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?

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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.