The perfect getaway
We all need happy places that we can retreat to – even if they just exist in our minds
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – the book, not the movie – remains an eternal favourite of mine. Every year or so, I pick it up and re-read it, revelling in the antics of Holly Golightly, marvelling at her own particular brand of capricious madness. The title of the book says it all really. Of course, nobody ever has breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is a store that sells jewellery. But for Holly, Tiffany’s equals a magical place where nothing bad can ever happen. It is her own special ‘safe place’ where she seeks refuge when things tend to get too much for her.
Reading the book yet again recently got me thinking. Yes, safe places are all very well. But there’s a lot to be said for happy places as well, isn’t there?
Happy places. We all have them in our lives and in our memories. Places where we felt at peace, where we experienced joy, where we indulged in laughter or where we simply felt loved and cherished. Sometimes these places are associated with other people who are or have been special to us. Sometimes they are places that are significant only to us, our own personal islands where we spent some special time with ourselves.
At every stage of our lives, we all have our own happy places. And even though we may not always be able to access them physically, in times of stress even their memory is enough to soothe and please.
Even today, when the sun shines down warmly on a balmy winter day, I am transported back to my happy place in the house I grew up in. My favourite spot at home was a tiny little enclosed verandah in the front of the house, which got sun all through the morning. Once school broke for Christmas break, I would spend the entire day there, sprawled on an easy chair, reading my latest loot from the lending library, moving every hour or so to lap up the rays of the sun as it moved across the horizon. The reading was punctuated with parathas for breakfast, chomping down on sugarcane for a quick energy rush, and endless cups of sweet, milky tea before the chill of dusk sent me scurrying indoors.
At college, I found my happy place in the library, in the row of desks set against a bank of windows overlooking the central courtyard. I would sit there for hours on end, reference books open on the sloping desk, making copious notes when the exams came perilously close. When I wasn’t in the mood for serious study, I would choose an old favourite from the shelves heaving under the combined weight of the literary endeavour of several centuries. There was a special joy in simply reading a book, without bothering with the analytical stuff that comes with studying literature as a subject. My attention would wander from the printed page on to the flower-edged lawns below, watching the women come and go (with no thought of Michelangelo – or T.S. Eliot, for that matter).
More recently, my happy places have included the palm-fringed terrace of the barsati I lived in when I first moved to Delhi. This was the venue of many an impromptu party, a place where my friends could let their hair down over some pizzas and plenty of beer. This was where I organised a brilliant fireworks display for a friend’s young son only to have him cower in a corner all evening, looking frightened out of his wits. This was the vantage point from where I first fell in love with Delhi winters, with their mixture of mysterious fog, glorious sunshine, and the riot of colours as the seasonal blooms took over the traffic roundabouts.
Of course, there are plenty of other venues that qualify as happy places for me too. There is my favourite cafe, where I can curl up with a good book and a strong cup of coffee whenever I want some downtime. There are the green pastures of Lodhi Garden, the best place to go for a walk as the day winds down to an end, with Joni Mitchell singing to me from my I-pod. And strangely enough, I find long-haul flights happy places as well, where you can settle down with a glass of wine and watch crappy movies back-to-back without feeling the least bit guilty about wasting time.
I guess at the end of the day, a happy place is just someplace where you create some warm, fuzzy memories for yourself. For a young mother or father, it could be at the foot of their child’s bed, as they watch him snore breathily in the deep slumber of innocence. For a young couple, it could be the tiny little flat they moved into after their wedding, the venue of their first enthusiastic grapplings in the marital bed. For a 50-something man on the verge of retirement it could be his office, the scene of many professional triumphs over the years. For a 60-something woman, it could be the memories of her childhood home where she felt safe, secure and pampered before the vagaries of married life took over.
Yes, all of us have our own happy places. Sometimes they are just a car or plane ride away. Sometimes they are merely the stuff of memories. But even if they only survive in our minds, our lives are always happier for their existence.