The gags and giggles

The gags and giggles

It is a Saturday. A group of clowns, dressed in jumbo shoes and red noses, sings, dances and giggles through hospital wards. The children lying in beds, most of them with IVs in their arms or hands, are initially taken aback. After a while they begin to smile, some burst out laughing while others are still sceptical. But in no time, they are all together in it, enjoying the fun and games. Their suffering is gone, albeit for a while.

The clown doctors are volunteers who find time in their daily schedules to visit sick children in hospitals and perhaps heal them in some way or other. They expect and receive nothing in return, except the smiles of the kids. The desire for money is clearly absent.

While there is a hygiene protocol that the clown doctors follow, they also use less makeup, lest they scare the kids A couple of years ago, Sanjay Balsaver, a member of Dr Clown India, left his job as a graphic designer to entertain these kids. He is now a professional clown.
"Compared to a couple of years ago, things have improved in the field of medical clowning. Earlier, the children and the parents were sceptical about us, they didn't know who we were and why we were there. But now there is more freedom and their confidence has increased five-fold,'' he says.

"Whenever I have time, I visit children at the St Philomena's Hospital. The kids just love the animals we make out of balloons. 'At the end of the day, every one is happy. The parents are thankful too," he says.

"I remember meeting an eight-year-old boy, he had been in the ICU for a month," recalls Sanjay. "The doctor suggested that we go inside and with special permission we did. The boy was connected with machines from head to toe. But when he saw us, he began to smile. A few days later, we met him in the general ward and his mother informed us that his condition improved soon after we visited him and he was out of the ICU. He had preserved the balloon we had given him 28 days back, which is a rarity."

Harish Bhuvan, the founder of 'Compassionate Clowns', recollects how clowning became a part of his life. "I was depressed and that's when I got in to this. My friend and I were watching street clowning acts and then the idea germinated,'' he says.

He soon quit his research-based job at IIT-B and started travelling across the country. He and his team "visit kids in hospitals making merry, being silly, singing goofy songs, dancing around, shaping animals with balloons and so on". There is a kind of kinship that is built between the children and the clown doctors.

"Sometimes, the child is unwilling to walk and we give him or her the push. Once they start, they recover faster," says Harish. "The volunteers at 'Compassionate Clowns' are a mixed group. Anybody who wants to volunteer can get in touch with us." "We begin with a moment of silence to show our gratitude. Then we have a series of activities to lighten the atmosphere. After this, each one of us goes around the ward doing our own special acts. So far, there has only been word- of-mouth publicity and there is no funding," he says.

Josef Bogenfuerst from Germany is yet another volunteer. A member of Dr Clown India, he says,  "I was working in Kuala Lumpur with a company when we used to visit the general hospital to cheer the kids, play tricks and make funny faces. When I came here, I decided to become a part of Dr Clown India", says Josef who works with an NGO.

"We cheer up children. We like to make them surprised and happy. Sometimes it takes a while for children to get used to us but eventually they do," he says.

"The last time I went to a hospital was when a father requested me to do so. His daughter had met with an accident and she had taken it to heart. So he wanted me to cheer her up. Some of her classmates too had come. It took a while for her to come out of her sadness. Then she was just laughing away. That is the effect, '' he says.

For the red noses with big shoes and big hearts, there lies the reward!

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