Once I was afflicted with extreme sadness. I was young, just out of my juvenile years. I felt as if I were the unhappiest person in the world. I tried, but could not think of an immediate cause. I was usually short of cash and no girl was taking interest in me. But that was the case with several of my friends. All the time I was brooding over the futility of living. I was losing interest in eating, playing and even going to see a film which was my passion. Then a chance remark by a close friend gave me a spark.
The friend (one among the few close friends I had) had for days been trying to improve my mood in various ways possible. But all in vain. Then one day in sheer exasperation, he put an end to his efforts with a shout: ‘you are not alone, almost everyone feels unhappy for one reason or the other.’ It got me thinking and thinking. Then I decided to find out for myself if others were also unhappy.
I went to the stationer’s and purchased a pocket notebook. I made it my mission to ask everyone I met if he/she was happy in life. I would note down his/her name (and the place and some personal particulars) along with his or her reply. In this way I ‘interviewed’ over 700 persons from Varanasi to my home town in Punjab over a span of several months. Only two of them had replied without a moment’s hesitation: ‘yes, I am perfectly happy in life.’ one of them I discounted for the simple reason that she was a young girl, married only about a month — and that is the period when a girl floats on cloud nine. The other was a genuinely happy person. He was the Registrar of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
Sometime in 1963, a three-day youth leaders’ convention was held at AMU. I also attended it by virtue of being President of Students’ Union of my University. One day the AMU hosted the dinner to the participants. It so happened that I was sitting next to the Registrar, a slightly bulky man with thick ‘khichdi’ beard. As the dinner was in progress, I asked him if he was happy (it had become an obsession with me). Mr Khan (I am unable to recall his first name now) stopped eating, looked at me for a few seconds and said in a deep voice: ‘Yes, I am perfectly happy’. At my further query, he elaborated: ‘young man, I am 58. I have good health. I have much better appetite than you, though you can see I am more than double your age. I have a loving wife. I have two sons and both are well settled. And I have enough savings for a comfortable life after retirement. What else do I need?’
On the last day of every such gathering, there is always a flurry of address-sharing and promises to keep in touch (internet and mobile were not yet known). A beautiful girl from Baroda was generously writing her address for anyone who asked (almost all the boys appeared to be wanting her address). She would, however, tell everyone that no one had ever succeeded in getting a reply from her.
Prudence prevents me from giving her full name; so let’s call her by initials G P. I accepted her challenge and told her that I would get a reply from her. She wrote down her address in my notebook. During the three days I had seen that she was showing special interest in a boy from her own State, Gujarat. On getting back to my place, I wrote her a postcard (yes, postcard it was) asking her the address of the boy as I had (I wrote) misplaced his address. I promptly received a reply from G P, giving me the address of the boy. I wrote reminding her of her bragging that no one could get a reply from her.
She thought (and wrote to me) that I was clever but I attributed it to the revival of my spirits with the knowledge that I was not alone feeling unhappy in this world.