Happiness is your true wealth

AVIS-on-Happyness

Demonetization of Life, not just currency, can make you happier

Live as if money were not an object. And you will live a fuller, happier Life!

The hope among Indians is palpable.

For the first time, the generations that were born after Independence, appear to nurture hope that ‘something worthwhile to seriously cleanse India’ is being attempted. That includes people like me who have been critical of Modi and skeptical about his promise of ‘achche din’. I am not rubbishing his leadership and the efforts of his team over the last 30 months. But I did not see anything worthwhile being done by his government. There was a lot of drama, PR and optics over all his utterances and policies, but it seemed nothing would crack open Indian culture, stamp out its crab mentality and build an ethos of co-ownership and pride in building a clean, efficient nation. To be sure, I liked the Modi idea of a Swach Bharat – but I know it will never be an immediate reality because for that to happen, every Indian must transform. And that is asking way for too much from our aam aadmi! But the idea to demonetize the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes and strangulate the parallel economy, theoretically, holds out hope. Yesterday, while traveling in Uber cars, at coffee shops, talking to rank strangers on the street and going by the conversations on social media and WhatsApp, I got the sense that India is hopeful of this progressive step helping us cleanse her of corruption! Even if this new system does not sound fool-proof – in that corrupt officials and dishonest citizens, unscrupulous politicians and wily black money hoarders will surely do jugaad to work around and through the system – at least, existing stockpiles of ill-gotten money has been reduced to nothing and the so-called rich, notorious and powerful have been rendered momentarily powerless. So, theoretically, the political and governance aspects of this demonetization move appears worthwhile.

But I also see a human dimension playing out across India over the last 24+ hours. Indeed people are helping each other with methods and means to survive the ‘unsettled’ phase till normalcy in cash-based transactions is achieved. A small-time bangle seller in Hyderabad, reports today’s Hindu, gave away a pair of bangles worth Rs.50/- to a bride-to-be because her family did not have change and had only Rs.500/- to transact. People have been reporting of a new ‘way of living’ where they have the money but not the currency to transact. Friends have been talking of ‘feeling lighter and liberated’. And several people have been reaching out and helping the less educated, daily wage earners, get food and basic supplies till they start re-earning a livelihood. It is heart-warming to see humanity thrive in these apparently cold, material, insensitive times.

avis-viswanathan-dont-get-used-by-money

Living without money is not new to Vaani and me. Over the last 9+ years, we are only too familiar with this ‘way of Life’. In fact, my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal talks about how we were left with just Rs.2000 on 31st December 2007 and the film Rise In Love shows the last Rs.80 we had in April 2014 that we gave away to an auto-rickshaw driver. After that incident, for 70 days, over four months, we lived penniless in Chennai. In this time most devices and appliances at home also broke down. So we had no money, no washing machine, no TV, no micro-wave, no mixer. Besides, my mobile phone and Vaani’s laptop crashed too. But Vaani and I never let all this material dysfunctionality affect our spirit. We had no work, no money and no car. So spent a lot of time speaking to each other about our Life, our experiences, our learnings, our love for each other….we went on long walks, for 10 kms, often for over 2~3 hours daily….our walking shoes wore out in this time and we didn’t have money to buy new ones! But we kept walking – literally, figuratively. There was a lot of pain, but we don’t remember suffering!

One day, Vaani discovered that she had only one onion at home. No other vegetables were there. There was no money to buy fresh veggies. So she made khichdi and onion raita. It was a beautiful meal. We focused on the joy of being able to eat the meal together and not on what it comprised of. On another occasion, we suddenly realized we had Rs.236 available in a bank account that we were not using anymore. We felt we could do well with that cash. So we walked a long way to that bank’s ATM to try our luck on whether the account was a. functional and b. if it would allow us to withdraw Rs.200. Our effort paid off on both counts. There was so much joy when the ATM spat out two hundred rupee notes. We both observed that while it seemed so bizarre that we had come to such a level of abject penury, we were grateful for the miracle of that Rs.200 in our hands that evening. We celebrated our fortune by treating ourselves to Rs.5 worth of roasted and salted peanuts we bought from a roadside thelawala. It was an unforgettable, magical experience.

The lessons we have learnt from living without money are invaluable. We have learnt to celebrate Life. We have discovered that watching sunrises and sunsets costs nothing. We have felt magic and beauty in hearing the birds chirp and seeing the trees sway in the breeze. We have learnt to value conversations between ourselves, with our children and among our friends. We find the joy of our companionship priceless. There’s bliss in walking together, through treacherous terrain, even when we are penniless, when we are virtually check-mated legally and financially. All the expensive, candle-lit dinners that we have had in the past, in the most exotic locations across the world, pale in significance and comparison! And we have found great inner peace in giving our time and in sharing our Life learnings, with all those who care to pause and reflect. In fact, we have now understood that while money is very important, money is just a resource. It must be used. And we must never get used, or consumed, by it, by clinging on to it. The real opportunity of happiness, being available free, and 24×7, became visible to us only when money ceased to be an object in our Life. For this realization, we will remain ever grateful to our enduring bankruptcy that truly demonetized our Life. Which is why, I see this 24+-hour currency demonetization experience in India as an opportunity for everyone here to learn to live happily ever after!   

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