By Sharukh Vazifdar
Do we really need all the modern amenities that we “can’t do without?” Do they really make our lives happier or lead us on to wanting more?
Today’s trends of bigger is better, and more is happier are everywhere, but whether these are genuinely in our welfare is for us to judge. A close family friend who stopped by our house shared her conviction on how we can live off less and still be happy. Immediately, a very emotional and memorable experience popped into my head.
In the mid ’90s, my family was renovating our house in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai, and we needed to relocate for a few months until the work had been completed. We went to the Bhabha Sanatorium at Bandstand, a beautiful seafront. It is a place where Parsis (the community my family belongs to), who cannot afford a house, come to stay for a part of the year and then shift to another sanatorium at Breach Candy for the remaining part. We took a one-bedroom apartment, quite similar in size to our home. We were not permitted to take our furniture there, only appliances. While we had almost all the appliances that were available at the time, like a TV, washing machine, microwave oven, fridge, cordless phone, water heater, water purifier, we took only the iron and a portable table fan with us. There were very few electrical points there and we did not trust their quality. This was the pre-cellphone era, so we did not have a phone.
|A philosopher by birth, an engineer by qualification, and now a journalist by
profession, Sharukh Vazifdar has found spirituality to be his calling.
My brother and I were still in school at this time and could not comprehend the seriousness of the situation. However, we enjoyed our seven months at the sanatorium! In spite of the rickety furniture, absence of the TV, the missing fridge or the cold bucket baths, we were on top of the world! Can you imagine a Mumbai summer without ceiling fans? But when you live next to the sea with the breeze keeping you cool, you don’t need one. The one table fan we had, sufficed in the bedroom during the nights. We warmed our bathwater on the stove to remove the chill, but never too warm. We did miss the shower but it was all right. Having no fridge was a bit of a handicap, because my mom would need to buy small amounts of vegetables and cook just enough for the next meal. But we smiled through it all, enjoying our favourite pav bhaji ever so often. The evening walks by the seaside and sometimes on the rocks were breathtaking. Throwing pebbles into the water, dodging the tide as it came in, watching the boats on the horizon turn on their lights at dusk.
I remember my brother and I sneaking through the bushes to pluck lemons from the landlord’s garden every evening, and then enjoying the spoils – a glass of freshly squeezed limbu paani. We made some great friends there too, especially with the four resident dogs! We still chuckle over the time Catee, a dog with a cataract in one eye, ate up the gardener’s chicken. Even with one eye, she was the most adventurous of the lot. Another time, one of the kids staying there, came running screaming “python!”. We all rushed out in terror only to find what may have been a big earthworm or a garden snake. The day the packers came to move our belongings out, the oldest and most neglected dog, Kaalu, almost bit a packer because he thought he was taking us away. I don’t have a single photograph of our adventure at the sanatorium, but I remember it all like it was yesterday.
This made me realise that our happiness doesn’t come from what we have but who we are. We don’t derive our sense of self from what is around us but what is inside us. Although we did miss our comforts, we were happy. This insight was further instilled into me when I went for a Vipassana retreat last February. Although I only took a few sets of clothes, I was content; and replete. The contrast between my austerity and the world outside clamouring with needs and wants, helped me recognise once again, that all that is required is peace. The retreat converted me into a detached person, neither worried nor tense. This has been an experience that has truly changed my life. I have realised that all that I wanted and gained pleasure from could not make me truly happy; all that it gave was maybe just a little elation. True happiness lies inside; it is a state of being and not of having. But as I finished my retreat, I found it wasn’t easy to pursue such a belief living in a material world. I have just started this journey.
Recently, we bought a new refrigerator when the old one gave way after 25 years. I needed to say a final goodbye to the old one before it was taken away. I find myself addicted to things around me. I love my laptop, my cellphone, my clothes and my books, but recently I have realised that these things do not define me. I am me with them or without them. My happiness depends on what is inside me and not what is outside. I am working towards a state where having and not having are the same. Where desire may be present but not influential. But for now, I must return to my cellphone and my laptop, and struggle to be happy, not because of, but in spite of them.
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