The Pursuit of Happiness

Christopher Gardner: “…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?”

-The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

For so long I imagined that coming here, to America, away from home, away from my overprotective parents, away from the norm, the drudgery, the monotony of Mumbai, same old Somaiya, same old work, same old Mulund, same old Marine Drive, Bandra, Theobroma and Pop Tate’s, and the same old people… is exactly what I wanted. For so long, I thought: “Wait till you get into a good college. Wait till you get to study under excellent teachers, score well, and work on awesome things. Wait till you get a good job, good friends, and a good hangout place where the server knows your name and asks you every time if you want your usual. Then I will be happy. Only then. So my life kinda sucks right now, but that’s okay because when all these things happen, then I will be happy. Because I’ll have everything I ever wanted.”

Well, guess what. I stay in Manhattan. I go to Columbia. I come home at 1 in the night everyday, and can be later if I wish to. Because nobody tells me what to do. I have the option of eating whatever I am in the mood for- it’s New York! I have my own room. One big, beautiful library I can study in for however long I want. One best friend only 20 minutes away. World’s best brands to shop from- and two wonderful, extremely generous parents who tell me not to worry about the money, to go out and drink and stop worrying so much about homework.

This list of ‘I haves’ may seem pretentious. But it only goes to show that despite all these privileges, despite all the fantastic things around me, this fantastic school, this fantastic city, this seemingly fantastic life… it is just me. Away from home. Away from my loving, overprotective parents. Away from the familiar comfort of Mumbai- away from Marine Drive, Bandra, Theobroma and Pop Tate’s. Away from Somaiya, where I had friends. Away from my job, where everything was so easy. So far away from every thing I held dear and always took for granted.

Maybe this is a delayed reaction to homesickness. Or just a very long, sad rant.

I see all these ‘Happiness is…” posts on Facebook, and all I can think of is what unhappiness is. Unhappiness is the F you get after working your ass off on an assignment for ten hours. It’s watching the quiet French-American guy in your Complexity class taking notes, wishing you could talk to him. It’s telling your parents you can’t FaceTime right now, because there’s too much to do. It’s not being able to call up your friends in India, because there is no time. It’s fighting with them over and over, trying to convince them that you really don’t have the time to talk, because this assignment is due midnight, it HAS to be done. It’s hating on other students for putting up photos on Facebook of some club they went to last night- because they don’t have all that homework; they’re Chem or Mech students, of course life is easy for them. It’s moments in class when you don’t understand anything at all, and all you can think is “Dear God, I am paying five grand for this course.” It’s passing the Columbia Journalism building and wondering if CS is what you want to do. It’s moments in the library, when you’re tired because your code won’t work, and you look up from your laptop, look at all the faces around you- poring into a book, staring furiously at a laptop, chewing at the ends of their pens, scribbling notes… and you wonder if anyone else feels the way you do. Is everyone else just as fucked up?

Fans of tough love (or my fellow New Yorkers) might tell me to stop being a whiny bitch. To suck it up and work harder. Fail an assignment? Study. Don’t follow what the teacher says? Ask questions. Don’t have anyone to talk to? Go out and make friends. Well, guess what. I am trying. I am trying.

“The pursuit of happiness”. Pursuit. It’s always the pursuit. Because we keep hoping life will get better, that it’s okay to be sad now, because there will be happy moments later- all you have to do is wait. Wait to grow up, wait to get into a good college, wait to leave your house, wait to get a good job, wait to be thin, wait to meet someone, fall in love and get married, wait for your life to start, to be something like a movie. It never is. So don’t wait. Grab what fleeting little you have. And make the most of it.

There’s a line in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind: “…because you’re such a child, Scarlett. A child crying for the moon. What would a child do with the moon if it got it?”

What would you do if you had the moon? What would you do if you had the moon?


Fuck This Shit, Bro.

I went to the screening of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello the other day. It was my first time watching an opera, and I was reminded of Richard Gere’s dialogue in Pretty Woman: “People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.” I was in tears in the final act when Othello accuses Desdemona of adultery, calls her a whore repeatedly, and finally smothers her to death. I walked out of NCPA, overwhelmed by the experience, happy to have been introduced to the world of opera (thanks Gayatree!), and snobbishly declared: “While others watch stuff like Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya, we watch Verdi’s Otello!”

The next day I dragged my brother with me to watch Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya.

As awful as the title may be, the movie was umm… awful-er, but who cares as long as I get to stare at the pretty Alia Bhatt for two hours (it’s a fascination thing, not lesbianism). So a huge chunk of the movie involves Alia running around Delhi, making MMS videos and what not, all to buy the perfect “designer lehenga” for her wedding. Because “local lehengas” are boring. And towards the end, when her Dad asks why she stuck to the fifty grand local one instead of the 2.5 lacs imported one (#FirstWorldProblems), she says, “Mere liye local hi accha hai. Designer suit nahi karta.” Aww.

