Happily Ever After

Its the fairy tale ending – the bookend to the phrase ‘Once Upon a Time…’ that signifies the starting of a story. The beginning that promises interesting times ahead. One used to yearn to know what happened after ‘Happily Ever After’. Did all the complications in a character’s life end? Or were they simply not significant enough to write about?

As a child, accepting Happily Ever After was easy. It meant that the characters went off to some eternal state of bliss on earth. You closed the book and moved on to other things. But it soon dawned that there was no such thing as a Happy Ending. You cannot have a book or a movie that only portrays one big happy family. After some time, the syrup begins to overwhelm. Conflict is the fount of engagement, not happiness. Bliss leads to stupor – fat lazy days that roll into one another with no discernible seam. As long as the next move is uncertain, the audience watches with bated breath. The moment there is a resolution, the interest wanes – like the drink goes flat when the fizz is released from a soft drink bottle.

We understand happiness mainly as memory. As adults, we look back to childhood as a ‘happy’ time when we had no worries or responsibilities. But that’s not true. Exams were terrifying. Remember waking up the middle of the night thinking that you knew ‘nothing’ about the question paper the next day? Or the wait for results that seemed to be never-ending? And yet, when you ask anyone who had a ‘normal’ childhood ( whatever that means) school, friends and growing up, they remember it as a happy time. Or as boring – when time moved with all the pace of a shadow lengthening on a school wall. 40 minute school periods seemed to stretch to infinity. It’s only by gritting teeth and grinding through the boredom that one got through.

So, one learned to prize even small breaks in the routine. Even a walk to the beach to simply watch the waves rolling in and the ceaseless lapping of the surf had its own charm. The sand clung to the feet, distributed itself into the depths of clothes and even a few days later, a few grains of sand could be retrieved from the pocket. Riding in a car or a train was a treat and the window seat was prized and worth fighting over. Eating out was frowned upon with tales of the dirty kitchens and ‘God-only-knows- who-was-the-cook’ kind of remarks.

So what does Happily Ever After look like today? The father at his computer. The mother watching a serial. The kids zapping demons or aliens to kingdom come. Each member of the family in their own personal bubble with only smatterings of conversation. Nobody eats at the table anymore. We’re used to being fed on a constant diet of drama and conflict that plays 24 hours on one of our many screens. We hate it when it has to be interrupted by guests seeking conversation. Real experience is substituted by the virtual – and we are blurring the difference with ‘pretend’ conversations all going on at the same time. The illusion is that we are doing and achieving more – even as we retreat into shells that are only shadows of our so-called real selves.