On ‘The Happiness Road’ with Thota Tharrani

My conversation with National Award-winning Art Director Thota Tharrani for my ‘The Happiness Road’ Series that appears in DT Next every Sunday. Read the conversation on the DT Next page here.  ‘The Happiness Road’ is also my next Book. Photo Credit: Vinodh Velayudhan 

“I am happy when I feel grateful for who I am”

 Life, to Thota Tharrani, is a three-letter word: “A-R-T”! “I don’t do art for building an identity or for fame or money. Art keeps me creatively alive; it flows through me,” he says over tea in his beautiful studio. “But cinema is different,” he clarifies, adding, “It has given me a name that is bigger than I really am. Luckily, I haven’t let it get to me. I always look at those who are more talented than I am and I look at those who are less privileged. I am happy when I feel grateful for who I am and for all my blessings.”

That’s a very modest perspective coming from a man whose body of work spans five decades. His art direction in Nayagan (1987) and Indian (1996) fetched him National Awards. Besides these, he has been feted for his work in many films and his art has always been celebrated by connoisseurs globally. “I am humbled people find my work worthy. I don’t attach too much value to material gains. There’s great joy in creating art of all forms, and there’s greater joy when your art has been able to touch a Life and make a difference,” explains Tharrani. He shares an anecdote about a painting he randomly made and gave away to a casual worker in Kolkata, 20 years ago. Recently, while visiting the city again, when he bumped into the worker, the man thanked him profusely saying he sold the painting and raised money for his daughter’s marriage. “That moment is priceless. I am happiest in such moments. This happiness – no amount of money, no recognition can get you,” he avers.

Thota Tharrani - Option 1 - Photo Credit - Vinodh Velayudhan

Tharrani, Sarada and their daughter with Vaani and AVIS

Tharrani’s wife Sarada pipes in to say that he is always “happy, positive and immersed in his art”, no matter how challenging the circumstances around him are. How does he manage to stay this way? “I work very hard. I enjoy the process of creating art. And I have learnt not to have any expectations from the world – so, I am never disappointed. I believe in my art, in the value I create. And never in the valuation that people place on me or my work,” replies Tharrani.

Tharrani’s unquenchable thirst for creative expression blends beautifully with his remarkable contentment in a material context. This explains why he is so accomplished and so happy!

Thota Tharrani - DT Next - 26.3.17
The story in DT Next’s print edition



Walk the line of lunacy, follow your bliss!

Whatever you believe in, let it take over your Life. Simply be led by your bliss. And then watch the road unfold and doors open for you!
Satyen Das: Picture Courtesy – TOI/Internet
This morning’s Times of India (TOI) had this inspiring story of a rickshaw puller from Kolkata, Satyen Das, 40, who has embarked, this past weekend, on a 2,500-km adventure to Leh, Ladakh. Das will go through Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, before reaching Leh – on his rickety, old cycle-rickshaw. He says it’s his desire to explore the country that drives him. Eight years ago, he kept his word to his wife and son, and took them to Puri in Odisha in his rickshaw. He says that trip opened his eyes, and his heart, and ever since he has been wanting to do a longer, and more arduous, trip. Das makes a living, earning just about Rs.200/- a day, ferrying passengers to and from the Gitanjali Metro station in Naktala, in Kolkata. But when he shared his dream with people around him, everyone got together and soon a sum of Rs.5,000/- was collected helping Das set off on this incredible journey. Members of a local Kolkata club have promised to keep collecting funds for him and have given him an ATM card which will help him draw those funds anywhere on his four-month-long journey. Debashish, the local club official who is raising money for him, told TOI’s Prithvijit Mitra, that Das’ an exceptionally brave adventurer: “He is quiet and unassuming but he has a streak of madness, a penchant for taking risks and exploring the unknown. He is a dreamer.”
I found Das’ story fascinating. A school drop-out and a daily wage earner goes on to follow his bliss and pursue his dream, while many of us struggle with earning-a-living and complain incessantly that we don’t have the Life that we want. I think the critical difference between us and Das is what Debashish has pointed out – we don’t follow the streak of madness within us, so we don’t take the plunge – the risk! To be sure, we are also dreamers, we also have the urge to explore the unknown. But we suppress our urge, and our practical sense of what we think is “secure living” – a fixed income per month, the education of our children and retirement funds being planned – keeps our feet nailed to the ground. So we are risk-averse. And wallow in self-pity that we have been unable to do what we want in Life.
None of us is growing any younger.  As the Persian poet Omar Khayyam (1048 AD ~1131 AD) has said: “The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop; the Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.” So, postponing living, postponing what gives us joy, is hardly an intelligent thing to do. I think the biggest risk in Life is not taking a risk – in not walking the line of lunacy, in not doing what you really want to do. When you don’t follow your bliss, the risk is simply that you may never get to follow it!

