Politics of Happiness

The social sense of happiness is political, and a person’s happiness in society depends on the structure of that politics. Traditionally, happiness is constituted by a fair balance among reasonably good health, a reasonably fair amount of wealth or a fairly good source of regular income, fairly good family life (in which a fairly good upbringing, loving parents, fairly good spouse, children are included), and fairly good relations with social institutions and other individuals, etc. This yardstick is of course general and there are millions of common people who live outside of this fold, such people as orphans, the homeless, people living in perpetual poverty or in ill-health, people who are not married or all other members of their families dead (for example, many lone survivors of the Holocaust). Many of these people are deprived by fate or whatever of most or all of what are considered to make a person happy. For example, Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, survived all other members of his family–his wife and their two daughters died in German concentration camps. When he was rescued by the Allied Force, he had lost everything that was considered to constitute his happiness–family, wealth, source of income, social relations, hope, and what not? By the common, traditional standard, such people cannot be happy, because by the standarc of happiness only people with most (if not all) of these assets are recognized as happy, and in consequence, people without most (if not all) of these factors do not have the source of happiness.

The concept of happiness is thus an established, received one, and it rests on these happiness factors. This concept favors certain group of people while it disadvantages the rest. Being able to pass as being happy is important for a person’s growth of any kind in a society with an established standard concept of happiness, because one being happy presupposes one’s possession of most (if not all) of the happiness assets, which are most valued by other members of the society. A person well-endowed with these assets is more welcome everywhere in the society’s setting (be it marriage, friendship, employment, health care, recreation, and what not) than a person who has less of these, while a person who does not have nothing or nearly nothing of what is considered to consitute happiness is least welcome, if not unwelcome.

The contitution of social happiness standard as we see in every turn empowers some and disadvantages the rest. It creates a hierarchy, and tends to perpetuate the structure. People usually are cognitive misers and they, rather than spend some thought energy in thinking and critically examining apparently regular things, just receive established ideas about them and thoughtlessly follow the tradition. However rational we are, we just believe nearly everything floated in the news (be it on the Internet or through the traditional media or by word of mouth as rumors, or in all forms)–if A defames B on Facebook, most people take the first report at face value. Thus, how one looks to others (i.e., whether they look happy indicating they have the resources powering their happiness, or otherwise) matters.

Everybody seems to be concerned about their happiness so much in almost everything they do that happiness seems to be the ultimate purpose of all human efforts. If this is the case, are those who happen to fall outside of the established happiness zone due to the faults of their own or others’ (such as lone survivors of the Holocaust or lone surviving victims of natural disasters, or other misfortunes) failed lives which are best put to an end by such means as suicide? Many did not commit suicide during the Nazi oppression in the concentration camps–they struggled to survive. The force of life is strongand tenacious. But many of them who struggled and clung to the last straws of life in the concentration camps committed suicide after their rescue. They were at the extreme end of what’s lying there opposite happiness. Other survivors did further survive that vaccuum of happiness, but it felt unbearably heavy–that broke the backs of lives. Why did these people who did not commit suicide did not commit suicide? What were they looking up to, when everything that consituted what they called life had been snatched from them? What was it that kept them living on despite they were in the depth of the abyss of extreme despair and hopelessness? Were they crazy, to continue to live when their source of happiness (thd purpose of all efforts in life) had been shattered?


Photographer unknown

Happiness is undoubtedly political, whatever it may be in a social context. The standard is always a composite of variable values, but happiness is constantly valued in life. Most of the time it is better to be happy than not. However, we often find ourselves in situations where we better sacrifice happiness and embrace meaning in life. Meaning and happiness are not mutually exclusory, but in their wild pursuit of happiness humans more often than not mind meaning. Meaning is rich experience, and it covers the whole area of life, far beyond the four protective walls of happiness.

It seems that you don’t have to give meaning to life as if life has nothing of its own, as if life is a vaccuum. Life itself is what is alive and it is worthy on its own, without any extraneous additions. You may say bare life is not worth living, but life (because it is consciousness) itself is meaning, when when you are physically an invalid and other people in your family, despite their love for you, consider it better that you be given euthanasia, for emotional or financial or any other reasons.

Rajendra Pukhrambam


Dr. Rajendra Pukhrambam. He would prefer Pukhrambam Rajendra Singh, with the surname (representing group) preceding the first name (representing the individual). A very fine balance between the individual and the community, he (in my view) is a philosopher and scientist, a very good family man and a mystic in plain clothes, and a universalist and local practitioner, or in short, a good human being pleased enough being just good with no mind for advertizing being good.

