Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

Zindagi achii hai (Life is good)

April 14, 2011

I don’t know if it’s possible to be happier than I am right now.

Why? See, happiness can usually be attributed to individual events, such as doing well on an exam or seeing your favorite team win a sporting event. These moments of elation always fade away as time goes on – not because we want to forget them, but because life is just too crowded. Even the best movies eventually come to an end, and when you leave the movie theater, life resumes just as it did before. It’s the same way with things that make us happy. The memories fade.

Sometime Tuesday night, I was standing alone with nothing to do, a day of memories complete.

And after some serious thought, I realized I had absolutely no reason to be unhappy.

The best moments of the day had passed. I’d gone with my host family in the early afternoon on a day trip to a farm 20 kilometers outside Nagpur, where a breathtaking panorama greeted us atop a pudgy little yellow hill. I’d spent the evening with friends – not all of them – but enough to make me smile on several occasions. Hindi class, as it so often is, was informative, interesting and fun. I watched as Sachin Tendulkar and the Mumbai Indians won their IPL match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore that evening. Not only was my dinner satisfying and filling, but I had a box of Easter candy from my mom awaiting me upstairs, should the craving arise. (It did.)

Perhaps it’s just because I’ve spent so much of my life procrastinating, but my life has always been filled with a perpetual nagging tension to get things done. During the school year it’s normally an assignment or test for which I’ve yet to prepare. During the breaks, too, there’s always some form to fill out, some place to visit, or some person to talk to. In India, I’ve had no legitimate tests or homework to worry about, but for various reasons, there’s always been some reason to take tension.

About two months after arriving in India, I stopped writing this blog, and the most difficult part of my exchange began. Between mid-September and the beginning of the South Tour, I had little to do, but everyday life was confusing, stressful and filled with uncertainty. Instead of taking tension from the predictable stress of having too much to do, now there was the tension of having too little. Spontaneity was maddening; either everything was happening at once, or nothing was happening at all.

Though I temporarily stopped writing blogs, I didn’t stop writing. In half-complete notes to myself or emails I never sent, I mulled happiness and the means by which it could be achieved. I’d open Microsoft Word or TextEdit and type half a sentence, half a paragraph, half a blog…but never finish.

They were always incomplete, see, because I didn’t know how to finish them.

In retrospect, this was the period of culture shock that every exchange student goes through. My problems, however trivial, weren’t about to go away if I just ignored them. My dirty clothes weren’t going to wash themselves. The broken internet on my computer wasn’t about to fix itself. Hindi and Marathi (one, the other, or both?) weren’t going to sponge into my brain overnight. Leave enough small problems untreated, and they don’t seem nearly as insignificant as they do on their own.

Sometime today, about five months after that period of my life ended, I realized I have precisely zero problems in my life.

I gave it some thought. Navigating everyday life no longer takes the effort it took months ago. The weight on my shoulders, steadily decreasing for months, now felt feather-light. I eat great food every day, and I know how to eat it. I have great people in my life every day, and I get along well with all of them. My bed is comfortable. The music on my laptop sounds great on my new headphones. And heck, just days ago my country won the Cricket World Cup!

At home, too, I know all is well – even without regular internet access. Many of the things that made me worry about my return are taken care of or on the verge of completion. With about a month and a half until returning to Illinois, the anticipation of seeing people I care about finally outweighs the sadness of their absence. And the internet-wallah came yesterday. My computer is back to full health!

Even the weather is cooperating. It’s rained about five times in the last week – almost like springtime in Champaign. The 100 degree (F) temperatures are about ten below normal for Nagpur this time of year. Even without rain, there’s often plenty of cloud cover.

Jojo the dog is quenching his thirst by loudly gulping water from a pot outside. It could be rainwater or tap water, I don’t know. The sound makes me smile.

Really, what reason is there to do anything else?

Life is too good, na?



Much more to come!


South Tour: Goa – The beginning of the end

January 2, 2011

11 Dec – 14 Dec

NAGPUR: In the three days since boarding a Nagpur-bound train in Mumbai, I’ve spent more time asleep than I have awake.

