Thakur was nearing his retirement, something he had been looking forward to for a long time now. ‘Government work is not as it was before,’ he would always say with a dull sigh. He was a mild-mannered man that lived in his old Delhi bungalow beside the famous sweet shop. He had no wife nor children to surround himself with at his old age but this never discouraged him. He lived life according to his terms and managed to all the house-work that needed to be done.
Thakur had a secret hobby and that was his eternal search of something called ‘happiness’. In his twenties, people around him thought him mad and poked fun at his relentless perusal of all the magazines to find happiness. He had looked everywhere for this esoteric happiness. He had asked many intelligent men, many intelligent questions. “Where can I find happiness?” “What does it look like?” “What is happiness?” “How do I know if I’ve found it?” “Have you seen it?” All the answers to these questions were unsatisfactory. One told him that they were selling a surplus of happiness for a very cheap rate in some far off country, whose name Thakur had never heard before. Another told that it was all lies and happiness could only be found on the black market these days. Yet another told him that through all his adventures, he had never found this happiness and that the search for ‘happiness’ was a fruitless endeavor. None of these intelligent men seemed to deter Thakur and his resilience in any way.
As he grew older, people started talking less and less about happiness. They said it was something that existed only in the books of the past and that many men have wasted away their lives in its pursuit. Thakur’s mother forbade him to talk about it anymore and ever since then he never spoke of it to her again but like a naughty little child, he continued to look for it, in the privacy of his own space. At work, he sat with Mishra and Sharma, both of whom had always something interesting to offer on happiness.
“Did you know that in some countries it is banned to mention the word happiness?” Mishra said, stuffing his pipe with tobacco. He always said these things but no one ever knew how correct they were and everyone almost always believed him because he carried around him an air of confidence.
“Yes, yes illegal,” Sharma added, nodding his bald head that was bent over the plate of food he had just ordered from the cafeteria.
“Not illegal Sharma, banned.”
“Aren’t they the same thing?” Sharma asked, slowly raising his head from his plate.
“No. They aren’t.”
“It doesn’t matter. You are not allowed to say it or even think of it.” Mishra was now trying to light the tobacco.
“How do they know if you’ve thought of it?”
“They just do.”
“But if you ask someone not to think of something it is inevitable that they will,” Sharma seemed lost.
“You always say the most nonsensical things, Sharma.” Mishra didn’t like anyone challenging his ideas.
“Did you know that Patel says he has always had happiness? Ever since he was born? Apparently, it was his grandmother who gave it to him.” Thakur said, glancing over to where Patel was.
“Nonsense,” Mishra snapped “That fellow is a bloody lying rascal. How is it someone has an endless supply of something? Impossible, I say. He’s either been buying it off the black market or he doesn’t have any.”
“I remember when that scoundrel at the black market sold it to me for a hundred rupees telling me it would last for at least five years,” Thakur sighed.
“What happened?” Sharma asked, inquisitively. “
“He got bloody scammed is what. Ran out of it within a week.” Mishra said. “All these are bloody liars, I tell you. You either have it or you don’t and no one is so privileged as to have been born with it. I know for a fact that there is no such thing as happiness and if there ever was, I wouldn’t want even a gram of it.”
A couple of months later, Thakur was walking through the weekend market, trying to ration his food since he had retired. He wondered if potatoes were the better choice or carrots. As he sat pondering the difference of taste between a stem and a root vegetable, his eyes caught the most peculiar sight. In the middle of the market-square stood a man, dressed in the most unusual garb, juggling balls. He was surrounded by little children who stared at him in wonder, their big eyes brimming with curiosity yet none of them made a sound.
Thakur approached this man and asked him what he was doing.
“Juggling balls,” the man replied, making no effort to look at Thakur.
“But why?” Thakur asked.
“It makes me happy,” the man replied, his lips forming into a strange curve that Thakur had never seen before, yet it all seemed so magical.
“I don’t understand,” Thakur scratched his head. “I’ve looked for happiness all my life. Are you saying you have found it?”
