A School For Happiness
‘The time to be happy is NOW,
The place to be happy is HERE,
The way to be happy is to make someone HAPPY
And have a little heaven right HERE.’
The beautiful song could be heard from the house beyond the lush gardens. It was like this every morning, and the regular passersby always felt refreshed and recharged, on hearing this song. Ishika heard this song from her bus that was carrying her to this town, where she had found a job. Her heart missed a beat and she screamed for the bus to stop, as she almost jumped out of it. This song! This was her ‘Happy Song’, as she would call it. She was hearing this song after ages; she had first heard this song on television, when she was a child. She remembered very well that it was her mother’s favourite song and, singing with her, she too had learnt it. When was that? How many years back, Ishika wondered. Ten years back actually, she thought. But was it only ten? That seemingly was a different era, altogether!
Charles and Tisha were putting their luggage in the cab. Eight year old Ishika was cuddling their German shepherd, Joy, who was to stay with their neighbours for the month that Ishika, with her parents, was going to spend in India. Joy could make out that he was being left behind and he was creating a ruckus, running all around, and trying to jump into the cab, making it clear that he wasn’t happy. All this hustle-and-bustle went on for about thirty minutes and then, leaving an angry, barking Joy behind, Charles, Tisha and Ishika left for the airport.
Charles had come from Kerala, India to The Netherlands, on work, some twelve years back. He met Tisha there and fell in love, and soon they got married. Since Tisha belonged to a different faith, Charles’s father Harry had opposed their marriage vehemently. Charles and Tisha were madly in love with each other and so, with hope that his father will accept the marriage in due course, Charles went ahead with the wedding. Harry was deeply hurt, and he threw his only son out of his life. He broke all ties with him. Charles was heartbroken, and kept calling him regularly, but to no avail. In due course Ishika was born. Charles wrote a letter to his father to give this wonderful news but the letter came back, unopened. Charles had lost his mother at a very young age. Now being cut off from his father tore his heart, but he could do nothing.
Tisha would always suggest that they go to India to meet Charles’s father, but Charles was adamant that he would not do so. He feared his father would not budge even after seeing his family, so he did not want to put his wife and daughter in any humiliating position. Thus the distance between the hearts could not be bridged, and time kept passing by. One day, while attending the seventy-fifth birthday party of a friend’s father, Charles casually mentioned that Harry too was going to turn seventy-five that year. On hearing this, Tisha put her foot down and persuaded Charles to make a visit to his native place, with his family. She wanted Ishika also to visit her father’s home. So the three of them, each of the three hearts filled with different kinds of emotions, set off for their visit to Kerala, India.
The excited trio landed at Kochi airport. It was a few hours’ road trip to Charles’s hometown, and his house was a boat-ride away from there. Charles was filled with nostalgia and was overwhelmed with the surge of emotions suddenly let loose, while Tisha and Ishika fell simply in love with the beautiful, lush green surroundings. It was truly ‘God’s own country’ as they rightly called it, they thought, while they were taking in all the warmth and welcome that were showered upon them, through the huge, affectionate smiles and waves given out to them by the locals. They all reached the jetty from where they were to take the boat home. The weather was quite rough, since morning. Strong gusts of wind seemed to blow everything away. There was only one boat at the jetty, and the boatman was pretty hesitant to go. But Charles, Tisha and Ishika had to go. That day itself was Harry’s 75th birthday! They pleaded with the boatman and, offering him double the fare, they set off. Each one of them was in his/her own dreamland, imagining the reaction on Harry’s face, when he would see them.
The ride was of about 30 minutes or so, but the wind was blowing in the opposite direction.The boatman found it extremely difficult to steer ahead. There were lots of turbulence and suddenly it all became very scary. Dark clouds threatened to break through and the winds became stronger, as if trying to prove their might. All three sat there clutching each other’s hands and, the next moment, the boat did a huge somersault and it capsized. No one knew where each one was thrown, and they screamed as they were tossed around in the turbulent river.
Tisha opened her eyes. She was in great pains. Where was she? An old lady sat next to her and, seeing her open her eyes, she gave her an affectionate, toothless smile. She spoke in some language that Tisha did not understand. She saw a young girl hurrying towards her, who gave her some coconut water to drink. Tisha took a few sips and suddenly everything came back rushing to her. She gave out a scream and sat up. There was no sight of Charles or Ishika. At a distance, a river was flowing. The water was calm, the sky was clear. In some broken language the girl told her that she had come to the shore, floating on a piece of wood, two days back. Two days? Was she unconscious all this while? Tisha burst into tears. Where and how will she find Charles and Ishika, now?
