We are back in 2003, in a meeting room full of people coming from tens of different countries. The end of the day is approaching and everybody is tired. The speaker strives to get our attention but he doesn’t succeed. I don’t know if the speech is boring or if I am too tired myself to appreciate it. All I know is that I am not listening anymore and I am drawing flowers on my notebook. At some point, the girl next to me, that I barely noticed before and that I absolutely don’t know, takes her pencil and completes my drawing. I am surprised and amused.
I smile at her; she turns back my smile.
The connection is made.
I continue my drawing; she naturally continues completing it like we understood each other without words. A half an hour later we are exchanging written messages on my notebook that have us laughing tears while struggling to look serious in front of the others.
We first speak at the end of the meeting but we are already friends. The day finishes in my cozy French apartment, view on the Seine river, with her, my friends, good wine and lots of stories.
16 years later we still wonder what is the probability that a Romanian girl and an Indian girl get along together in such a spontaneous and natural manner. We only spoke a few times during all those years but it always feels like we’ve known each other for ever, beyond culture, traditions, countries or language.
For me, Meenakshi is synonym of warmth, love and smile.
What best reason to talk with her about my favored subjects, life and happiness?
Dear Meenakshi, how do you see today the story of your life?
I think it is never been a clear roadmap for me.
It was more about inspiration, from education, to job, to life decisions.
Since the beginning I felt attracted by social work. Random reason… So, I first studied sociology trying to understand why people are behaving the way they do. As individuals and as groups. Then I heard about the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, number one for management and social work. I went there to get closer to what I thought I wanted to do in life. I eventually never really worked in the social field. But in human resources which is another kind of social. You are still taking care of people but in a different environment. Today I am working on people and organization transformation projects.
I’ve always tried to make people happy, to make them laugh. I couldn’t stand sad faces.
Happiness was always genuinely my driver.
Did you always know what happiness is or did you discover it?
I think I’ve always been an intrinsically optimistic and happy person. But something has profoundly changed in the way. As a kid and as a young adult, I was focused on the others. My happiness depended on theirs. It was so important for me to make them happy that if I didn’t succeed, I felt unhappy and guilty. But at one point, I started recognizing the soul beyond social connection. I noticed that not everybody wants to be happy. So, I stopped trying to make them happy and started accepting where they were in their own journey.
Because I believe that happiness is a choice. In any circumstances, you can change and choose.
What has changed in the way? And actually, how were you as a child?
[Laughter] I was a rebellious child. Not an easy one. I grew up in a traditional Indian family with my grandparents, my parents and my 3 brother and sisters in the same house. But I couldn’t stand authority. I didn’t respect the rules as they are set for centuries. Traditionally, the grandmother has (almost) all the rights on her daughter in law. And my grandmother was always screaming on my mother who had no right to respond. From my perspective, it was an uneven exchange. I fought my grandmother while none of my brother and sisters reacted. My grandmother couldn’t wait for my father to come back from work and tell him what a naughty daughter he raised. I’ve got beatten by my father several times…
How do you explain the difference between you and your brother and sisters?
I don’t know. Even my family wondered. I was a contemplative kid, very much in contact with nature, with animals. I was hyperconscious about the suffering around me. I was affected by it and I actually never accepted what I saw. I tried to change the status quo, the hierarchy, and the relationships prescribed by the society.
I have been raised within the Indian context and teachings, based on the principles of karma and seva. On one hand, everybody has to do his duty. On the other hand, you must help the needy, the poor. Basically, you have to act as an instrument to elevate another soul, to bring service to humanity and nature. I grew up with stories of kings who were supposed to be considered happy if their subjects were happy.
But this is finding happiness outside. You need to change perspective and make choices.
Happiness is about what you have inside. And happiness is a matter of choice!
What would you advise that little rebellious girl that you were when fighting your grandmother?
With the knowledge that I have today, I would tell this girl that she shouldn’t try to resolve her mother’s problem. I am against domestic violence and I think this is terrible. But everyone can still choose. If you stay, you accept the consequences. It is also a choice.
When I used to fight for my mother and try to make her happy, in 99% of cases I was not asked to. It was not needed or if it was, she never was asked for. Wrong quote for both parties…
I would tell this girl to only make herself available to help but not to act instead of the mother she wants to protect and make happy. Her mother has to take responsibility in her own evolution.
I agree that happiness is a matter of choice. But what do you do with people who don’t know that?
Even those people are seeking something. Maybe they don’t have words to describe it but they want to evolve. You might not articulate it to know that this is what you are looking for. For them, you have to become a resource, an instrument by your example. You embody it and you share it. Then they realize that this is what they were looking for… and they can make their choice. It is about detachment and discernment.
”Do unto others as your best self can” you say in a short article on your blog.
“Childhood was about building values, one of the bricks in that foundation was… Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you… This set a benchmark of good behavior for us. Eventual growing up meant realizing… people do not often do as you do unto them… Many a heartbreak on the altar of reciprocity taught this important lesson…
People, as do we, do whatever we are most capable of – good or not so good, each can only build with raw material they possess… Life is really about knowing and bettering your own self, others are but mirrors to help you along the way…
Today, at the threshold of my personal half century on planet, I’d say Do unto others as your best self can, others will do as they see fit… At least this way no regrets/ could’ve/ should’ve/ would’ve arrive in droves at your doorstep coz you’ve already gone and done what you could, should and would in a given situation!
It takes the pressure of expectations off the relationship, when you are doing that which comes naturally to you without thinking about others having to behave like you do ….
Key to this approach for me is in accepting and respecting where a person is in their journey, self included!”
How do you translate this beautiful philosophy of life in the things that makes you happy?
The results of the transformation work I am doing with my clients is one of my biggest rewards. Then rescuing street animals, fighting for them, being their voice make me really happy. And one of the secrets of those achievements consists in spending 2 days a week in complete silence and at least 1 hour every morning in contemplation. This allows me to stay focused and to have a clear mind and vision.
One last question: how do you deal with setbacks?
Normally I am very optimistic. Even in bad situations I can still see the silver lining. Like a friend said there is a time and place for happiness. Even during bad moments, I know there’s light and happiness, I just need to fight with darkness, seal it. Once spelt, it disappears by itself. It melts away. You have to have the confidence that this light is a choice. Any moment you can chose light and happiness. This is my journey.
What you just have read is only a part of my beautiful conversation with Meenakshi. It is her philosophy of life in a nut shell. But you should’ve heard us speaking after all those years, at a 5 000 kilometers distance like we just sow each other in a cafe a couple of days ago!
We spoke about her dog, Bullet and her cat, Casper (like the friendly ghost), name that Meenakshi gave her after having found her near to a crematorium… We spoke about marriage, comparing scientific studies results and our own experience. We made plans not to wait another 10 years before we speak again (actually, we are going to have a chat every two weeks!) and even to visit each other. I have never been to India despite the calling and she never came in Romania despite the attraction.
We both know that it was meant for us to meet and that we share the same quest.
The quest for happiness. Whatever it may mean. For us. And for you. Join us in this amazing journey!