Gandhar Naorem


Gandhar Naorem at a recent literary meeting.

The shot was taken in a very sharply contrasting light condition in which the light in the background was too bright throwing Gandhar’s face and other major parts of his body in almost near complete darkness. This photo is the result of double-processing the RAW file–one done really badly. Just for historical purposes.

Throes of (Child)birth, Smart of Taking Life


Photographer unknown

A young, recently married woman committed suicide, the News Nation reported last evening.

It was the final rites of a neighbor yesterday–he took his own life successfully in the second attempt after the first about five years ago. His body was found hard and stiff in the rain hours after his last breath, in the dark narrow space between a barber’s shop and a big abandoned car at a small junk yard.


Photograph by Sally Mann

His brother had tooken his own life, too. I can still hear the sounds of women crying in his family sneaking weakly and quietly into my room one quiet evening in the early 2000s–I was reading (or writing something?) in my always-quiet room which I had turned into an indoor garden with plants collected from deep forests all over Manipur besides the ones I got from professional gardeners and plant lovers including my brother’s father-in-law. His body was found hard and still in his farmhouse (bolted from inside) days after his disappearance. Before he finally could take his life, he had been often seen walking drunk with a poison bottle in his hand. One foggy late-winter morning, he was found asleep on a cremation furnace platform on the cremation ground in my neighborhood. He had a poison bottle in his hand.


Photograph by Sally Mann

One son of the eldest brother of these suicide brothers had also put an end to his own life a few years before that. He had hanged himself by the neck from the ceiling of his bedroom, survived by his wife and two very small kids–one was just a newborn.

These three later cases are just what comes to mind when I think of suicides I know personally, actually close ones. Just convenient examples. I can make a long list of names.

About the same time, a friend of mine from my neighborhood–a good humorous person–took poison and it was too late when his family returned home that evening.

Suicide is a very regular phenomenon, and the rate is reportedly highest in Guyana (where people reportedly “die like flies” followed by Japan (Brandon Bridglal). In my state (Manipur, India), statistics says, suicide rate is highest in Kakching. I alone have many friends in my town who committed suicide. A couple of childhood friends from Wangoo, too. That village on one lake farm in which I lived my childhood.

Conversely, when I look at nature closely, I see every speck of life–even the tiniest ones–struggling to live against all sorts of odds. Under the microscope, I see microorganisms struggling to live. On the wooden wall panels of abandoned houses in the woods or on the red-brick walls at the base of the foundation of every building where the minimal conditions of life are present, there are always life forms–at least in the forms of moss and organisms so small visible only to the eyes looking for tiny lives–struggling to maintain life.


Lichens struggling to live on a dead sliver. Photograph by Thoithoi O’Cottage

I see both life and death around me. Struggles to live and to die. The throes of childbirth, and the first cry of the child. The act of taking life, one’s own or another person’s, negating its birth by another person, a life-giver, a mother (with a father).


A wild creeper struggling to cling to and draw life from dry mountain-flank rocks. Photograph by Thoithoi O’Cottage

To be continued…

Notes on Photography: Cropping as Selection

The photographs we see are the final, finished versions of the original images. Cropping is often one of the choices photographers make as to how they want their final versions to look. It involves selecting what to be retained and what to be removed, and the margin is usually what is affected because the focus is usually at or toward the center.

For example, early this year (2016), I took a shot of five children. One was ill and the other four sat around him, attending to him, the way children do. When the father of the ill child requested me to photograph the children, and when they saw my instinctively willing reaction, two of the children (who were already close to their il friend) got closer and held and touched him lovingly, while another child remained where he had been. When I was actually ready and about to aim the camera to the children, the fourth child got to his feet and stepped away at a distance he thought safe from the field of vision of my camera. The following is the resultant shot.

Friends (BW)

The boy sitting aloof adds some tension to the scene. He knows them being photographed and his being part of the group, but he does not show his face. At the same time he does not run away like the other child did. He remains part of the group, being fully conscious of being photographed and still not getting involved in it. That is a rare combination of defiance and vulnerability. So, in one version of the photograph, I keep him there. He adds a beautiful tension to the scene.

Looking tighter, in a closer frame, I love how the three children relate and how they show their emotions for one another, and how they just live their innocent childhood. So I cropped the photograph for these three children. The following is the result:

Friends (BW2)

There is a closeness of feeling in this cropped version. Some warmth of friendship in that cold winter afternoon in the slum.

I experimented with cropping the photograph in such a way that the hands of the child on the margin remain within the frame while his body is removed. This gives another result:

Friends (BW3)