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« Heidegger on Nihilism, Art, Technology, and Politics | Main | India's Wall of Death »

July 29, 2009


I like Pico Iyer's writings. I do not share his views on happiness entirely but some observations struck a chord.

My life is very different from Iyer's. Having left the work force long ago, I have never had the need to run away from a busy corporate existence. But our fantasies about that perfect setting for peace and happiness are not bound to what we do and where we are. Like Iyer, my day dreams often take me to Japan.

In my moderate travel experience (compared to yours, Namit) through world cities, three left magical impressions, each for different reasons - San Francisco, Barcelona and Kyoto. Of these, the only one where I have imagined myself living is Kyoto. The existence I conjure up is very similar to what Iyer is currently living. But add to mine a view of the wavy, crenellated tile roof of a Buddhist temple from an upstairs window and high speed internet.

I doubt that the Japanese are happier than the rest of the world. But for some reason, I can see myself at peace there, my lack of mastery over the Japanese language notwithstanding. It is one place where I think that isolation from the outside chatter and the zeitgeist will not make me feel left out or lonely. It is of course all a fantasy with no real life experience of an extended stay to back up its veracity, rising solely out of some moments of exceptional calm that I have felt during my travels through that country even though my itineraries were always packed and hectic.

I have occasionally written about Japan on my blog touching upon one experience or the other. My last post on Japan was a pot pourri of a few such observations. See here.

Thanks Ruchira. What leads to happiness is one of those questions that I hope always remains unsettled. I agree that ultimately it really does come down to cultivating a certain quality of life, a state of mind, an attitude, and it can be attained anywhere. But perhaps the presence or absence of some social forces can make such cultivation easier or harder? For instance, a hyper-competitive economic milieu with few safety nets can foster anxiety and strife. Etc. I enjoyed reading again your report on your most recent visit to Japan. I went there thrice in the late 90s for a total of six weeks but somehow never made it to Kyoto! I am determined to fix that mistake.

wow, im glad i stumbled across this site. the next time im asked something about india by my well meaning curious anglo friends, im going to sound a lot smarter.
i live in sf, been to barcelona, id love to go to kyoto too.

I don't know why anyone would want to read John le Carre, but this is a great article on happiness and all the societal forces that tend to militate against it.

Thanks, Namit, for posting this.

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New Book by Namit Arora

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

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