“You are happy the moment you count your blessings”

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I am in conversation with eminent Bharatanatyam dancer Chitra Visweswaran!
Chitra Visweswaran
Photo by Vaani Anand
The way Chitra Visweswaran communicates, both with her eyes and with the words she chooses, elevates your understanding of whatever she is saying to a higher level, almost instantaneously. Yet, for someone who is among India’s most acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancers, and a Padma Sri awardee too, Chitra is so simple, so grounded, very down-to-earth and evolved. “Life is an eternal journey of learning, a sadhana. We must learn to enjoy the journey more than getting worked up about the end. That, to me, is happiness,” she says as we sit down one afternoon to have a conversation over green tea in her tastefully decorated living room. 
Chitra Visweswaran
Photo by Vaani Anand
That journey, to Chitra, has been eventful. The world sees only a great artist in her, but beyond her dance, she’s among the most compassionate human beings you will ever meet and a doting sister. Her brother, Arun, is two years younger than she is. He was born normal. But when he was just three, he was struck by an ailment that impaired the development of his brain. Chitra herself was young and did not then comprehend the import of how Arun – and her family – will have to cope with this lifelong situation. But when they were both adolescents, Chitra came to the realization that Arun will never be normal again. She was overwhelmed and grief-stricken. Arun’s condition often made him turn violent. And Chitra had to face the brunt of his uninformed rage on many occasions. Their mother, Rukmini, helped Chitra cope. “She ensured I didn’t wilt under sorrow. I was, at that time, unsure of what I wanted to do in Life. My father wanted me to be an engineer. I was good at singing. I also loved dancing. But my mother helped me find focus. She said to me, ‘You are an okay singer. But you are a brilliant dancer.’ And that got me started. My rigorous training as a dancer helped me come to terms with Arun’s condition and our Life,” recalls Chitra.
Rukmini also taught Chitra something that has remained at the core of all her Life’s work. “She told me never to dance for fame or name, but to dance, offering myself to the Universe, offering my dance as a prayer,” says Chitra.
As she evolved in Life, and as she rose in her career, Chitra began to value her mother’s perspective greatly. “I don’t think we must limit this ‘your work is prayer’ philosophy to dance alone. I have learnt from Life that whatever you do, if you do it as an offering to a higher energy, immersing yourself in it, it will be your prayer. ‘Doing’ this prayer consistently is what happiness is all about. You could be cleaning cobwebs, or cooking, or gardening or you could be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer or…a dancer, whoever you are, whatever you do, immerse yourself in what you are doing, and you will be happy,” explains Chitra.
How does she cope with her lows – especially with her soul-mate R.Visweswaran’s passing in 2007? “Viswesh was my best friend and my partner at work. I surely experienced a great vacuum. My guru, Mathaji Vithamma, took me away to her ashram, where she encouraged me to just dance to myself at the altar of the Maha Meru. I simply surrendered there, through my dance. It took several weeks. But I healed,” shares Chitra, adding, “The key to being happy is to stay anchored, stay detached and to love what you do.”
Arun joins us for a while. As he sips his coffee, Chitra tells me: “He can’t speak. He can’t express himself. Surely he has questions. He must be having so many opinions on what’s going on around him and so much to say about himself. Yet, he understands his limitations. He is accepting of them. He’s also very clear about what he wants and what he doesn’t want. And he is content with what he has, the way he is. He is happy.”
That perspective which Chitra has to offer, as a learning from Arun’s Life, sums up why some of us are unhappy or are still ‘searching’ for happiness. Chitra distils that learning further: “The key is to realize that until you learn to count your blessings, you will be unhappy. I am happy the way my Life is. In the time that I have left here, I want to continue to share of myself and of my art, to the best of my ability.”

Few can share Life’s lessons more humbly and gracefully than the way Chitra has. Perhaps such humility and grace comes from choosing to see Life the way it truly is – as an eternal blessing!  

“With acceptance there is only happiness”