Whatever’s happening is taking you to the Life waiting for you!

When people, circumstances, society – when everything turns against you, don’t think Life’s conspiring against you too. What you see as a conspiracy is actually Life’s inscrutable design at play – to make you wake up and claim a new Life that’s waiting for you!
Suzette Jordan: Zest for Life
Pic Courtesy: Shriya Mohan, Grist Media
Ask Suzette Jordan, 38, known world-over as the hapless “Park Street Rape Victim” from Kolkata. And she will tell you how much her world has changed ever since those horrific midnight hours of February 5, 2012. That night she was offered a lift by someone she had met at the Tantra nightclub at Park Hotel. She was then assaulted, raped and thrown out of a moving car. When, a few days later, she summoned the strength and courage to report the crime, the police jeered at her. She was provided no support by the government machinery – what with her own state’s Chief Minister, ironically a lady, claiming the entire episode was ‘cooked up’. Another lady Member of Parliament, representing West Bengal’s ruling party, said that since Jordan was divorced and a mother of two teenage daughters, the episode was probably the fallout of a ‘commercial deal going awry between a professional and her client’. Abused, ridiculed, depressed, cashless and alone (although her father, sister and extended family did throw a ring of protection and emotional support around her), Jordan could have given up. But she did not. She says she knew that while she had been physically battered and socially ostracized her zest for Life had not diminished. She wanted to live to tell the world what it means to survive a rape, face up to Life and continue to trust humankind. To be sure, it wasn’t as if the rape was the only challenge Jordan was up against. Long before the rape, her career had hit rock-bottom. She had last worked at a call center before starting one of her own. The investments she and her sister made in setting up their call center soon went up in smoke as they were cheated by one of their partners. Even as she was trying to piece together her career, the rape happened. And just when she was beginning to lose hope, help arrived in March 2013 in the form of an angel, Santasree Chaudhari, a philanthropist and entrepreneur. Chaudhari offered to support Jordan and her family financially and emotionally so that Jordan could carry on her fight for justice. In June 2013, Jordan made the momentous decision to reclaim (mark the word – she does not say ‘disclose’) her identity. Sick of being called the ‘Park Street Rape Victim’ by the media, who thrived in sensationalism than in just reportage, she stepped forward and identified herself. She says she was not willing, any longer, to be a blurred face on TV or in the newspapers. She was ready to come out and tell the world that she – daughter, sister, mother, woman – was willing to face a cold society__curious gossip-loving onlookers, lecherous men, an apathetic administration__and tell them that she may be single and a mother of two girls, but she was neither available nor was she willing to cower just because she had been violated. “I will fight and keep on fighting,” says Jordan. She told Shriya Mohan of Grist Media, when Mohan asked her what she wanted to do with her Life now, “I am already doing it”. Meaning that the rape had given her Life a purpose, a reason to live. Which is to become the face and voice of helpless rape victims the world over. And when Mohan again asked her what she loved doing the most, Jordan quipped: “Partying!
Jordan’s story is one of rape. But each of us have our own stories. Life happens to us differently no doubt. But when things come crumbling, they often come collectively. A job loss, a health-challenge, a relationship-breakdown, a death – whatever, a few events happening at the same time plunge us into despair and depression. Fear and insecurity, often anger too, then consume us. This is when reference points such as Jordan become relevant and essential. Look at the lady’s spirit and feel inspired. Despite what has happened, she is willing to soldier on – and, above all, unabashedly concede that she loves partying!
Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is my problem graver than Jordan’s?
2. What does my experience teach me?
3. What can be my Life’s higher purpose from here on?
4. What do I love doing the most, despite whatever’s happened or is happening to

Irrespective of where you find yourself in Life just now – whatever you answer to Q # 4, just go do it! You will come alive! 

Remember: in Life you will fall. You may often feel beaten. The more you bemoan your fate, the longer you will lay fallen. It is when you get up, face up to Life, that the true reason why things happened to you will become evident. And remember too that everything that happens to you is taking you in the direction of the Life that’s waiting for you!