Ritardando con sentimento
Taking stock in the West (8)*
Happiness is something you used to have.
Happiness is hindsight, really.
Look, I am in a reflective mood, okay? It is allowed when we approach milestones and age has its privilege. So as I approach my fiftieth birthday I ask myself what is happiness? It is always something you perceive as having happened. You are never happy in present tense, really.
In present tense you are bothered, irritated, annoyed or amused; you are vexed or drowning in details, you are devastated, shocked; you are fretting if the eats are enough, you are buying supplies to outlast a Bandh; in the present tense you are anything but actually happy. In present tense you are active, you see? It is only in retrospect you can think about happiness.
Reflecting on a life as it happened is rather instructive, I find. It is all about choices. We make our choices everyday, small and big. Then there are choices that change our lives. If we are strong we manage, cope and live with the consequences of those choices.
After all these years, I don't know what happiness means. There were moments aplenty of joy, laughter and elation; companionship always and an occasional sense of achievement and more. Is that happiness?
We'd hosed the terrace, dragged cane chairs and an occasional table to hold our glasses — toddler safely in bed, day's labours all done, it was as cool as it gets in Delhi summer; whiskey and soda on ice; a sip and I leant back and said, "Ah, this is life." That's a memory my husband cherishes. Is that happiness?
An old-fashioned four-poster bed with mosquito nets and under the bed a furious negotiation: our Pariah Princess glaring balefully at "Boom Royale" (don't ask) the stuffed dog my son wanted her to make friends with. Did it matter who he slept cuddled up with, as the stuffed toys and the real dog both used to crowd his bed? But the image of my son enticing our dog from under the bed endures. Is that happiness?
My son beaming an incredulous 'I am in heaven' grin behind the wheel of a Porsche as the anonymous but kind owner looked on in amused benevolence. He was four years old and mad about cars. That's a memory I treasure. Is that happiness?
Candle time in Calcutta, load-shedding and a Scrabble game in progress with no quarter given. "Make home, Lali, make home," piped my son. "Thanks," I said, in mock-bitterness since he revealed my tiles to my husband, but proud that he could rearrange tiles in his head and deal with anagrams at age four. Is that happiness?
Life goes on. Nice things happen and nasty, since life is never always roses. I cherish the roses though, and I am glad for the blessing. I remember a poem, I wish I could quote all of it, but the last lines caught my attention, and struck a chord with me.
So I'll love myself and if my garden grows
Some sweet spring morning I'll give myself a rose.
Chance throws spanners in the work of life, but you just pick up pieces, bolt things together, add solder where necessary and keep going on. Throughout the years, memory of happiness sustained me. We were broke, we were in trouble, we had tragedies and woes. We had good luck and bad, thorns and roses.
In hindsight, I suppose, we were happy. You have your moments of elation and laughter; you have your moments of grief, shared and thus reduced to manageability. You have heaven and you never know it is heaven, not until you look back and realise it was heaven.
Happiness is little pleasures, sudden gladness. Happiness is being able to face oneself without shame or chagrin. Happiness is a reader telling me that he consoles himself that Lalita must have solved it in a jiffy as he tries to solve the Guardian puzzles, and saying he enjoyed my discursive crossword posts better than the crisp explaining of the solutions at fifteensquared.
As the clock ticks and takes me closer to the milestone of turning fifty, I look back. Happiness is remembering, actually. You are never happy, you only recall later that you were.