Developing a Sense of Humour
My father was an official in the Industries
Department of Kerala Government and had the responsibility of approving small
scale industry projects. Since it involved lot of paper work and submissions,
some of the new entrepreneurs came to our house seeking his assistance and
advice on getting subsidies and also to get marketing support for their
One such person was Mr Varma (can't remember his full name), quite tall, who came in a sleek Allwyn Pushpak scooter and wore colourful shirts and bell-bottom pants, impeccably polished black leather shoes with heels in tune with the fashion in 1970's and 1980's. We would watch him in awe at his dressing and manners as my father was a simpleton and only wore white or light-coloured shirts and dhoti where ever he went.
Once seated inside the house, Mr Varma would take a cigarette and flip it holding it between his forefinger and middle finger with such dexterity we have only seen with superstar Rajanikanth! This process he repeated everytime before he lit a cigarette and then the whole room will be filled with smoke. My brother had the habit of mimicking Mr Varma holding the cigarette and flipping that even my mother, usually quite serious by nature, would start laughing uncontrollably!
At Arya Central School where I did my entire schooling, sometimes magicians were invited to display their tricks in front of students and teachers during Assembly time in the morning. Each student was asked to pay Rs 10 to watch such shows.(Possibly, we couldn’t afford a PC Sorcar Jr at that time). They would display some card tricks, swallow coins and then take it out from their belly or ears. Or swallow a small piece of ribbon and let out metres of ribbon from the mouth. On one such occasion, a magician sought a student volunteer to be hypnotised and levitated upto a height from a lying down position.
Within a few minutes, the hypnotized student was in the air moving slowly up and held in position at a height. He even answered some questions which the magician said came from his subconscious mind. However the more time he was on levitation, most of us began to shiver inside and became panicky. Even after the magician starting swinging his hand and murmuring some mantras, the student's downward movement was not so easily done. Once he was back on the desk, everyone heaved a sigh of relief.
Invariably after such events, the next day, Jayasankar (senior to us) and a born humourist and comedian, will take the stage and mimic the magician swallowing a small ribbon bringing out from his mouth metres and metres of ribbon! Our Principal who was very serious and a strict disciplinarian would find it difficult to control his laughter. Invariably, Jayasankar’s mimicry created more amusement to us than the magicians themselves!
I began to recall such childhood incidents as a neighbour visited our house recently to invite us for his son’s wedding. After he went, my daughter said she has never seen him smile or laugh. And some of the questions she asked made me think more seriously about humour. “How does a sense of humour develop?” How is it that you are able to find funny things about people and common place incidents ? Or how does one become a humorist?
I believe that the atmosphere at home plays an important part in developing a sense of humour in childhood. Traditionally, in many families the elders always created an ambience of seriousness around them and naturally humour was detested. Women and girls were never allowed to laugh loud. Many teachers believed that they had to look serious to get the respect of students. But, one aberration was a professor of Political Science, Suseelan Sir while I did BA Economics in Government Arts College in Trivandrum. He used to compare the various interest groups and lobbyists to the croaking frogs- making lots of noise but of no great use for society! And invariably his class was always full as he referred to several contemporary political happenings to elucidate a point.
At school, we had an English teacher named Annathai Gladis, a native of Tamilnadu, who used to tell examples of pitfalls in literal translation to English. She used to recall a lady in her village who was angry over a third person who interfered while she was talking to someone,” I talk, you talk, why you middle middle talk?!”
It is the greatness of some people that they not only laugh at others but also liked being laughed at by others. One such was our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He reportedly told Shankar, the most outstanding cartoonist India has ever produced, “Don’t spare me Shankar.” Best of humour has come from comedians who have gone through lot of suffering in their life including that of Charlie Chaplin whose childhood was fraught with poverty and hardship.
Dept of Humour
Humour is by far the most significant behaviour of the human mind, according to Edward De Bono of Lateral Thinking and Six Hats fame. He was of the view that humour was the highest form of creativity."You may find this surprising. If humour is so significant, why has it been so neglected by traditional philosophers, psychologists and information scientists?"
And to add to it- Why is it that no university in the world has a Department of Humour? And more importantly, in these pandemic times, when people are laden with worries and stress- why deny the people an opportunity to laugh!?