Can a bankrupt man find happiness? Can a man who was sued find respect? Can a man of debt find peace? Avis Viswanathan certainly did! Years of misery finally brought him to his moment of awakening with a little help from his wife, Vaani, with whom he hosts Bliss Catchers, a monthly event where like-minded speak about their their pursuit of happiness and how they found it. He calls himself a happiness curator and a life coach, and completely unambitious.
Here’s his story in a nutshell: Avis’ consulting company failed in 2008. and he owed a lot of money to many people. Some sued him, some yelled, and some took pity on him and gave him more to survive. “Once, we had `2,000. We spent it on groceries and auto fare. All we had at the end of it was four `20 notes,” says Avis, as he shows us a picture of the notes and the bill that he carries with his phone everyday.
Things began to improve (not financially) around 2012. “I was crying in desperation to Vaani. What kind of tragedy is this? Can’t we do anything? We are so helpless. And Vaani said, ‘never say that. You can write. You have written — just that you don’t want to work on it’. It was then that I pulled out all my journal entries since I got bankrupt, and began to compile them. In 2014, the book Fall Like A Rose Petal was released.”
In 2015, they decided to host an event called Bliss Catchers that would celebrate the lives of those who dared to go after their bliss. The first session was in January 2015 and the last was held on November 28 with actor Kavithalaya Krishnan. Other guest speakers on the show included V Balakrishnan from Theatre Nisha, who choose theatre over a career in the IAS, Evam Karthik, who took to setting up a theatre company and turned a stand-up comic after a degree in engineering/MBA, and the globally acclaimed pianist, Anil Srinivasan, who quit his PhD at Columbia after doing MBA, to come back to Chennai to make music.
When we asked him why all the guest speakers were well-known and successful people, not commoners, he drew three circles overlapping each other like a venn diagram, and said, “There are three circles — passion, excellence and economic engine. When the three circles converge, that’s your bliss...that’s your purpose.”
Oh ok...so does it come down to money then? “It is wrong to assume that money doesn’t give you bliss. It does, but it takes time. So never give up on your artistic passions,” he explains.
Talking about his first taste of bliss, Avis smiles, “My first bliss was Vaani herself, at the age of 19. I remember when I went to my dad to talk about it, he said when you earn `2,000, I’ll give you my blessing to marry her. So, that very day, I went for an interview for a sales job. They would only give me `750. I explained my situation to them. They promised to write `1,000 on my offer letter but give me only `750. That worked,” grins Avis.
So how does one find his bliss? “I was a journalist initially, then worked in the corporate sector, after which I became an entrepreneur. Incompleteness drives you to seek your bliss. An easier method would be to try everything that comes your way. Bliss is not only knowing what you want to do.
It is also knowing what you don’t want to do. When you are able to lose yourself, forget your stress, that’s your bliss,” he opines.
Avis and Vaani have had tough years, but they managed to get through. Avis thanks his 179 angels (the ones he owes money to) who helped them survive and find their awakening. “Hosting Bliss Catchers, listening to the life stories of other successful people, is us, soaking in our bliss. This is what makes us happy. We take excerpts from the guest speakers’ stories and put them in a general context for listeners. But we make no claims to change people’s lives through these events. You cannot do more than living your life. If you get something out of it, we are all the more happy. If you don’t, your moment of awakening is yet to come.”
Bliss Catchers is a monthly event held at Odyssey, Adyar. The second season will begin in January 2016, with Rakesh Raghunathan of Puliyogare Travels & Peta Wrap and Rajith Nair of the Travelling Gecko.