And this finally brings me to the point of this entire rambling: To all my friends packing their bags to go off for their Masters degree at fancy Amreekan universities, let us vow not to become pretentious assholes.

In my four years at college, I had the dubitable joy of meeting several obnoxious faux Amreekan Indians- some didn’t have any Hindi songs on their iPods, some never spoke Hindi, some didn’t eat street food, and some didn’t watch Bollywood movies. If you’re one of these, and if it’s a matter of personal preference, fine, no problem. But if you’re doing it purely out of disdain for all that’s Indian… *read with an accent* You got problems, bruh.

A friend of mine told me: “If you become a pretentious douchebag after moving to New York, I will not only troll you, I will unfriend you.” Right. Keeping that in mind, I came up with a few random rules to follow while in the States:
1. Thou shalt not get an accent and start rolling your r’s within six months.
2. Thou shalt not start using words like YOLO, swag, bro, motherfucker, fuck this shit, etc. incessantly (or at all).
3. Thou shalt not look at Bollywood fans condescendingly.
4. Thou shalt not cringe or go “God, so vulgar!” on hearing a fellow Indian say “Kya ch****a hai, yaar.” It’s the Hindi equivalent of “What a fucking moron.” and you say it all the time.
5. On returning to India, thou shalt not say anything that starts with: “This country is so…” (It’s your country. Don’t talk like an effing tourist.)
6. Thou shalt not Americanize your name into a cool, short something and introduce yourself with that.

If you have any more, feel free to add. And if you are in America right now, guilty of any of these, go listen to some Honey Singh immediately. Or call up your Mum. Whatever.

Because no matter where you go, America or the Bora Bora islands, you’ll always be Indian. With all your little quirks like talking loudly and loving a good hackneyed Bollywood movie and always, always preferring hot and spicy food and wildly colourful clothes. Remember: Local hi accha hai, designer suit nahi karta.

Pride & Prejudice.

I’ve never had an opinion about hospitals. You know how some people are scared or just plain hate them because it’s associated with some painful memory? Well, I’ve never had any. My childhood was pretty normal, devoid of any major accidents, and the most serious injury involved a minor arm fracture that healed well in time before my exams (sadly). 

My grandmother, my Awwa was hospitalized yesterday. That is where I am right now. Looking around this depressingly white, small, sad room. Smelling all the weird smells that come and go. Thinking what it must be like to be her. To be all of ninety years. To be fragile, and weak, and have your wrinkly skin barely hang off your bones. To wear the thin, light purple gown the hospital gave you, and not care that it does not even cover your chest or legs properly. To have nurses poke needles in you, and tell you it’s for your own good, while someone you love holds your hand and keeps theirs lightly over your forehead. To have swollen, black patches on your arm where those needles are poked. To have a catheter inside you, one that keeps falling off. To not care that the nurses leave the room curtains open every time they walk out, leaving you exposed to strangers. To be unreasonable, stubbornly so, about eating food. To not have anyone understand what you’re going through, nor be able to explain it. 

She needed a blood transfusion yesterday. What do you think was the first question my atya (father’s sister, my aunt) asked about this? “Whose blood are they giving her?” Irritated by the sheer stupidity of this, my Dad said, “A Muslim’s.” My aunt missed the sarcasm in his answer and proceeded to harangue Dad with her loud opinion of using a Muslim’s blood. “Summa kudu, Viju!” (Keep quiet, Viju!), said Awwa, out of nowhere, shocking us. Awwa, who had spent all her life hating Muslims, telling me and my brother never to marry one, grimacing every time I talked about any of my Muslim friends, and holding this prejudice proudly and unapologetically close to her heart… She told my aunt to shut up, implicitly saying that it did not matter to her.

We’re funny, all of us. We have so many names for each other. Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jew, Israeli, Paki, backward, black, nigger, orthodox, liberal, slut, whore, nerd, loser, fat, stupid, ugly, skinny, bastard, asshole, a fucking moron. And yet, when we’re 90, writhing in pain on a hospital bed, hooked up to dead machines, waiting for our fucked up bodies to function properly, waiting for our mushed up brains to remember who these strangers around you are, waiting just to get through it all, foregoing all the prejudices we ever held, we turn into the names that were originally and always meant for us: Helpless. Weak. Human.

Dude, Where’s MY Billion Dollars?

