lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ritardando con sentimento

Taking stock in the West (8)*

Happiness is something you used to have.
Lyon Mearson

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.




Blogger dipali said...

Perhaps contentment is the present tense of happy?
Beautiful, philosophical post. The approaching milestone is just another day in one's life. Mine went by almost two years ago, you spring chicken, you!
I'm there to welcome you into the freaky fifties- the fabulous forties have had their day. Let us freak out happily in our fiftiness:)

4:29 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

Happy fiftieth, Lali. May you always look back and realise you were happy.

Why such a long gap?

5:55 pm  
Blogger F e r r a r i said...

Happiness is remembering, actually. You are never happy, you only recall later that you were.

Very true :)

6:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lovely post lali, being fifty is beautiful. learn to live for yourself and it will make all the difference! experience speaks, although the advice sounds very unsisterly!- kavita

6:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had joy we had fun, you say. Good. Happy fiftieth, Lali. Thirteenth, right? Friday thirteenth that falls on a Thursday this year?

Age cannot wither her nor custom steal her infinite variety, though. Happy birthday, Grammar Nazi and Lark.

Secret admirer

9:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

euqgjrzt, such are your word verification woes, ampersand I love you. Happy fiftieth, Madam Lark.

Secret admirer #2

11:15 pm  
Blogger neha vish said...

I refuse to be a secret admirer. I lurve you.

Have a lovely birthday Lali. I hope I am half as cool as you are when I am fifty.

11:44 pm  
Blogger Shirsha said...

B'day wishes Lali!

Is it alright if I have a doubt such as, 'does not remembering the moments that were perfect in their own way from the past, mean that happiness is not mine?' 'do these perfect moments from the past make me happy now, or do the ysignify that I was happy then?'? If it isn't then donot bother... I love you anyways!

10:22 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Dipali- Better freaky fifties than freakish, eh? Thanks.

Ash- Thank you. No gap, I was guest blogging in the middle at Chandru's.

Ferrari- Yup! Voice of experience, take it from me. :-)

Anon- Custom steal her infinite variety? Puts a new perspective, it does.

Anon2- Thank you. You could give me a gift and get a name.

Neha- And I lurve you too, dear girl. Thank you. Have a safe trip back.

Shirsha- Thank you.
It's just my experience, that at the best of times, there are always niggles that distract your attention, and it is only later you realise you were in fact happy. Happiness is always in past tense, I feel.

12:25 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

And not the least, Kavi- Thanks. Voice of experience, eh? I will give it a shot.

12:32 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

Happy Fiftieth Lalita ! It becomes easier from now on, believe me !!
Why ?
Because -
Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.
Albert Schweitzer

And after fiftieth, the bad memory becomes a habit. I know.

3:30 pm  
Blogger vivek said...

I beg to differ Lalita that happiness is hindsight.

I think that Happiness is the state of being happy which can always be in present tense, even if you are happy thinking of the past, you are happy NOW

For me happiness lies in future, which i see with my wife , parents and (to be) kids with enough time and money to have fun and relaxed weekends, send kids to good school and give them a good upbringing. Take care of my aging parents, keep loving my wife.

Just thinking of the future makes me happy now.

Vivek Kedia

3:37 pm  
Anonymous Non Sequitur Man said...

Turns fifty Grammar Nazi and Lark,
Now would be a good time to remark
Why not catalogue
Chronicles of your dog
Was her bite any worse than her bark?

Happy Fiftieth, Lali. Thanks for the inspiration, Dipali.

9:05 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- You make it sound fabulous. Good health, bad memory-- here I come! Actually, I'd considered that quote, you know? Then I decided to use the Mearson quote rather. You know, it will make a grand excuse, 'I am fifty, and have bad memory'? Tee hee.

Vivek- Let's agree to differ then. You are ascribing happiness to feeling anticipation, aspiration and hope; they are fine states to be in, but happiness they are not. You can't sustain happiness, but let's agree to disagree.

NSM- Hey, she never bit anybody! She only threatened, twice, that she could do so and cause grief, if she chose to. Thanks for the limerick.

10:12 pm  
Blogger bloggerboy said...


9:32 am  
Anonymous ChronicWorrier said...

A very happy birthday to you Lalita! What you have described here seems to validate what I've been thinking..on happiness. But, did you ever find yrself 'searching' for it? Not in the sense of being in a terrible situation & looking for happiness as a break, but being in a content state and still waiting for it??
The reason I ask- if your answer is no then I'll stop looking :-) And happily pass the tale to someone else when I hit 50!!
Hap happy birthday to you!

9:44 am  
Blogger M S said...

"It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue and maybe we can actually never have it. No matter what. How did he know that? "

-Christopher Gardner
The Pursuit of HappYness

Happy fiftieth birthday :-)

2:15 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Bloggerboy- :-) back atya.

Chronicworrier- See, if we are in a terrible but inescapable situation, we might seek solace or alleviation. Happiness isn't something sought, I feel. You never go actively seeking happiness, your other goals lead you to it. At your most content state, you might still be fretting about the hangnail or needing to call the plumber. It is only when you look back you know you have been happy, that is my take on it.

MS- Thank you, Satish. TJ was talking through his hat when he said pursuit of happiness, I am afraid. :-)

2:28 pm  
Anonymous PTC said...

Happy Birthday Lalita! Enjoy your day.My phone is blocked,would try to call after office hours.

5:17 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

PTC- Yes, sir; three bags full, sir. Wunnerful day we've had sir, as per instructions.

9:15 pm  
Blogger Sue said...

Dear Lali, one fine day I asked my husband if he was happy with his life and obviously, he evaded the question but it made me realise that I've pretty much got most of the important things that I had wanted, and that they made me happy.

Happy birthday. I tried to call but Hutch refused to connect me. Rimi and I wanted to force our partying selves on you, but what with family stuff, am not sure we can pull off a party mood. When we do though, just you watch out!

2:16 am  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Woo hoo, I missed the big day. Happy belated fiftieth, Lali. Did you have a nice day? More readers writing in, it seems.

11:03 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sue- Thank you, and no worries, come when you can. :-)

Rajesh- Thanks.

2:24 pm  
Blogger netizen said... you crossed the post.
Welcome to the club.

3:57 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Netizen- Oh, you are a member? :-)

11:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you had a great day - Sorry was away so could not coment earlier. Tivi

9:00 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Tivi- I had a wonderful day, Tivi.

9:50 pm  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

Happy belated fiftieth ..

8:06 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ram- The last crumb is the sweetest, thank you.

11:46 pm  

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