Is this a happy city?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009 - 9:18am IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: DNA
As urbanites isolate themselves, are they making our cities unhappier?

What makes for a happy city?


Happy people. And what makes people happy in a city?


Many things I guess. Some are made happy by wealth and worldly possessions. By the Mercedez Benz parked in the garage and the gold biscuits in their bank lockers. Some are made happy by their physical achievements. By the fact that they are the best in their league of men and women. Athletes and fit people with six-pack abs alike.


Some are made happy by their professional achievements. Sports stars, filmstars, IT stars and Biotech czars. Some are made happy by how many times they appear in the glossies and the newspapers. Never mind if it is Page 3 or page 17 or whatever. Some are made happy by their families. Some by the ease of living and commuting in the city. Some by the sense and satisfaction of the contribution they make to the city and nation.


Some are happy because they teach. Some because they fight just causes. Some because they think they are in love. Some because they think they are spreading the word of God.
Many reasons then. Different people in a city are happy for different reasons altogether. Back to the question then. What makes for a happy city?


In the life of a city there are many metrics that are thrown up to measure the achievement, capability and indeed the happiness quotient of a city. The grossest one of them is that of wealth. Dog tags abound. Bangalore is the third richest city in India for instance. How does it matter?


Bangalore has the highest aggregation of consumer spending in India. Bangalore has the second highest suicide rate in India, after Pune. Does this make for an unhappy city? Metrics abound. Depending on who you are and what your agenda is, you will throw up a metric of your own and use it to measure the happiness quotient of a city.


Does it matter really whether a city is happy or unhappy? Rich or poor? Slick or rustic?
It matters to some. It makes for good copy. It facilitates discussions across snazzy Monday evening IT networking dinners and Tuesday evening ‘Dhaba’ dinners. It makes for conversation. Anything more than that?


Maybe yes. There is a bigger point to explore. Are smaller towns happier than bigger cities? And are our villages happier than our Tier-2 towns altogether?


I do believe the smaller the size of the city or town or village, the happier it is. People are that much closer. That much better knit into the fabric of society. If the family is the smallest unit of society, a small number of families living close by, sharing the drought and the rain alike, sharing similar conditions of every kind are that much happier than those that don’t.


The bigger the city, the more distant are the people. People really live very, very close to one another physically, but emotionally they might as well be as far apart as Beijing and Johannesburg. Look at many of us who live in flats. We live in living rooms one on top of another; we cook in kitchens one on top of another. We watch television one on top of another. Let me stop at that and go no further. All I wish to say is that we live very close by, but live very far apart from one another. And that is the true blue definition of a city.


Cities, therefore, cannot really be happy places. Smaller towns and villages are happier. When your neighbour in a village has a stomach-ache, the entire village is abuzz. Everyone has a solution to offer. Everyone is out there to help, as one big happy family. When the girl in Mr. Kenchappa’s house has come of age, the whole village celebrates. Much to the chagrin and embarrassment of Ms. Kenchappa, of course.


Think abut it. Those of us who live in the match-boxes of our making, piled one on top of another in plush gated communities, don’t know very much of the neighbour beside us or above or below. If one of them has had a heart-attack last night, so be it. We don’t really know. Nor do we care. Mostly not. Even if we do, it is all so much for reasons that are always tagged to an agenda.


Villages and smaller towns are that much less agenda-tagged in their responses to neighbours and the people and cattle living around them. There is a certain innocence all around. And I guess it is this innocence that makes for happy people.


Happy people are those who give without caring. Happy people are those who give till it hurts. Happy people are those who help without expecting anything in return. Happy people are those who never ever use metrics when it comes to giving and taking and helping.


By this standard, the big city is really not a happy place. Unless there is a conscious move to make the big city a happier place by re-instilling every value and response of who we really were and are, the big city will be missing one big quotient amidst all its glitz and gloss and money and pomp and glamour. Happiness.


Big cities really need a big dollop of happiness. Let’s add a garnish of innocence to that as well. Touché!


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