Humour hotlines

Keeping our eyes and ears open can season our lives with humour, writes Jesse Kochar.

With grass, leaves and branches stuck on our berets, uniforms and boots, and clutching bulletless rifles, we teenagers at the NCC camp hid behind the bushes. “Cadets of A-Company,” Havildar Thapa shouted, “Attack!” And we charged at the B-Company, our enemy, entrenched 100 metres away. But 20 metres short of our target, Thapa thundered again, “Stop! All you monkeys are dead. You were running straight at the dushman, not zigzagging. If you don’t zigzag, you are sitting ducks. Remember, if you zig, the dushman shoots at zag, and when you zag, the bullet flies at zig.”

Profound words. But at that time we made fun of Thapa by walking around like Dev Anand. Luckily, I remembered the zigzag hitopadesha at the right time in my life, and it became the pole to balance myself with while walking the tight rope. Not only in my career, it also came handy in marriage. “Darling, let’s go to the movie tonight,” I would zig to my wife, expecting a zag from her. “No,” she would oblige, “we are going to dine in the Sizzlers tonight.”

The truth behind

“When a thing is funny,” G B Shaw said, “search it carefully for a hidden truth.” A Thai student, sharing a railway compartment with me pointed out at a poster with Rajiv Gandhi’s picture and the slogan, ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’, on it at a railway station. “Please explain it to me,” he said, and I helped, “Rajiv Gandhi has declared India is great.” An hour later, this young man requested me to come to the Indian-style toilet. Puzzled, I went along, and he pointed out at a dented aluminium mug with a chain tied to a pipe. “Tell me why the chain?” he queried. “This, my dear man,” I answered with a straight face, “is a part of the ‘Bharat Mahan’ campaign. Even a lowly mug must be protected against a fall through the hole.”

The grand dame of crime fiction, P D James, was visiting a prison where a convicted murderer said to her, “Miss James, you have the talent and I have the expertise. You and I should get together sometimes.” “Imponderable,” she replied, “but you have committed only one murder. I have six to my credit.”

Alert humorist

Sherlock Holmes once ticked off his colleague. “The trouble with you, my dear Dr Watson, is that you see, but you do not observe.” Or words to that effect. I took this as a useful advice to succeed as a humorist and have ‘Looked, Listened and Noted’ what is funny and created my own Hatchery of Humour; a fat notebook. In 1972, it says, Bulgaria launched the Institute of Humour and Satire on April Fools’ Day, and in his speech the Bulgarian satirist Iliya Beshkov declared, “Humour is the life-blood of a nation, and a nation which has not created it has no right to exist.” Let me share a Bulgarian joke (Khushwant Singhji, please do not hijack my egg):

Old Gregory from village Gobrovo boarded a train to Sofia with a large bundle. “Three Lev for you and six Lev for the bundle,” the ticket-checker told him. Thereupon, ol’ Gregory untied the bundle and said, “Get out Pencho! You cost more inside the bundle.”

P G Wodehouse peppered his humour with pigs, frogs, badgers and even sheep. He described his novels as ‘musical comedy without music’. His characters never walked; they tootled, toddled, staggered, tumbled or oozed off. And his body language was classic. “By god, the things she told me about her sister, my ears are blushing.” And look how he uses a sheepish animal; “Bertie Wooster likened Jeeves’ admonitory cough to a sheep clearing its throat on a distant mountain side.”

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