Sleep debt is the reason I’ve waited three days to write my end-of-tour recap, which I’d planned to write on the final leg of our journey, and the reason I penciled nothing in Mumbai or Goa – two destinations which gave me much to say and little time in which to write. I could have taken out my laptop to finish these entries, but it seems more prudent and appropriate for me to write these by hand first.

Now that I’m back in Nagpur, well-rested, well-fed, and more comfortable than I’ve been in weeks, here’s what I did before I got here.

Our train from Kochi to Madgaon arrived before sunrise on Sunday – the only time of day, in retrospect, when Goa actually seems to sleep.

I think it’s safe to call Goa the beach and party capital of India. Nowhere else on the tour – save perhaps the hill stations – can match the natural beauty of the beaches we visited. From the cliffs where we parked our bus, the beach looked just as it was billed beforehand: relaxing and beautiful.

As we made our way down from those cliffs, however, relaxing didn’t seem an appropriate word anymore. Unlike the beach at Mahabalipuram, tourists clogged the shores of Goa – especially after morning turned into afternoon. Rather than lying underneath a palm tree sipping coconut juice, I took an active approach to enjoying the beaches we visited: tossing around a small ball that Amanda [Washington, USA] had been “given”, taking a brief but exhilarating ride on a jetski, and attempting (and failing) to bodysurf the gentle waves that rarely came in higher than my head. Goa was the setting for a lot of great memories that day – and that night. I fell asleep before we could finish watching Scream together – at 4:30 a.m.

I woke up late Monday morning, and the day seemed much more relaxing than the day before. It was late afternoon before we drove to the beach and buried Jakob in the warm Goa sand. Our attempts at bodysurfing failed once again.

Mostly what I’ll remember from this day is the sunset.

Having missed it the day before, and having not seen a true sunset since the Golkunda Fort in Hyderabad, I was eager to watch the sun set over the Arabian Sea. After half a day enjoying the beach, I stood facing west with my arms crossed and my shirt over my shoulder as the others gathered their things, ready to head back to the hotel for the night. The sun crept lower in the sky.

“What are you doing, Chris?” someone asked me.

I’m brought back now to a lecture we had at the Grand Rapids conference in July. The speaker cited a survey wherein adults were asked an interesting question. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the jist of it was: How much time in your life have you spent really enjoying life – blissful, exhilarated, and purely happy?

The average response: ten minutes

For about ten minutes, I watched the sun fade into the clouds just over the horizon. It was a dull orange sunset, the kind that brightens the nearby clouds and makes them glow in multicolored streaks and puffs of light. The sun grew darker and darker as it went down, to the point that I could stare at it without holes being burned through my eyes. As we walked back along the beach, it grew fainter against the clouds until it nearly blended into them. I plucked my eyes away for a second, looked back, and it was gone.

What was I doing for those ten minutes? Just enjoying life – amidst some of the best friends I’ll ever have. Some were snapping pictures of the moment, some were chatting with each other, and some stood like I was, just looking, caught in the world’s best timepass. It was just one of many moments from this tour where I could put my happiness atop the scale from 1 to 10.

I feel bad for the people who’ve only been happy like this for ten minutes – not because they’ve never seen the sun set in Goa – but because moments like this aren’t about where you are in the world, they’re about who you’re with when you have them.

By our third and final day in Goa, it was becoming clear our time together was coming to a close.

Even for a tourist destination, Goa seems less like India than anywhere else on this tour. We found items we hadn’t found anywhere else in India – Oreos and Pringles for some, Gatorade and a Frisbee for me. Combined with the chips and pizza we so frequently consumed on the tour, we may as well have been in a different country.

The highlights of our third day in Goa were the two cavernous churches we visited in Old Goa that dwarfed the one we’d seen in Kochi. In a cathedral large enough to hold several houses, it was hard not to feel a sense of awe, however out of place a building seems amidst rickshaws and palm trees. Seeing this, combined with the imminence of our departure, was too much for some of us to stay composed. It was just too much like home.

I don’t remember much from our train ride to Mumbai except the arrangement of our seats. Normally when we traveled by train, our compartments were separated, sometimes even on different cars. This time, however, our three compartments sat next to each other, and we spent our last train ride together closer than ever before.

If for no other reason than symbolism, it was a nice arrangement.


Click to enlarge