Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Laughing matters


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By Paramjit Bakhshi

So what is wrong with Shillong? To borrow a bit from William Wordsworth, one often feels the city, “is too much with us; late and soon. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”  There is an air of oppression here, a dire dearth of new thought, an overdose of shameless hypocrisy, an abundance of narrow puritanical mindset and a total absence of humour. We Shillongites, truly lack the ability to laugh at ourselves. This was fairly evident, at just about the only comic show held, in the city this year- PAPA CJ Naked. Since Papa had picked upon a few prominent personalities last year, there were none in the front row this year. No politicians, no senior bureaucrats, no known leaders of NGOs and of pressure groups. Looking back, all these people may have been seriously too busy, to waste time on laughing matters -some of them engineering the current spate of agitations, and others debating, how to thwart them. Wish somebody would tell them all, that we already feel agitated enough. On working days, the narrow roads and the endless traffic jams get to us, and we can’t get anywhere. And on the days of the bandh – well we could, but again can’t go anywhere. A proposal which seriously needs to be considered by the government is about having a state symbol -something we can all identify with. I propose the ubiquitous speed breaker. Build countless of them, on every road, and we will all be happy. All our development money will be more efficiently used, as usual, on worthless projects, there won’t be any need to call bandhs, and the PWD will have enough money to pay all its contractors. In addition we will be rocking all the time and nobody will be needed to burn our cars. Most of us will burn them ourselves. We will also be saved from traffic jams and the need to build wider roads and flyovers. After all where are we heading? Nowhere. Right.
There is a silly Sardar joke which made us laugh when we were kids. It concerned a “bhapa” (one of the businessman and cautious variety) Sardar who bought a mo-ped. After riding all the way from Delhi to Chandigarh he boasted “I drove really fast on the highway, sometimes at ten and sometimes at twenty (kms / hour).” I am sure if a report card of our achievements was put out our boasts about the pace of development would be a similar laughing matter. Ten, twenty, forty years with little to show and not even fun along the way. All deathly still and serious. And boring.
There is a cute quote by GK Chesterton which goes like this, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”. In all our seriousness we (our runway, the airport and not to mention the cable car) seem to have got stuck in a rut, and need new perspectives and a lot of humour, to get us going. It is not that Shillong did not have humour. Once upon a time there was SBUK, and on a personal note there was a David M.  Wonder what happened to SBUK. A Google search, which finds even the insignificant yours truly, failed to throw light on it. David of course, sadly passed away a long time ago, but his jokes are still with us. To lighten the current atmosphere, I think these column centimetres cannot be put to better use, than in recalling one of his classic anecdotes.
One day David went to buy a local chicken at Iewduh. After choosing one he liked, he casually asked the Kong where the chicken came from. She turned the chicken around, examined its backside carefully and said, “From Mairang”. David nodded, paid for the chicken, and as was his nature, made a little more small talk. Impressed with David’s friendliness, this time the Kong asked him, where he was from. Without a moments delay, David turned his butt to her, and said, “I am sure you can tell, Kong”.  Wonder if the story was true. But does it really matter. It made us laugh and that was good. Of course one can get a little more creative, and start wondering whether it would actually be nicer, if our butts, rather than our faces revealed our ethnicity. There definitely would be less racial prejudice, and either really long lines at every border or no borders at all. Imagine (a la John Lennon), not just a European Union, but a Union of the World, or alternatively wonder about being employed at a border as a Butt Reader. Would an official designation like that be better, than the unofficial one we give people of being a**** lickers. You decide.  Anyway, time to change the subject, but before getting off this topic I seriously need to leave you, with one anonymous quote. “You can’t leave footprints in the sands of time if you are sitting on your butt. And who wants to leave butt prints on the sands of time.” Do we dear Shillongites?
Of course humour requires creativity and the ability to step back from our sense of self importance. “Here. You dropped this. This is your sense of humour. You lost it when you picked up that giant bag of how important your opinion is.”, goes another quote. Come on guys we all need to lighten up. Seriously a little humour must also be a part of the tradition of the place.
We have Sardarji jokes, Polish jokes, Irish jokes, Bengali jokes even Chinese jokes, Assamese jokes, Hindu and Christian jokes but one is yet to hear any tribal jokes. Can’t something be done to encourage local comedy rather than the regular farces we are so familiar with? I concede that one of the local FM channel really tries to make us laugh but couldn’t the government also do something. I mean organise a state competition to celebrate the best stand up comedian. I am sure there are many creative comedians here and they would get a chance to make an honest living. The PA systems in the locality have been busy recently, albeit briefly. Wouldn’t it be nice if they came on for a few minutes every day, to make us laugh? That would seriously cheer us up, without having to depend on Bacchus every evening. Imagine people even getting up early to hear a few jokes. It might just improve our work culture from the current approach of, “Don’t mention work I get labour pains.”   Such an effort might be a bigger hit than Charlie Sheen and his Anger Management. We could also have a bit of humour at all the staid state functions too. Wouldn’t comedy shows be better than the stale cultural shows that they regularly put on? It would certainly improve the attendance at these affairs. Currently they are such drab events that only two categories of people attend them: those who are ordered to attend them and people fed up of indifferent meals cooked at home. If Barrack Obama could have comedian Cecily Strong for the White House Correspondents Dinner it would certainly be a novel idea if local politicians invited real comedians in addition to some of the visiting jokers that they regularly entertain.
At the moment our leaders (or should one say, “dealers”; the anagram applies equally well) play all their practical and not so practical jokes at the expense of all of us- the common unconnected people. Instead of feeling sore the least we can do is raise our spirits with some humour, some wit, some cartoons and satire even though like Balajeid Kharshandi, we may often be misunderstood.
P.S: Should you misunderstand this piece too please let me forewarn you about sending any hate mail. As the wit says, “Don’t mess with me. I know Karate, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Jujitsu and twenty eight other dangerous words.”
The writer can be contacted at bakhshi03


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