‘The Happiness Road’ is a 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 very inspiring, reflective, Jayshree Raveendran of the Ability Foundation.
We are reconnecting with and meeting Jayshree Raveendran after 12 years. But we discover that she hasn’t changed at all. She, as always, exudes warmth and provides very sharp perspective – that makes you pause and think – on the work she leads at the Ability Foundation.
But the conversation that Vaani and I had with her one morning, earlier this month, was on a subject that made Jayshree very reflective. We spoke about happiness.
Listening to her speak, you can’t but marvel at how miraculous Life is, even as it is so inscrutable. Jayshree can’t hear. A childhood accident left her hearing impaired. But she can read your lips and responds with amazing diction and simplicity – she’s very articulate and very, very, inspiring.
As I laid out the context for our meeting and thanked her for her time, she responded: “We are complicating the word happiness. Nothing makes you happy or unhappy in the true sense. It is a feeling. For example, when faced with a tragedy, when you find the inner strength to cope with the situation, when you get up, dust yourself and move on, that feeling is happiness. And so, your view of happiness can be very different from another’s. What happens when you don’t move on with your Life? You slip into depression. So either you move on or you stay depressed. Happiness is the feeling when you move on and unhappiness is what you feel when you stay depressed.”
I never managed to ask Jayshree if she has read Osho. But her thoughts pretty much mirror what Osho has always said about Life – and happiness. There’s a poetic quality to her perspectives even as they are very direct and crystal clear. She says, for instance, that she does have those times when she tears up, when she feels lost and is in pain. The last five years have been particularly challenging for Jayshree. In 2011, she lost her mother who was, apart from being a remarkable human being, a “friend, philosopher and guide”. Then she lost her husband, another huge pillar of strength, in December 2013. There was obviously, she confesses, a lot of heartache: “The pain is intense. It is like somebody is cutting you up. So I feel happiness is so abstract. I can deal with happiness only as how I am feeling at a particular time. I have learnt that you must be happy when you are happy. And when you are unhappy, be unhappy. Don’t ever ask why? I believe a lot in karma and destiny. And if you treat everything as a prasad from God, then you can cope with any situation. But yes, when there is enormous pain inflicted on you by Life, it is difficult to be accepting of what Life is serving you. It is very difficult to see Life then as God’s prasad in such times.”
There’s something subliminal about being in conversation with Jayshree. You can sense the equanimity about her. And that perhaps comes from learning to live without something basic – that we all take for granted, our hearing – for all your Life. Just consider her inspiring perspective here: “It is okay if you can’t do somethings in Life. Some can hear. Some can’t hear. I have learnt to focus on what I can than focusing on what I can’t. This is what Life and living is all about. And the lifetime we have, in the larger cosmic design, is only the tip of the iceberg. Someday, I hope to be able to understand the meaning of Life…and death. Until then, I live by the twin principles my husband has taught me – don’t complain, don’t expect sympathy!”
These principles are what must have led Jayshree to take her seeking spirit and anchor it with the cause behind her Ability Foundation – an organization that works with specially-abled people. Growing up in Chennai, every time she visited the beach, she said she was always irked when she saw the tin roof of an organization – with the name ‘Madras Association of the Deaf’ emblazoned on the roof – in Santhome. She questioned why society was labeling people as disabled. Why a special place for the deaf, for the blind, for spastics? She argued that people with disabilities were people first – they needed understanding and opportunity, not reservation, not pity. So Ability Foundation was born in 1995; and has today evolved into an institution that is built to last. Jayshree serves us all a gentle reminder of the transient nature of Life when she says, “Every human being is temporarily able-bodied! Everyone, if you live long enough, will be disabled soon.”
How simple. How thought-provoking. As I internalized this awakening point of view, and we got into our Uber cab to ride back home, I replayed what Jayshree had to say as our conversation wound down: “Happiness is an understanding. It is what you feel when you know how you are feeling.”