I am sure all of us have a favourite time of the day. When I used to work, my favourite time was when I finally hit the bed. I looked forward to fluffing up the pillows, retrieving my paperback and reading till I could no longer keep my eyes open.
After I ‘retired’, my favourite time is afternoon; post lunch. Nothing beats settling down on the couch with some wonderful book, and reading uninterrupted for hours.
But these past few months, I must say I look forward to two particular time-slots – 8:00 AM - 8:30 AM and 4:00 PM - 4:30 PM.
One cold Jan morning, the sky was a bulging sack of dark clouds, threatening to burst with snowflakes any moment. It was bitterly cold, and I sat huddled under a fleece shawl, like an ancient Mayan tribe lord. I was totally immersed in the newspaper when I heard a loud voice outside. This was followed by shrill shouts of a child. I went up to my window and looked out. I could not help but smile.
It was a stand-off between a Mom and her Little Guy. The fellow was about two and a half feet tall. He was bundled up, and all I could see was a nose projecting from beneath the hood. Now and then, his mouth made a small ‘O’ to emit some more screeches. Mom lifted her finger and wagged it with some warnings. Little Guy crossed his teensy arms and stood like a little warrior for a minute. Then, he walked to the snow-covered grass and lay down. His Mom approached menacingly; but he was used to her tactics. He emitted a series of short blasts at very high frequency and rolled all over the lawn at top speed. By now, curtains were drawn in many flats, and faces were poking out.
On the lawn, Mom had caught hold him. But the slippery little bugger quickly unzipped his coat and ran away, leaving Mom holding on to the coat. Clearly he had pushed all the wrong buttons and Mom finally fused out; she charged at him with the speed of a panther. The Little Guy, a veteran at such predator games, promptly crawled under cars and refused to emerge. Finally, he was caught. Yes, Mom went on all fours and pulled out the little fellow – who was now laughing uncontrollably.
Mom’s anger dissipated and she joined him – both of them sitting on the slushy ground of the parking lot. Well, I thought, Little Guy got his entertainment for the morning. Who would want to go to school on such a lousy day? I saw Mom and the fellow going back to their apartment block. Guess, he won, and he would miss school. Ah! No. They came out in five minutes. The Little Guy was now on his cycle. He could not pedal properly because of the slush. Every two minutes, I heard a shrill ‘Whoopsie'. This was followed by Mom’s ‘Look OUT!’ as Little Guy headed dangerously close to the parked cars.
So that was his tantrum. He wanted to go to school on his cycle. In his world, snow and slush were meant for entertainment – and what is the use if one cannot ride a cycle in such weather?
That evening, I was once again alerted by ‘Whoopsie’ cries. I went up to the window. Sure enough, our hero had returned from school. His Mom, who must’ve been frozen by now, impatiently lifted him off the cycle. I could not hear what she said – but it sounded like an ultimatum; that Mommy was going to go inside, and he can stay on. Of course Mom would not do that; it was clearly a naive threat – she, like many Moms thought that it would scare the Little Guy. The Little Guy sniffled and shuffled. He was contemplating the next course of action. Should he cry, or should he just obey? He did neither. By then, it started snowing so he jumped on the grass again and started rolling in the mud and slush and snow. By the time Mom lifted him, he was blissfully caked with the earth; he was as happy as can be.
From then on, I always keep an eye out for him. From my fifth floor, I can only see a shock of blond hair darting about at the speed of bullet. I don’t know his name, but to me he is Little Guy.
Little Guy’s soul resides in his shiny black cycle. Weather be damned, the cycle has to be ridden, stunts have to be tried and tested. Also, one of the cardinal rules of cycle riding tradition is that every pedal push has to be accompanied by a war cry.
On warm evenings, Little Guy and his cycle lie on the grass after some frenzied stunts. Mom comes by to give him a good tickle, his irrepressible laughter spreading around like dreamy soap bubbles. Then, the ice-cream truck rolls by with its silly TING TING music and sure enough, Little Guy is up on his feet with a ‘wheeee’ uttered in some supersonic frequency. As he rushes to the truck to choose his flavour, he keeps glancing back, to make sure his pal, The Cycle is still on the grass.
As I hear his ecstatic screams every now and then, I think to myself – “When did we lose this? This ability to be happy?” I chat with a couple of my friends, and casually ask, “Are you happy? I mean happy happy?” Some shush me and ask me not to bug them with philosophy. Some say a vanilla “Yes, I guess so.”
But I dig deeper. “I mean, you know...I don’t know how to put this. When was the last time that you felt mind-numbing happiness?” My short survey with a very miniscule population comes up with a predictable answer. “Can’t remember.” The most popular events that caused mind-numbing happiness was the birth of a child, or hearing ‘I love you’ for the first time. There were the odd ‘happy’ moments brought about by academic or career success. But these are events that occurred ‘long ago’. In general, it seemed that life has reached equilibrium of sorts. The absence of sadness is deemed as happiness. And these are not answers I am looking for. I wanted to know when the last time was when someone was happy without a reason.You look out the window and see rain – you’re super happy to step out like Little Guy. You look out the window and see sunshine and hey! You are super happy to step out. Again, when did we lose this?
My answer was given by my new-found Guru – Little Guy again. One fine summery evening, Little Guy stood sullenly on the lawn. That was a surprise – he should have been doing his wheelie by now. A frown creased his forehead. He stared at his friends – two boys taller than him by half a foot. They were on skateboards. Little Guy looked at his cycle and looked at the skateboards. He kicked his cycle and ran into his apartment block yelling “MU-UH-UMM! Want katebord!” For a week, there was silence. The cycle never came out. Then I heard a whoop again. Little Guy was on a Little Katebord. He’ll be happy for a while, till he spots something else which he feels he absolutely wants. And till he gets that new thing, he’ll be sad.
I laughed. Indeed such is life. Wise men across the ages have contemplated on this very question of happiness. Eternal Bliss. Something that can be experienced only from within. Something that cannot be derived from the external universe. I am not ready for that yet. My body and mind cannot withstand that happiness. Till such time, it is enough if I sip on my diluted version of the Happy Tonic, like the Little Guy and his cycle. I’ve made progress though – I’ve broken the barrier of ‘Happiness Through Consumerism’. My tonic now is a mix of some sunshine, a good song, some good prose. Yeah...that’s my tonic. For this life, it is good enough.
© Sumana Khan - 2011