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The irony of being funny

I was looking out of the window of the drawing room of my Salt Lake flat, which is on the first floor, and contemplating on one of the ironies of life. Namely, how if something is funny, it is considered frivolous. The film Om Shanti Om is not getting its due because of this draconic Indian law. It is a landmark Indian film, which makes Bollywood laugh at itself, for three hours, which is difficult even for Cyrus Broacha. In fact, when regarding itself, all these years the film industry has mostly held one serious expression on its face, that of Manoj Kumar’s. Alternating with that of Nirupa Roy’s.

It follows from the same law that Sukumar Ray is meant for children, and so is Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, also the film, as well as Alice in Wonderland. Grimness is seriousness, laughter is what children do and P.G. Wodehouse doesn’t matter, when he is the greatest cure for depression and was banned by Stalin in 1929, which would no doubt prove his seriousness, though Wodehouse is called Pyelem G. Vudhaus in Russian. (But the latest report says that Russians, now that the ban has been lifted, obviously prefer him to Communism, for they are rushing to buy his books now, probably more than they bought Stalin.)

The same law dictates that I, too, am never taken seriously. One day, dear reader, you will find out.

But my train of thought, which was gliding across meadow, grove and stream, high ’er vales and hills, over apartment blocks and shopping zones, came to an abrupt halt. It had hit the boundary wall of the electricity transformer adjacent to our building. There was turbulence there.

A man was “committing nuisance” on it. He was expressing himself freely, on the wall, like a trailing cloud of glory, or as Wodehouse would put it, like a pale parabola of joy. But his situation was a little different from the daffodils’. He had been sighted not by me alone. One of our neighbours had seen him too. Which left the committer of the nuisance, henceforth referred to as the offender, in a tight spot. Our neighbour had started to scream, even as the offender was mid-stream. Which made me feel a little sorry for him. Plus, I did not think that he liked being revealed in his naked glory.

Not that our neighbour had held himself back. He was hurling the choicest abuses a morally outraged Bengali does, calling the offender a puppy (kuttar bachcha) and extending the metaphor by adding that the canine species also likes to leave its mark similarly on walls. Our neighbour also asked if the offender did not make use of his own toilet before leaving home.

To which, the offender zipped up and leapt on to the street. “Is this your home?” he challenged. “How dare you do this and still shout back?” our neighbour demanded. “Is this your home?” the man asked again. This was too much for our neighbour. He tore down the stairs, sprinted to the boundary wall, jumped over it and landed in front of the offender, legs akimbo, fists frozen mid-air, very crouching tiger, hidden dragon. The offender, who had drawn himself up to his full height by now, sprang at him like a caged lion.

Blows fell and the stadium filled up with about a dozen men materialising from nowhere, trying to separate the two. That was accomplished in five minutes. But what happened then was even stranger. After the two had been disentangled, some of the men tried to broker peace. But another group tried to defend the offender valiantly. “He hasn’t done it in your house,” repeated one of the defence. “And as if you don’t throw stuff on the street from upper floors,” said another. “Khub oshubidhe na hole keu erokom kore? (One wouldn’t do this if he absolutely didn’t need to),” said a third. They were the majority.

It was becoming another Us vs Them thingie. Mercifully, greater violence was prevented. But as I tried to repair my train of thought, I was left wondering whether this rude interlude was funny, or serious. I have a feeling it was serious, quite serious. In the grimmest Indian way.


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