brush with the dark tunnel and the cry baby reactions to it. But with age, oh boy, I feel I have learnt to accept uncertainties’ gracefully. Just recently, I read about Ellis Stewart’s attempt to climb Mount Everest that he has shared in his novel – Everest, It’s not about the summit.

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He has so beautifully described how his life came to a standstill when he failed at his attempt to climb Cho Oyu (the sixth highest peak in the world), became a divorced father at 28, and was left with no money, job and home. He was depressed but still kept on going. But the most appreciable part about Ellis is he never gave up and survived through times to live his dream of climbing up the Everest and writing a novel on it. I am reminded of another such instance of courage and adaptability to uncertainties of people from Kashmir who have survived in the most heavily militarized area of the world yet have not given up on their hopes to see a normal life knowing that it is a far-fetched dream.I have realized that in uncertainties’ you can both stare back at life and look into its eyes or you can just shy away and drive yourself in a cramped hole. Maybe staring might not give you much of joy but will give you the courage to push through the dead end and make your own way.

And sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves, ‘but darling, in the end you got to be your own hero because everyone is too busy trying to save themselves’.

PS – The inspiration for this post is Ellis’s novel that I am half way through but could not help to write about it even before completing it. And yes! I wrote typed this post on my phone while listening to Despacito and staring at the absurd looking poop emoticon styled hair band of the woman standing right next to me in the MRT. 🙂