Once there was a fisher. Poor. Lived in a humble shack by the ocean and always wore the same pair of loincloth and vest. People didn’t despise him, but they didn’t love him either. They saw him with a peculiar mixture of disgust and empathy, and kept an eye on him out of ennui.
His average day was simple. He would awake with the first ray, and after morning rituals, launch his boat into water. He’d catch fish till noon. After which, he would have lunch on the boat, the same— fish and rice. When the sun got too high, he would nap near a particular rock where the wind blew strongest and where the nosy visitors knew nothing.
Evenings would involve more fishing if he was in the mood. If he wasn’t, he’d go to the market and sell his stock. He would be off to bed before sunset. He had no ambitions and was content with what he had. He knew nothing of the outside world. An ignorant soul, he lived for himself, with himself, and never cared to grow in life. The concept of progress was alien to him. He dragged on with the same monotone— carefree but without utility.
He was never sad. But he was not happy either. He didn’t know what ‘happiness’ meant.
In the ocean, near the fisher’s shack, was a colossal ship. Its owner was a prosperous entrepreneur. He had achieved everything— even though there was no limit— and perhaps that’s why he was never content. Not that he cared. He knew progress grew, but only on the thick skin of persistent dissatisfaction.
He was ambitious and liked to keep himself ahead of others. He would begin making drafts of his next project even before the present one’s culmination. That way he gave jobs to millions; he had contributed a lot to society. But something troubled him.
People called him their friend, but experience and intuition had taught him that most were faking. He could trust no one. His wife had already left because he couldn’t give her time. His children wouldn’t spend time with him as they were too busy with the objects he had bought for them. He couldn’t enjoy sugar because he was diabetic. He couldn’t enjoy salt because of hypertension. Deep inside, he was unhappy.
Though he was forced to smile in front of others, to show them he was tough, that he was enjoying what he had. He was deft at it. It was an art well practiced in his growing years, and over time, a mask had got pasted on his face— which would smother him.
In the interviews he would say that one must be honest; one should always speak the truth and work for the greater good. He was a role model for many. His meteoric rise from slums to riches was a folklore. But he himself knew what he had lost in that tremendous ascent. His inner self tormented him, for the many lies he had spoken, for the many acts of debauchery he had committed, even for a better cause of the greater good. He felt—deep inside—he wasn’t worth a penny.
Success comes at a price, and perhaps that price was his happiness.
Working under the entrepreneur was a middle-aged man. Neither rich nor poor. He would come to work in time, juggle through the day, with periodic pauses of discussions on love, politics, religion and marriage and be off to home by evening. Then he would watch TV, talk with his spouse for a while, or do something he did whenever he felt unusual. He was happy. Or as he thought. Or rather, as he forced himself to think. Man is clever. He does a marvelous job of fooling himself.
Once he was young and wanted to do great things; like the entrepreneur. But he was not ready to negotiate with his principles. And anyway, there were too many obligations. Sisters to marry, an ailing mother, a father who never approved. A wife, a house, bills, children’s education, weddings, funerals.
Throughout his life he was too engaged to give a thought on happiness or on its lack. But sometimes, in his hours of stillness, he would look at the fisher and think about living a carefree life. He would look at his boss and think about living a more affluent one. His own life had been a string of mundane events, which depended on the ones preceding them.
And yet, he had thought about his retirement. He would compose a novel, or open up a diner, and play with his grandchildren. It’s not that he didn’t want happiness. It’s just— it depended on a remote future which when it arrived, would turn into the present.
He was always about to be happy.
Which of the three are you?
A dropout of two of the most prestigious universities of India, Nachi Keta is a Kidney Transplant Recipient. He loves his privacy too much and pretends to be SAGE on Twitter (@KetaNachi).