He who laughs, laughs again!
This said; allow one to exhibit a sense of consternation at the fact that one’s fellow beings appear to be fast losing their sense of humour. Delving into recent history a bit, the news of the demise of the ‘Punch’ magazine well over a decade ago had come like a bolt from the blue. The fact that a magazine that had been the epitome of good humour since 1841, and which enjoyed the unique distinction of having ‘invented’ the cartoon, passed away unlamented and unsung had hit one where it hurt most. The disappearance of ‘Punch’ was a sad commentary on the state of humour of the British, to say the least. The demise of an institution is always sad and hardly any one could challenge the position of ‘Punch’ as one such. Its sharp wit, subtle invention and irreverent humour, though not everyone’s cup of tea, did ensure for it a unique position.
But enough of news of far off lands! Nearer home news of this genre is taken in the nation’s stride. One hardly expects an eyebrow to be raised or a tear shed. It is bad enough that our nation is getting quite used to seeing institutions stifled; what is worse, it is fast losing its capacity to laugh. Let us face it - honorable exceptions apart - the Land of the Pure was never known for sophisticated humour. But our native robust humour was always evident in plenty.
The common man, in the midst of his poverty and squalor, still held on to his capacity to laugh, more often than not at himself. It was this spirit that kept the nation going. The tragedy of tragedies is that of late the going has been downhill all the way. So much so, that it has come to pass that even the funny spectacle of the hysterical juggling of fiscal figures by our statistics-happy planners has failed to raise as much as a smile out of the man-in-the-street, what to talk of a guffaw. Our nation is the net loser in the bargain.
Now, how about a cursory glance at what we have lost. Take one random example: the occasion of a visit to the barber’s for a haircut. Remember the time when the barber, in between snips of his deft scissors, gave one not only a tour d’horizon of the national and international scene, but also threw in a few crisp jokes into the bargain. One emerged from the experience not only lighter on the scalp but also lighter in spirit. Alas, no more! Your modern barber (pardon, hair-dresser!) smirks, scowls, complains about everything under the sun and, when he is through with you, the only lightness you feel is in your wallet. Or, take another everyday occurrence. Traveling by the local bus used to be an altogether uplifting experience. In between issuing tickets, the conductor would carry on a cheery banter keeping all and sundry amused with his robust native wit. One ended the journey an altogether happier and (more often than not) a wiser person.
Today, traveling by public bus (or worse, by minibus) is a harrowing experience comparable to the erstwhile wheel of death. The singlular pleasure that one gets at the end of the ordeal is the realization that one is still in one piece. Badly shaken, bruised and manhandled perhaps but, mercifully, still alive to see another day. One may be mistaken, but “bhands” are no longer in evidence any more. They were once an indispensable appendage of every wedding procession. Where have they all gone anyway? They used to be the life and soul of the party by bringing out the lighter side of things in their own inimitable way. One may still find them in villages, but in the cities wedding functions have become ghastly - showy but altogether boring affairs. In the place of the inimitable “bhands”, one is now confronted with the inevitable appearance of VIPs with their entourage of security personnel. From the sublime to the ridiculous, what?
Humour, then, is being systematically drained out of our lives. This is an ominous development. It has been said that nations begin to die when apathy sets in. When a people become bereft of their sense of humour, they lose the will to survive at the same time. Surely, our nation deserves better. One would like to know, why do we take everything so seriously? Why do we not see the lighter side of things? The media has a lot to answer for.
If it is not even capable of generating a good laugh, what else is it good for? One should be thankful for the occasional smile on the faces of the TV newscasters, for one thing. Surely the pearls of wisdom that our public figures often cast before our hapless, ignorant masses must be worth a smile, if not a laugh. What about VIPs holding forth on subjects they haven’t the foggiest idea about? Or, how about the endless procession of weighty personalities dressed in silks and cashmere descending from bulletproof limousines and then exhorting the multitude to tighten their belts for the good of the country?
Then, what about the official report of every VVIP foreign tour as ‘ an outstanding success’, and the outcome of all one-on-one parleys as ‘historic’? The possibilities are endless. There is such a variety of raw material to generate laughter. And yet so few of us laugh or even smile, these days. What is our nation coming to? There can be only one conclusion. We appear to be on the verge of losing our capacity to laugh - horror of horrors!
Our nation has emerged unscathed out of numerous traumas – dismemberment, several martial laws, a civilian martial law, not to mention several genres of democracy. But the present ordeal it may not survive. An onerous duty, consequently, devolves upon our public leaders and opinion-makers. Whatever you do, do not take our laughter away from us. It is virtually the only possession we have left that is not up for privatization! Let us not forget, sense of humour can see a person through the darkest of days. The same is equally true of nations.
Let us, then, not let go of our native sense of humour. Let us laugh in the face of adversity and, who knows, we may yet have the last laugh. All this brings to mind the story of the European soldier of the Middle Ages, who, in the heat of battle, got pinned to the trunk of a tree by an enemy arrow that had pierced right through his body. After surviving in this unenviable position for the better part of the day, he was at long last rescued by his comrades-in-arms. As they prepared to pry him loose, he was asked if it was painful. Managing a wry grin, he managed to answer: “Only when I laugh”. Now that’s the spirit!