City of Happy Things

 

When I write this I am extremely happy. In fact I am so happy that even if you punched me right in the face, I would still give you a hug, pat your shoulders and drag you to a candy shop to buy you a handful of strawberry jellies. And the best thing is that I have absolutely no reason to be happy except that tomorrow they’ll serve idlis for breakfast in the mess. I am writing this post, because I am your granny and I suddenly want everyone to be very happy. If you can’t write about happiness when you are happy, when can you eh?

In one of his movies, Hugh Grant says that whenever he gets sad, he thinks about the arrival gates at the Heathrow Airport and feels the presence of love everywhere. When Gandhiji was sad he thought about human history where only truth and love have always won. And when I get sad I either watch Schindler’s List and cry or I read Shakespeare and cry. There were times when I actually googled pictures of the 2004 Tsunami for a cathartic outlet. And of course, there are children dying in Sudan! I am proudly a real connoisseur of crying. I could breakdown like anything if see a fat middle-aged male eating food. Because the sight of a fat middle-aged male eating food is so beautiful!

You might know as well as I do that, despite being a useless idea to negate your sadness and holding it back, comparing your sadness is intolerably stupid. Obviously the children in Sudan aren’t going to benefit from a deranged girl crying in India thinking about their misery. So I am going to be a bit philosophical about this and tell you why it is important to pursue happiness when you are down in your spirits. I think sadness might be our mind’s own way saying ‘get the fuck out and do something’. It is based on this philosophy that I decided to roam around Chennai this weekend, which is perhaps one of the best decisions I made since I threw away that bottle of hand sanitizer to deal with OCD all by myself.

At Chennai Central at 12 pm, what one needs the most is not cup of filter coffee, but it is Tamil that would prove very useful; the same Tamil where the only sentence I can properly utter is “Actually Anna enikk Tamizh theriyath” (Actually I really don’t know Tamil). After providing a list of phrases to the auto-driver which included ‘fort?, government office?, legislative assembly?, Gloucestor street?, Museum?, Anna antha British Fort!, moat? and  Infantry officers mess?’ the Malayalam origins forced me to say ‘kotta’ which was apparently the apt thing to say to that poor old man. And he took me to Fort St George.

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If there is one place that I would never get tired of visiting, it is definitely the museum at Fort St George. Formerly serving as a mess for the infantry officers of the East India Company, today this building is a three- storeyed museum hosting coins, pistols, daggers, bayonets, medals, vessels, paintings and uniforms that were in use during the early 18th century. There is one particular painting to which I would like to draw your attention to. This is a portrait of Arthur Havelock by Raja Ravi Varma painted in a three-dimensional technique. It is disturbing and beautiful because if you turn to right, it seems that Havelock just turned towards right. And when you are in the left of the painting, the guy in the picture is suddenly turning to the left and staring at you. That man in the painting is following your movements! Now, talking about goodness in the world, let me tell you that in the second floor of the museum there is a TV, in which the video is split into two; one side where they show the picture of artifacts and describes it, and on the other part of the video, a woman is explaining it in sign language, for all those people who can’t hear the audio. There were also Braille descriptions near all collections. I found it really amazing considering the fact that this is a totally abandoned place. Despite having such a poor response from the people, the authorities still maintain the museum in a democratic sense. See, the world is full of goodness and love.

Nearby the museum is St Mary’s Church, the oldest British building in India. I must say that of all the churches that I was visited so far, none could match to the beauty and simplicity of this one. When I entered the place, I was the only living soul there. Totally abandoned and alone, this church has lots of plaster cast statues of the admirals of East India Company and panels of Greek-like sculpture. Towards the back of the church is a garden, like the ones you see in period dramas. Intensely Victorian. I couldn’t keep track of time once I entered here; there was so much to see and appreciate in here.

Andrea Josylin was in the church garden collecting manjadi seeds. She is around ten years old and is a wearing a white frock with pink flowers. Inspired by her actions, I started collecting those seeds too. Suddenly she comes to me and we introduce each other. I still find it hard to believe when I say that the next whole hour I was collecting manjadi seeds with a young girl, in the shady garden of a 300 year- old church, in a much older fort in a city where I couldn’t even speak the language! I have read some of Anderson’s stories and it was first time I felt that maybe fairy tales can happen in real life too, although I totally accept that I didn’t see any witches, trolls or mermaids. To make this even more mystical, sometime later there was some baroque-like music playing from the church. Before leaving home with her mother Andrea gave all her seeds to me.

manjadi

 

 

Street vendors are such darling people, especially the ones at Parry’s street near the Madras High Court. When I bought a candle from one of them, the woman gave me a beautiful red rose from the pile of flowers with which she was making rose garlands. And the man from whom I bought the ‘Learn Tamil in 30 Days’ book wished me in Arab! I could recognize it because of the Arabic classes where I was literally dragged to during childhood. Earlier that day while I was in the MRTS, from the window of the train I saw a bunch of skinny and naked kids, running around the tiny islands of the Adyar river in scorching heat of the noon. Call me an unsympathetic sadist, but I was happy seeing them, who despite living in shanty slums on the banks, still look so happy and cheerful.

We just keep convincing ourselves that world is a bad place. I know that there are humans being tortured everyday and it is a very sad affair. But maybe we think that world is a bad place because only badness get the attention. Goodness and happiness are not newsworthy or saleable.

If this didactic account did not make you happy, I’ll tell you that I have continuous class from 8 am to 5 pm tomorrow, which means that in most cases you should be better off than me. Well, now if even that didn’t make you happy, fantasize about a pizza.

 

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