‘The Happiness Road’ is a weekly Series on this Blog that appears on Sundays where I share my conversations with people while exploring their idea of happiness!
This Sunday I feature the dancer couple Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan.
There’s a glint in the eyes of the Dhananjayan couple that you can’t miss. Over the last three decades, I have noticed the glint every time that I have seen them perform or on the few rare occasions that I have spoken to them. Recently, I met them for about an hour at their Shastri Nagar home. And all through the conversation, I couldn’t but help admire that glint. Perhaps, I wondered, the glint reflects their state of inner joy and peace – what you will find in people who love what they are doing and do only what they love!
Almost as if he is reading my mind, Dhananjayan says, “Happiness is just being.” “It is about being satisfied with what you are doing, with how you are living,” adds his wife Shanta.
Picture by Vaani Anand
Dhananjayan qualifies his earlier remark saying he feels blessed in many respects to have had the “right influences that impact happiness” at different times in his Life. First, he considers himself fortunate to have been born in a family where his father, a school teacher, instilled in him the value of ‘giving’ and taught him to never cling on to anything material. “He gave away everything he had to his sisters, leaving nothing for his eight children. Yet, all of us grew up happy, even if there was no food to eat at home on some days.” Second, living and learning in a gurukulam, at Kalakshetra, helped him understand that “group energy spreads harmony” – a work model that he has preserved over the years. Third, his companionship with soul-mate and partner Shanta, says Dhananjayan, has contributed immensely to the way he has grown through and evolved in Life. “We share each other’s ideology. Our art brings our hearts together. There’s a great understanding between us…we complete each other.”
Picture by Vaani Anand
Dhananjayan believes that when you know what you want from Life, and what makes you happy, you can face any situation, any challenge stoically. Shanta says that when they left Kalakshetra in 1968 they were only in their twenties, but they were already clear that they wanted to dedicate their lives to “putting Bharatanatyam on the world map”. “With the 25 continuous years we have spent conducting our summer gurukulam at Yogaville, Virginia, with the global collaborations we have had with artists from various genres and with the contribution we have been able to make to propagate Bharatiya sanskruti and kala worldwide, I guess we both have had a very fulfilling Life journey.”
But hasn’t there ever been a blemish on the bliss canvas? A challenge that threatened to disturb their inner equilibrium?
“Oh! There have been many,” exclaims Dhananjayan, adding, “But art teaches you humility and gratitude. When you have that attitude you always overcome.” He recounts his 15-year saga to establish Bhaskara, an academy to preserve and nurture the performing arts, in Payyanur in Kerala’s Kannur district. Everyone, from environmentalists to common-folk to a cold bureaucracy to disinterested politicians, came between him and his dream. For years, he soldiered on, investing every available hour and their hard-earned money in the project. Initially Bhaskara was only Dhananjayan’s baby. But when Shanta saw his intent and his passion being challenged by those who were opposing the project, she jumped in too, backing him fully. But “the people who operated the system” queered the pitch every single time. Finally the couple gave up, selling their investment to an educational institution that runs a B-school there now. “I was drained. When people don’t want to understand you, it can be very difficult. Kerala may be God’s own country, but it is also the Devil’s workshop! One day, seeing me frustrated, Shanta pointed out that there was no point in doing anything, even if it is your dream, if your inner peace is going to be disturbed. I saw light in her perspective,” confesses Dhananjayan.
Would he consider the Bhaskara project an epic loss – something that he failed at? “Fortunately, the Bhagavad Gita has taught me to keep my mind steady. Yes, there may be instances when the mind will waver. That’s when my art has helped steady it again. I have realized that there’s no success or failure. I have learnt to deal with both joy and sorrow with acceptance. With acceptance there is only happiness,” explains Dhananjayan.
So, here’s the secret, as I have discovered it, of that glint in Shanta’s and Dhananjayan’s eyes: Do what you believe in and love doing, always be grateful and content, simply accept whatever comes your way and never let anything disturb your inner peace!

Choose joy over earning-a-living

Between making money and following your bliss, choose the latter. Because even if you struggle with that choice you will struggle joyfully!
To drop the pursuit of earning-a-living and following your bliss instead is always a dilemma for you, for me, for all of humanity! It is only through trial and error, through endless experimentation, that you will find both joy and money coming from the same pursuit or profession. Very few people actually get it right or know it well and therefore benefit from both the joy and the money. Now, if you belong to the majority that doesn’t know yet or knows it but does not know how to choose, then first know that you are perfectly normal. If you are making good money in whatever you are doing and are happy (not comfortable, please note the critical difference here!) then there is no issue. But if you are part of the rat race, rushing off this morning for another stress-filled, meaningless, day ahead, and you grieve every minute of your Life thinking, “why am I doing this?” or “there’s no more joy in what I do”, then you seriously need to review your Life. You need to ask yourself: 1. Can I live with lesser income than what I am getting just now? 2. Can I confer with my family and make them share my vision for me and them? 3. Can I find a good platform to launch myself and work to a plan to restore my earning to match my joy factor in doing what gives me joy? The answers you get will determine how you proceed. Anything in Life requires planning, thinking through and excellent execution. Grieving, pining and cursing your fate is not a solution.
Photo Courtesy: Ganesh/www.purpleganesh.com
A couple of years ago, I heard the maestro of Indian art and culture, and Bharatanatyam exponent, Prof.C.V.Chandraskehar, a Padma Bhushan awardee, reminisce about his years in Benares. He said although he had an MSc degree while starting off his career in the 1950s, he was not getting a job or salary that matched his qualifications. His heart, he said, was in the arts, particularly in dance. So, he made a decision: “If I must suffer, let me suffer in joy and bliss, doing what I love doing.” He dumped his Msc-based options and plunged into the world of art. That choice, he reminisced, led to a lifetime of joy and bliss, in the pursuit of learning and living his art, his dance, though money did not arrive in as much proportion as he would have wanted. “Money is incidental. In later years, it did come, and it did go. But that is the way money is. Joy, however, can be permanent if you embrace it,” he told us in his soulful, evocative, candid style.
There is a lesson here for all of us strugglers, climbers and rat race runners. If you choose making money, and therefore comfort yourself with a false sense of security, then please don’t complain about Life or pine for joy! If you choose joy, over money, remember that money will take its own time coming into your Life. If you find both in one pursuit, brilliant, just be content with it! In any case, be happy! Because it is only one Life that you will live. Live that Life well and happily!