P and I were casually talking about some of her relatives; this couple who are quite close to us and are absolutely great people to be with - both in their late fifties, their daughters, professionals, happily married and settled. The one word that comes to my mind to describe them is - elegant. The couple has this aura of gentle charm of true-blue aristocrats, has easy-going manners. They put you at ease straight away - that is one real quality of goodness in people. Right from the time of our marriage 22 years ago, I had liked this couple very much; though never keen on socializing, I was always happy to spend time with them. Both were professional bankers; both took VRS ( Voluntary retirement) when they found the stress of their jobs too much to handle and now lived quietly, content, spending time among their place in Kochi, and the daughters' in the US and elsewhere.
Contemplating on VRS myself, I said - ' Look at Chettan - he is happily spending his life, reading and travelling and just being himself'. P replied - ' Oh yeah, he was always a 'Sukhimaan'. I would translate the word Sukhimaan to Lotus-eater. My Malayalee readers might help me with a better word.
It reminded me of the old joke about the 'Development/ progress' - obsessed American meeting the Indian farmer, relaxing beneath a tree, playing a flute and enjoying the breeze. Don't you want development, the American asks, we will give you money to buy cows. Interested, the Indian farmer asked - Good, what then? 'You can make more money and then you will be able to have your own farm'. Wow, this is great! What then? 'You can make more money and buy cars and build big houses'. Awesome, says the farmer, sitting up, tell me more. 'And then', said the American, 'you will have so much money that you can relax and live happily ever after'. The Indian farmer leant back and took up the flute. He smied and said - Thats exactly what I am doing now.
There is a short story by Maugham, 'The Lotus Eater'. The protagonist in the story is a banker! Maugham, like Hemingway and Shute, shaped my interest in English literature.
But more than the word Sukhimaan, P's intonation was loaded with meaning - it was an accusation. That stung me. I asked her what is wrong with being a sukhimaan. We are not talking about laziness, of indolence, but of someone in his mid-fifties deciding to take it easy. He opted out of the rat race, of the stress that was affecting his physical and mental health - he just retired. He might be making less money, he may not have a 'status' now, no authority, no influence, no domination, no pomp and postion. But he is happy. Is it a crime not having to struggle, not to suffer, not to take up huge responsibilities, not to be stressed? What is the purpose, the ultimate goal of our lives, the very meaning of existence, if it is not the pursuit of happiness? Why do we envy those who have stopped pursuing happiness and have realised that happiness is not a goal at the farthest end of horizon but is right here, at this moment?
'Moreover', I told P - 'take that barb out of your mouth.'
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 22-07-2012