What will you do if you find a 50 paise coin on the road? Nothing, right? Alright. What about a 1 or 5 rupee coin? Or a 10 rupee note? How about a 100? Needless to say, most of us will grab the money and walk away, grinning foolishly. What do you think Bill Gates would do? Assuming it takes 3 seconds to bend down, pick up the money, and stand up straight again. Well, according to point no. 4 in this article, Bill Gates makes $114.67  per second. That’s 114.67*60=   Rs. 6880. In a second. And there are 86,400 seconds in a day. And, also, that article was almost a year old, so that number has to be adjusted for inflation. Also, I make a little more than 3 lacs p.a. So it takes Bill Gates almost 45 seconds to make how much I do IN A YEAR. YES. THAT’S HOW CRAZILY, INSANELY, AWESOMELY, DEPRESSINGLY, SELF-ESTEEM-SHATTERINGLY RICH BILL GATES IS.

So why am I harping on about Bill Gates on this lovely Saturday afternoon? That’s because I only just saw this video in which Neil deGrasse Tyson uses basic Math to explain exactly how rich Bill Gates is to all the muggles in the audience:

Billion. Buh-illion. With a B. 50 of those. With nine effing zeroes.

And this reminded me of my post (Look Ma, No IIT Background!) where I was harping on about another rich guy- Satya Nadella- also of the Microsoft fraternity, and about how his salary was a 100 crores; I basically brushed the little trivia off in a pretentious I-don’t-really-care-about-money-who-is-Satya-Nadella-really-come-on manner, and forgot all about it till I came across this funny/sad video.

So to sum up my babbling in two words: Fuck complacency. Fuck leading a small, tranquil life with the ones you love. Why should one person alone be allowed to be worth $50 billion dollars? Screw you, Mr. Gates. Where’s my money? Where’s yours? It’s out there. Somewhere. Going round and round in the world. So go out, work your ass off, and get those billion dollars. Easier said than done, yes, but you know what’s easier? Doing nothing about it. Anyhoo. I was never very good at pep talk or inspirational speeches. So all I can say is: Don’t be happy with what you have. Screw that. Work, work, work. You may not make a billion dollars, but hey, a billion-adjacent isn’t bad either, right? Definitely beats only dreaming about it. 

Of Dumb Thoughts & Smartphones.

My iPhone developed the non-functional Sleep/Wake button bug last week (all Android users reading this post, yes, go ahead and congratulate yourselves on your wise choices), so I decided to take it to the Apple Service Center. Now, if I was in the US, this is probably what would have happened-

Me: Hi. My iPhone has a faulty Lock button, I need to get it replaced.
Service Center Guy: Alright. Lemme just check if it’s in warranty. Yup, yup, it is. Submit your old phone, please, and just sign this paper here. Here’s your replacement.
Me: Oh, thank you! *walk out staring at the gorgeous new phone, wondering what just happened, crazy, smug expression plastered all over face*.

But I am in India. Bharat. And this is what actually happened-

Me: Hi. My iPhone has a faulty Lock button, I need to get it replaced.
Service Center Aurat: Do you have the purchase invoice?
Me: Erm. No…? Can’t you just look up the Serial Number in Settings and check online?
SCA: Yeah, I can.. But that’s for my reference, no? (whatever that means)
…ten minutes pass…
SCA: Yes. Okay. It’s in warranty. You will have to submit your old phone. You’ll get your replacement on Monday.
Me: Whaa? That’s next week! Could you at least give me a loaner phone?
SCA: No, sorry. Why would we do that?
Me: Because it says so on the website?
SCA: Kya? Show me, please?
<Insert long, lengthy, in vain argument (think: The Newshour With Arnab Goswami) where I show her the loaner thing on Apple’s Support page, she says we don’t do that sorry, I go so what am I supposed to do without a phone, she says we are really very sorry, and I say but what will I do without a phone! blar blar blar… Long, lengthy, in vain argument ends with her basically saying, “Look. Do you want a replacement or not?”>

This was last Wednesday. I spent four glorious days without a phone. Yes. I was phone-less. And I realized, not once did I have the following thoughts in that period:

“Oh, do I have a Whatsapp message?”
“No. No messages.”
“Let’s check Facebook. Huh. No new notifications.”
“Ooh. SMS. Fuck. Two grand Vodafone bill. How, how?”
“He didn’t call.”
“Still hasn’t called.”
“Why won’t he call?”
“Why won’t this effing Tweet go?”
“Battery low. Damn it!”
“New pic on Instagram up for 6 hours now. No likes. Bah.”
“Fine, I’ll just text him.”
“Okay, what’s his Last Seen At?”
“Online and won’t reply. Bastard.”
“New mail! Explore the handpicked summer collection… Delete.”
“Die Flappy Bird! DIE!”
“Phone ringing! Okay. It’s just Mum.”

And these are the thoughts my Mum and Dad had during this period:

“Where is she?”
“Who is she with?”
“Why did she buy that stupid phone?!”
“Call her friend! Call right now!”
“Who, WHO is she with?”

So, you see, kids. Life without a phone is much better. Not for your parents, of course. But let’s leave that out. Moral of the story is: Look up from your fancy cell phones. Look at the people around you. Talk to them. We are more than the phones we carry and obsess over. Learn to live lif- ooooh, he texted! Gotta go, bye.


