Where Have All The Jokes Gone?

Posted on November 2, 2012 in Specials

By Rahool Gadkari:

A man calls up the prime minister and says — “Hello, I’d like to become the next prime minster”. A startled Manmohan Singh responds — “Are you an idiot”. The man quips back —“Oh…Is that a requirement?”. This was a joke doing the rounds on social networking pages a few weeks back. It’s quite funny, but is a rather sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country. Our nation has become disillusioned by its politicians and political parties that seem forever to be clawing their way out of some controversy or scandal. It’s no surprise then that a glance through any leading newspaper or magazine reflects this sombre state of affairs. I read the paper expecting to get my daily dose of political mudslinging, corruption scandals and sex scandals with some pseudo intellectual comment by a half baked ‘celebrity’ serving as the only jocund element. Having been programmed into reading the newspaper each morning by my parents, you can well imagine how dull a start I give to my day after only a quick perusal of the headlines. This also got me thinking about how ill humoured our politicians are. Witticisms and wisecracks aside, these days it’s only their tomfoolery that holds the potential to generate a few laughs.

Powering up my laptop early one morning to get my daily news fix, I was startled by the following headline: “Haryana khap blames consumption of chowmein for rapes”. WHAT? I asked myself. Early morning grogginess doesn’t lend itself well to comprehend such absurdity. Having re-read it though, I realized that it was the closest I’d come in the recent past to laughing at anything connected to politics. Like the layers of dust that settle upon a derelict statue, masking its shape and rendering it unappealing, our politicians have let the dust gather on their sense of humour’s and left but a vestige, at best. So why do Indians, and especially Indian politicians take themselves so seriously?

Perhaps the answer to that question lies in an analysis of Indian society. We are, it must be acknowledged, a serious society. Humour has taken a back seat to, and I don’t blame anybody for this, the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life. With 300 million poor and countless others struggling for their daily bread, it’s no wonder that the average politician probably doesn’t care two hoots about being funny. No politician wants to be taken too lightly by the people, and hence they rely on the possession of a seriousness demeanour to convey political acuity and commitment. But like a general who’s so obsessed with winning the battle that he fails to realize that he’s losing the war, our politicians have taken themselves so seriously that it’s become a joke in itself!

Yes, there are serious issues that we as a country face; yes, the political landscape is not the healthiest and yes, there is plenty of corruption. But, as Mahatma Gandhi said — “If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide”. Taking oneself too seriously never got anyone anywhere. I look for a keen sense of humour as the hallmark of a great leader. Not only does it ease tensions across the board, it also very often helps put things in perspective. And perspective is where even a 10 year old could beat some our more ‘colourful’ leaders.

Psephological studies in India show that it is the poor who vote in overwhelming numbers, and not our more privileged citizens. The harshness and drudgery of everyday life for many of our poor, necessitates that our politicians do something not only to alleviate their suffering, but also to add that much needed funny bone to their own repertoire. For nothing is as off-putting as having to listen to a serious Sam at the end of a tough day. Yes, the message is important, but just as there are several ways to preparing a presentation, there are myriad ways to efficaciously deliver one’s message; humour being one of the better ones.

The incarceration of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and the huge uproar that Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ comment created not only underscores our leaders’ lack of humour, but in the case of Aseem, also violate the tenets of democracy (he was jailed on the basis of a dated colonial sedition law). Yet, this should hardly surprise me – if our leaders can’t crack a joke, I don’t expect them to take one either. For a country whose children grew up reading tales of Tenali Rama, Akbar Birbal and our very own Tinkle comics, it’s a real shame that we’ve morphed into a society largely bereft of humour.

Humour is certainly not the solution, only a means to an end that helps salve many a wound. In our embittered political landscape though, I think it’s the need of the hour.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Rahool is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, and the University of Pune with degrees in electrical engineering. He writes part time and presently lives in the United States. To read his other posts,click here. Reach him on Twitter @RahoolGads[/box]