III National Seminar, The Enigma of Happiness: A Timeless Pursuit, 6-8 January 2012 at The Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy, Utkal University , Bhubaneswar

The III National Seminar on the theme, “The Enigma of Happiness: A Timeless Pursuit” was organized by Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences in collaboration with The Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy, Utkal University at Vani Vihar, the Utkal University Campus in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha from 6th to 8th January, 2012.

Keynote by Bruckner

 The inaugural session was chaired by Prof. Prabhat Nalini Das, former Professor and Head, Department of English, Utkal University . The welcome address by Prof. Aditya Mohanty, Convener of the seminar and Coordinator of the Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy set the ball rolling. He brought out the differences in the concepts of pleasure, happiness and bliss that are experienced at the physical, intellectual, emotional and psycho- spiritual levels respectively. Professor Prafulla C. Kar gave a brief overview of the Centre headed by him and referred to Mr. Balvant Parekh of Pidilite Industries as the driving force behind the commendable work undertaken by the Centre. He spoke nostalgically about his long association with Utkal University and provided a glimpse into the history of this very old university emphasizing the fact that the leisurely pace of life and work at Vani Vihar is conducive to meaningful human interaction and serious intellectual pursuits. The inaugural address by the renowned poet Prof. Jayanta Mahapatra set the theme of the seminar in its context, jeweled by readings from his own poems. Professor Kalpataru Kanungo’s thematic introduction focused on the various aspects of happiness and its justification in being called an enigma. The scientific yet introspective approach to the theme was especially enjoyable for the participants as it set the mood for enquiry and learning that is so essential in a seminar. The keynote address by the French writer and philosopher Pascal Bruckner initiated critical reflection on the nature of happiness and the role played by the State in its pursuit. The remarks made by Prof. Prabhat Nalini Das  on the fact that giving way to unbridled desire can lead to perpetual anxiety and that happiness can be attained by following the principle of ‘nothing in excess’.

 The first session dealt with the literary perspectives of happiness. Mary Mohanty sought to establish the ideals projected through characters in the Ramayan as the right way to achieve happiness. Kalikinkar Pattanayak’s readings into Siddhartha by Herman Hesse presented different facets of happiness through an analysis of the characters and situations in the novel. Bivitha Easo‘s paper on alternate childhoods in children’s literature of Kerala was thought provoking. Chandana John’s paper based on Anita Desai’s novel Cry, the Peacock focusing on a woman’s perspective of happiness tried to delve into the dimensions and sources of a woman’s well being and happiness in today’s global scenario.

 The second session was an equally enlightening one for it dealt with happiness in theory and praxis. Rinzi Lama’s paper on the healing room talked about a local practice prevalent in the extreme northern part of India . Prabhavati’s paper based on the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo sought to establish the relevance of the spiritual approach in the contemporary society where man is engaged in the constant struggle for survival and simultaneously experiencing an unquenchable thirst for happiness. Amal P. Mathews’ paper dealt with the need to protect our environment to help us obtain greater happiness because man’s interactions with flora and fauna have a great impact on his life. Falguni Bharateeya’s paper observed the realm of happiness and dealt with concepts like the human being as a structured entity who can experience unstructured pure moments of happiness especially when there is no duality between his being and his work. During the panel discussions Santanu Majumdar presented pain as the other side of the coin of happiness. Pravesh Golay doubted the very existence of real happiness..

Akeel Bilgrami

 Akeel Bilgrami’s plenary lecture on “Politics, Well-Being and the Unalienated Life” revealed happiness as both political and nuanced. It was a thought provoking talk touching upon various aspects of life and thought in the global context ranging from the omnibus question of the world as a place to master and control/ the world as a place to live in, to the notion of happiness not as a goal but as a fallout of other things, political, economic and psychological. Prof. F. M. Sahoo’s panel discussion on “The Alchemy of Happiness” was purely from the point of view of a psychologist. He attempted to demystify the concept of happiness by focusing on the ways in which happiness can be measured and achieved. Deepa Mishra adopted the methodology of general semantics in looking at happiness as a measure of the consciousness of abstraction. Anna George’s paper on the pursuit of happiness through food was presented in a lighter in vein and quite enjoyable.

Panel discussion

 Ranjita Barik explored the circumstances and the socio-political forces that influence the happiness of a citizen in a modern nation based on Auden’s “Unknown Citizen.” Debashish Nayak’s paper based on Wordsworth’s perception of nature brought out the point that bonding with nature and learning from nature can lead to real happiness. Prof. Aditya Mohanty’s talk on the final day of the seminar brought the discussions to a meaningful, thought provoking and positive conclusion. He emphasized the fact that the eternal pursuit of happiness presupposes the existence of happiness as a possibility.

Aditya Mohanty

We found the visit to a children’s home run by Prof. Aditya Mohanty and others a humbling and inspiring experience that evoked strong feelings of love and compassion for our fellow human beings. The old world atmosphere of Vani Vihar and the unhurried but diligent approach to life was what touched us and made us feel privileged and happy to be at the seminar.

 Prabhavati Y. and Chandana John, GITAM University , Hyderabad