Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What makes you sane? (Book review: The Illicit Happiness of Other People)

Isn’t that a fascinating name for a book? What kind of happiness would be illicit? Another book I have been reading is called Too Much Happiness – it is a collection of short stories by the famous Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Can there be such a thing as ‘too much’ happiness? Is happiness ever enough? It could be overwhelming, yes. But never too much I think :) I want more happiness! Give me more!

Coming back to Illicit Happines. . .It is a novel written by Manu Joseph. This is his second novel; the first one called Serious Men, was a huge success and got him some awards. I have not read it yet. But today I will be talking about The Illicit Happiness of Other People. This is one of those rare books that I finished reading in a jiffy; usually I take a good week or ten days to finish a book – but this one was like eating an ice-cream, gulping down once spoonful after another, savoring every sensation.

This novel is based in late 80’s, early 90’s in Madras. It is a story of a 17 year old boy, Unni Chacko, who commits suicide. He seemed like a ‘happy’ person but he kills himself by jumping from the terrace. And nobody knows why. His father starts a journey, 3 years later, to find out about his son and understand what could have led him to do what he did. There was no suicide note; only clue left behind is in the comics and cartoons drawn by Unni. He was a cartoonist – a surrealistic cartoonist I must add. It is the story of Chacko family – a drunkard father, a schizophrenic mother, a son who killed himself, and another who lives under the shadow of his dead brother. It is a tragic story that talks a lot of philosophy and psychology, but you can’t just miss the humour in it. Manu tells the story so beautifully, with the right amount of mystery, intrigue and dollops of funny one-liners – mostly funny, candid observations of how things are. I don’t remember the last time I laughed while reading a book. Unni is one fascinating character, and so is his brother, Thoma. Both the kids have very interesting ways of looking at the world. Unni’s perspective is well, philosophical..metaphysical, witty, but Thoma is plain adorable – the stupid little kid.

The book goes on to talk about what sane and insane really mean. The delusions of the world, the folly of two. If everyone in the world believes in what is not really true, does it become true? What constitutes madness and how is it different from being enlightened?

It made me think about what freedom really means. The true form of freedom where nothing holds you back, you say what’s on your mind and do what your heart desires. . . will be considered insanity in the real world. The truth about insanity is that it is the truth, and the world does not want to see and accept the truth in all its clarity. The world moulds you in such a way that you stop looking at the truth and consider that ‘normal’. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014


I have never liked McDonalds Happy Meal. In fact, I am not very fond of McDonalds. There is exactly ONE thing I like there – their McChicken burger. I have eaten at McDonalds a lot of times and finally have come to the conclusion that I don’t like it. All their burgers are annoyingly Indian – they put all these Indian chutneys in all the burgers, except in McChicken. That is the only burger which has mayonnaise in it and none of the orange and green chutneys. Yes, I know their menu that well. I was their frequent customer at one point of time. But never had I ever bought their happy meal. I never liked the toys. I thought it was a stupid scam for kids.

And then I saw their recent toys. DRAGONS. From the movie How to train your dragon 2. I saw a few of them at a friend’s place. And it got me really excited. The dragons are super cool! I decided to indulge. At this moment, reader, it must be noted that I am trying to live a ‘healthy’ lifestyle right now and staying away from burgers and pizzas – I have them once in a while but try to avoid them. Now when I do decide to have a burger, I won’t waste it on a McDonalds burger when there are so many other good places to eat. Anyway I digress. So. The toys.

Next weekend when I went for grocery shopping, I decided I will get a happy meal and then I won’t have to bother myself with cooking and that could be my dinner. But before I could do grocery shopping, I spent a lot of money buying clothes. Yes, it was not part of the plan. It just happened :P Now with those bags of *expensive* clothes in my hands, I decided I didn’t want a McDonalds burger and what’s the big deal about toys!

This week I had a lot of work. On Tuesday evening, my boss piled up a lot more work on my head which had to be completed by night. There was no way I could go home and cook and eat and then work. So I told myself – this is the right opportunity to have that happy meal. A lot less guilt. It made total sense. McDonalds is right next to my house. So that day on my way back home from office, I stopped by McDonalds. Generally I hate going there, coz there are so many kids all the time. But that day I was happy about my first Happy Meal. 

I stood in the queue and placed my order – got an Iced tea instead of soda (health health – although iced tea turned out to be ultra sweet!). And then, after I paid the bill and got my burger, they gave me my toy. I was horrified; that guy handed me some pathetic Frisbee!! There I stood, carrying a laptop bag on my shoulders, wearing very formal "adult" clothes, looking at him with a shocked face. First thing I said, quite sulking-ly was – “I don’t want this toy, I want a dragon!” As soon as I heard myself I realized the hilarity of the scene, but I was too angry to let it go. So there were kids all around me and there were people behind me in the queue and I decided to put my foot down over the toy. I was like the angry Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones who was furious when she lost her dragons. I lost my dragon even before getting. And then the guy called his manager. I told him that I don’t want the happy meal if I don’t get a dragon – that’s the toy I am supposed to get (and no one can take away my right!! :P). He listened to me carefully and said that’s the only toy they have in stock. I was irritated beyond all measures. I felt cheated. Those 145 rupees over that stupid burger and Iced tea. The manager then assured me that new toys will arrive on Friday and I can get the toy exchanged after that. I felt a little better but I was not completely satisfied – you know people say such things to kids to keep them quiet, and nothing ever happens. I wanted to ask him to give it to me in WRITING that he will exchange my toy! But I shut myself up. I told him I was buying the happy meal only because of the toy. He looked quite unruffled, not bothered. He must be used to kids throwing tantrums in McDonalds.

So I came back home with an annoyed face and ate that burger. And finished my work. The sight of that Frisbee was boiling my blood. But I had to keep it safe so that I could exchange it.

TODAY- Saturday. I went to McDonalds again to get it exchanged. I was apprehensive; what if they don’t exchange it and don’t believe me story? When I went there I couldn’t see the guy I had spoken to that day – the one who had assured me that I could get the toy exchanged. I went to the counter. I told him that I wanted to exchange my toy. The manager was called again. It was some other man. I narrated the whole story to him. “So you want a new toy?”, he politely asked. I nodded. I am not sure if I did the puppy eyes, I don’t think I did. I was trying not to embarrass myself as much as possible. He came out after 15 minutes carrying two toys – not the ones I had seen at my friend's place. I asked him if those were the only two kinds he had. He said yes and I asked him again whether he was sure and he said yes again. I gave him a big smile, it crawled in quite suddenly, and I took one of the toys and gave that Frisbee back.

I think my dragon is pretty cool! You want to see? :) :) :)

The dragon throws out that thing from his mouth if you press a button :)