In a week’s time Tisha had recovered enough to move out of the hut where she had been given shelter and care. She searched for Charles and Ishika wherever she could, but didn’t find any trace of them. She had no money. She remembered the address of Harry. With help from some kind people she managed to reach Harry’s house. Harry was completely at a loss, and had no words to utter, when Tisha narrated all that had happened. He kept staring at her and then, all on a sudden, he was felled by a massive stroke. He was unable to take in so many shocks, together. He was in the hospital for about two weeks. Tisha was by his side, nursing him and taking care of him. Harry was paralysed on his left side and could not speak clearly. The whole day he would keep looking at Tisha, and tears would keep rolling down his cheeks. His eyes spoke volumes; there was regret, helplessness, anguish, pain and overwhelming love. Tears never left Tisha’s eyes too. She would keep thinking of the irony that so many years were lost, only because of narrow-mindedness and rigidity. How much Charles missed his father all these years and now, when they could all be happy together, fate played such a cruel trick on them! She was now with Charles’s father, who he missed so badly all these years. But now she, in turn, had lost her own Charles and Ishika. Could fate really be so cruel, she thought.
Harry came back home and Tisha came with him too. She chose to stay back with him, because she didn’t have the heart to leave him alone in that state. Both of them had only each other as family, and they stuck together. Tisha nursed Harry with lots of care and affection and Harry soon got a lot better. He was restricted to a wheelchair though, but that did not diminish his spirit. He would talk for hours with Tisha, about Charles as a child, as a teenager, and then as a grown-up son. For Tisha, Charles lived in those memories.
A year flew by in no time. Tisha had become very popular in the neighbourhood. She would generally be there for anyone in need. In such a short time, she had become one of them. She was a very patient listener and would always try to understand people. More and more people started turning to her to share their problems and she would happily sort out their problems, not by giving a solution, but instead by helping them to think clearly for themselves. Seeing her like this, one day Harry suggested that she start a school where she could teach people to think calmly and clearly, making their lives more fulfilling. Tisha set about thinking. She realised that hardly anyone taught their children to strive to be happy. So, when they became adults, they never worked towards achieving happiness; they lived with the myth that happiness would come on its own, or that the onus lay on someone else to make them happy. When that did not happen then some would accept unhappiness as their fate, while some of them would start looking for it in their own way, according to their own belief, and mostly spend their entire lives in this search. Nobody had taught them that happiness is something inside you, and that you must be happy with whatever you have. That one realisation gives birth to acceptance and faith, and then leads to gratitude; one of the finest characteristics that one can develop. This gratitude then shows one the simple and right way to lead life, where you enjoy happiness. She suddenly remembered the beautiful and meaningful saying of Lord Buddha:
“Happiness does not depend on who you are or what you have; it solely depends on what you think.”
Tisha was wondering if we ever encouraged our children to think on their own. Not really, she realised, for we usually force-feed them with our own thoughts. Do we talk to our children about giving our very best, every single moment in our life? And yet be prepared to face failures, and deal with that courageously? The more she thought, this whole idea of starting a school, where she could talk about these tools of life, started taking shape. Could she start such a school? More importantly, would she want to start such a school? The idea started appealing to her, and she made up her mind. She started a school at their home itself, and named it:
“A School For Happiness”
Cut to the present. With wonder in her eyes, eighteen year old Ishika stepped inside the school. Beautiful pictures of Nature adorned the walls around. The magnificent Himalayas, the deserts, the mountains, the pristine lakes, the amazing varieties of lovely birds, animals, green fields, the sea; myriad captures of the glorious Nature filled Ishika with awe and she kept moving in that stupor. The song was over and she could hear a clear, sweet voice speaking;
“Life is an equal mix of joy and suffering. Most of the times we choose to highlight the sufferings and think of ourselves as victims. We then spend all our lives justifying that choice, and spend our life in misery. We are here on this earth to be happy. Happy in whatever circumstances we are in. Undoubtedly, we must always strive to give our best; at the same time we need to take care that we are happy. It is a myth that we will be always be happy, just like that. Once we accept this, then we are aware of how to be happy. Only when we are happy, can we be at our best.” The petite woman who was speaking stopped, as she saw Ishika standing at the door, quietly listening to her. Ishika, meanwhile, was transfixed at her spot. Even after ten years, she could immediately recognise her mother. She wanted to run to her, but her feet wouldn’t move. Was she really seeing her mother? All these ten years, she had believed that both her parents had drowned in that river, on that fateful day. She herself was brought up in an orphanage, run by nuns. A job of a computer teacher in a school, had brought her to this town. The song that she sang with her mother in her childhood, had magically got her to this school, and she had no idea whatsoever that this school was run by none other than her own mother. Her mother, even after losing her husband and only child, had set up this school: A School For Happiness!
Tisha got up and something very strange drew her to this thin, charming girl who stood at the door, speechless. Something churned inside Tisha and her heart threatened to burst out of her chest. She stood looking into her eyes and was spellbound when she heard the girl whisper, “ Mom!” “Mom!”… did she hear her right? Tisha’s mind was throbbing when suddenly the girl fell into her arms, sobbing. Tisha held her tight to her heart, as tight as she could, and no sound came out of her mouth, though she kept screaming, “Ishika! Ishika!”