Bzzz bzzz.

4:35 am.

Fumbling for phone.

Have it in hand now. Right. Open Mail. Struggle to read through groggy eyes.

“Congratulations… ”

…Whassat? Holy shit, I got in. Oh my god, oh my god. I got in! I got in!

That was one minute of my life yesterday. One minute spent entirely being absolutely, and purely happy. Research tells us that we spend 46 percent of our waking time dreaming about a different world, with different, better circumstances, and that this mind-wandering is a sign of unhappiness. Well, guess what. I’ve been spending about 109 percent of my time over the last four months dreaming of an acceptance letter from one of the 8 schools I applied to for their Masters programme. “Dreaming” is kinda an understatement. Pulling my hair out, checking my mail ten times a day, cyber-stalking and, boring friends to death with my sad whining… yeah, that about covers it. But that one minute yesterday kinda made up for it. I am happy. Not thinking, “God, why didn’t I apply to more schools?”, or “How the f*** did he get into USC?!” or “I am pretty sure the stupid admissions committee is making paper planes out of my application.” Nope, nope, none of that. I am happy.

So the follow-up to that one minute looked something out of Pharrell Williams’ video Happy: (jump to 2:22, I am the guy with the mad afro)

So if you are where I was pre-4:35 am yesterday- an obsessive and neurotic pain in the neck for everyone around you, I am not going to tell you to be anything otherwise. Just know that when you finally, FINALLY get that acceptance letter, all that paranoia, all those “I hate XYZ college and I hate America!” moments disappear. All you’re left with is being happy.

(And more day-dreaming, of course.)

Look Ma, No IIT background!

So this morning, I am sitting at the dining table, sipping chai from my favorite yellow cup, half-asleep, dreading work, when my phone rings. It was Dad. This was the conversation-

Dad: “Shrijee! Did you read the newspaper today?”
Me: “No. I get my news online at work.”
Dad: “You know that Nadella guy… the CEO of Microsoft?”
Me: “Uhuh.”
Dad: “Do you know his salary?”
Me: “Erm. No?”
Dad: “It’s 100 crores.”
Me (almost dropping my cup, eyes wide open): “WHAT?”
Dad (laughing like a mad man): “Nice na?!”
Me: “That’s like the net worth of a small company!”
Dad: “YEAH!”
Me: “Par sala itne paise ka karega kya?

When Bill Gates announced Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella as the new CEO of Microsoft, all of India felt emotions ranging from joy and pride to jealousy and “Look at him! You also have to be like him!” (the latter being felt by our dear Indian parents, of course). I am pretty sure the 100-crore figure caused at least a few thousand (read: lac) parents to say “You have to work hard and crack the JEE!” or “If only you had worked hard and cracked the JEE!”. My own parents are guilty of the latter.

Incidentally, I couldn’t believe the salary amount. So I checked, and guess what. It IS a fucking 108 crores a year!

This is all well and good, but the catch is that Satya Nadella never went to an IIT. Yes, that’s right. He got his BE in Electronics and Telecommunications from the Manipal Insititute of Technology, and later did an MS in Computer Science from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. What’s that? So a person who did NOT have a degree from one of the IITs (and did not even have an undergrad degree in Computer Science, for that matter) became the CEO of the world’s biggest software company? Yup. Suck on that, crazy-competitive Indian education system and overly ambitious, pushy parents.

Dad really pissed me off this morning by saying “If only you had worked a little harder in 11th… blah blah blah”. As if the only way to succeed in life is by getting an admission into the IIT. Granted, it’ll remain one of my biggest regrets- not because an IIT-education guarantees (or almost guarantees) a ticket to ‘the good life’ (a seven-figure starting salary), but because I  missed out on the whole “IIT-experience”. Okay, I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I have two very good friends who’ve passed out from there, and from what they’ve told me and/or put up oh-so-modestly on their Facebook timelines, their four years of college seemed pretty damning good to me.

I don’t think my blog is read by any adults (read: people with teenage kids), I think it’s mostly 20-somethings (read: my bored college friends who are nice enough to humour my little blogging habit), but if you’re reading this, and you’re a parent with a kid in 8th/9th/10th std, please, please don’t bully him into studying for the JEE. Let him decide. IITs are not the only way to succeed in life. And how do you even measure success? My mum is 50 years old, works in a bank and earns a modest salary of 45k per month. And she’s happy. Sure, the 100-crore sum made her eyeballs pop out for a second, but she wouldn’t trade her quiet life with one loving husband and one sweet (and a little cranky) mother-in-law for it. So the question is, how do you measure success? Is it by the number of loved ones around you or by the number of crores saved up in your bank account?

Like I said, sala itne paise ka karega kya?