February 22, 2014

Anandi: An Encounter with Happiness. ~ Rhea D’Souza

Photo: Raj Loganathan/Pixoto

It was a hot afternoon in Mumbai, the kind of hot that has sweat running in rivulets and annoyance in truckloads.

The fact that the agent ( I am house hunting) had made me wait there for over 15 minutes didn’t help. I stood and watched, and from time to time looked up in the direction I thought the agent would come from, since I was new to this area.

As I stood there being annoyed and looking for more reasons to justify it, a little girl of about eight—dusky clear complexion, sun bleached hair parted neatly in the middle and tied into a pony, wearing a green skirt and matching top—crossed the street to my side and began picking random bits of paper. She was a rag picker.

I watched her with this white bag, more than half her size and certainly not empty, slung on her thin shoulders like Santa Claus. And yet, she had a rhythm in her movements as she deftly fished a stray piece of paper and put it in her Santa Claus bag.

She passed me by and our eyes met briefly. I didn’t smile. I was just, well, indifferent. She didn’t smile either. She went ahead and suddenly stopped and looked back, straight at me. We held the gaze for three to four seconds and then she initiated the smile—a dazzling radiant smile. It was like she was ascertaining if she could trust me and had decided she could, all in three seconds. Having now decided, she retraced her steps and walked up to me. I was beginning to feel slightly curious and less irritable.

She came and stood a couple of feet away from me and asked in Hindi, in a non presumptuous direct tone that only kids can what I was doing here, I smiled an amused smile remembering what was I doing here. “Waiting for the agent,” I said. Pause. “For the last 25 minutes,” I emphasised (complaining tone and all).

It crossed my mind that she may not know what agent meant but I wasn’t in a mood for conversation and wanted to stay irritable.

“Oh”, she replied, paused and looked like she was thinking. I waited.

Then she went on to tell me that she didn’t have a house, they lived on a street nearby and that she earned money by picking rags.

I was a little taken aback. Did she understand the implication of what waiting to meet an agent meant? That I was looking for a house and she told me her reality? It was possible—she had that wise street intelligence. I was now fully engaged in this conversation.

She was not done. She stood there waiting for more conversation, creating a broad groove in the invisible sand on the pavement with her bare foot.

So I asked her name. “Anandi,” she said. The foot stopped and the smile came again, wider this time. She liked her name, I could tell. She asked me mine. “Rhea,” I told her. She smiled and said that It was beautiful name. I smiled, wide (I also like my name). I told her I liked her name as well and that one of my friends’ name was Anandi also.

She looked up, almost choosing to not register this, and asked, “Do you know what my name means?” I was about to answer but saw that she really wasn’t asking; she was waiting to tell me. So I said no, I didn’t know. Then, just as I had suspected, she launched into a very proud explanation of “Anandi”—one who is always happy.

I was now genuinely in the conversation and watching Anandi talk and live the meaning of her name. I watched with rapt wonderment how Anandi was creating her own reality of choosing happiness along with all the other facts of her life. Everything else around me melted into silent oblivion. Her grandma who lived in Hyderabad had named her, she ended, slightly out of breath.

About four minutes of lessons on Anandi, by Anandi.

My agent showed up and I was once again reminded of why really I was there. She saw him, and I saw a glimmer of disappointment in her brown eyes. It passed quickly. She looked at me with a goodbye. I didn’t want to go. I offered her the strawberries I had in my bag, in a feeble attempt to stretch this encounter. She took them, smiled, said, “We will talk later” and walked off, while I was still deciding whether to leave her or not. She looked back once again and waved. I waved back at my newfound friend whom I will talk to later; when and how I have no clue. She walked away leaving a piece of her ”happiness” with me.

It struck me how little it took to connect and share, how often conversation happens from behind a laptop or a phone screen or while flipping TV channels and what it must do to our hearts, not really connecting as people who have no other motive. I struck me—this joy and wonder of honest interest in another human being, of being fully present in that moment and, most importantly, of choosing happiness.

I was reminded of the saying by Rumi: “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them.” Anandi had certainly exhibited this truth.

I looked up at the scorching sun, felt the dripping sweat and heard the cacophony of traffic. I looked at the agent who was just standing there—and smiled. He must have his own story and a very valid reason to be late.

After finding happiness—connection and compassion from “Anandi”—I went off on my search again.

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Editorial Assistant: Jamie Khoo/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Raj Loganathan/Pixoto

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