“Found it?” The man let out a loud sound, almost in a mocking tone. “Friend, I’m always happy.”
Before Thakur could reiterate Mishra’s bright words, the man looked him straight in the eye and said “Everyone is happy. It’s only a matter of recognition, is all.”
“Everyone is happy?”
“Yes, everyone. Even you. Why, if you find it hard to recognize it, all you have to do is grow it in your backyard.” The man replied nonchalantly.
“In our backyards?”
“Yes, in our backyards. Once you remove all the weed and destroy all other plants, the happiness tree will grow. But-“
“But no one wants to even destroy the weeds, let alone the other plants.”
“I will. I shall. Are you sure? In my backyard?” A newfound sense of energy seemed to be flowing through Thakur. Finally, he was making headway in his search.
“Yes, yes. In your backyard.”
Before leaving Thakur found out the man’s name and address. He didn’t want to be scammed a second time. For six months Thakur had put in a lot of effort in his backyard. He spent day and night, picking out the weeds, destroying all the other plants, most of which were left ignored and were already dead. He watered his backyard every day and sat on the doorstep, watching the soil. Nothing else occupied his thoughts during this time. He sat there, unperturbed, quietly watching the backyard.
One day, Thakur noticed a small sapling. A translucent little green stem that was nothing like what he had ever seen before. He nearly jumped and immediately wondered what came over him. He told himself that his tree would grow as tall and large as the man in the market’s – since he had been past his house a few times now- and that Mishra and Sharma could share from his happiness tree. From then on, he carefully tended to this tiny green stem protruding out of his soil. His back gave him issues and his old age prevented him from staying up too long but nevertheless, he pursued on.
For another six months, he tended to this plant with all his love but to no avail. It refused to grow larger than it had been and even seemed to be slowly withering away. Thakur sat at his doorstep, head in hands.
“I have been scammed again,” he thought. “Mother was right. Mishra was right. No such thing as happiness.”
Saying this, he got up bitterly and walked to the man’s house.
“Oi Agarwal, come out you rascal. Come out this instant,” he cried out, standing near the man’s gate. A few minutes later, Agarwal came out. He was dressed normally this time and had his hair neatly combed backward.
“What’s wrong, Thakur?” He asked, again with the same whimsical curve on his face.
“You told me that I could have a happiness tree as big and large as yours and it has been nearly a year, yet no sign of it. You scoundrel. You wasted my time.”
“I never told you your tree would be as large as my tree. I told you that anyone could be happy if they wanted to.”
“Same thing,” Thakur was fuming.
“No, not the same thing. In fact, two very different things. My friend, how do you expect your tree to grow when you constantly keep comparing it to mine? The poor little plant feels pressurized and probably wants to die before even experiencing life.”
“What does that mean?”
“That means, Thakur, that your tree is unlike anyone else’s tree.”
“But you said anyone can grow a happiness tree.”
“Yes. But the nature of tree depends on the one who’s growing it.”
“So Mishra and Sharma can’t share from my tree?”
“No. They will want to. You may want to. But to each his own.”
“So how do I know its real?”
“Why do care if it’s not?”
Thakur went back home armed with knowledge on gardening but still confused. However, he continued to persist but this time, he didn’t obsess. After the daily routine of watering it, he gave the plant its own space to grow. He didn’t stay in his backyard all day and night but continued to do other work. A few weeks later, the three friends met again, as they usually do.
“Well, bloody hell Thakur, that’s quite a tree, man.” Mishra placed his hands on the trunk. “How come I never noticed it before? Must be quite old.”
“No. Very young. About six months,”
“Liar. No tree grows this big in six months. What have you been feeding it? Tree steroids?”
“It’s a happiness tree,” Thakur said, very casually.
“Are you saying you have happiness in your backyard?” Sharma asked, his mouth wide open.
“Sharma, you sometimes say the most nonsensical things. I don’t have happiness. I am happy,” saying this Thakur slowly reclined into his chair, a smile forming over his now serene face.