Sheetal always loved smiling and putting a smile on others’ faces. She used to smile at people on the street just to see them smile back. It came to her naturally.
So in 2016 when Sheetal heard about ‘medical clowning’ at a retreat in Ahmedabad, she was fascinated. A Delhi girl, she returned to the city looking to meet more people involved in the profession. Alas, there were none to be found. A medical clown rumoured to be working at AIIMS turned out to be a phantom and Sheetal had to come to terms with never getting to meet a medical clown in the flesh.
She needed to speak to a friend to hear the words that changed the course of her life: ‘If you can’t find one, why don’t you be one?’
The idea hit Sheetal like a lightning bolt. While she was fascinated with clowning, she had never thought of it as a profession. But it was evident that this was a job that was cut out for her. But she grappled with the conflict between her self-perception and what she felt clowning entailed. How could an introvert such as herself do such a ‘social’ job? ‘My personality doesn’t even match the basic attitude required for clowning! But what made my friend say that I could do it? What was going through her mind? Did she see some hidden potential that I can’t?’ Thoughts like these swam in Sheetal’s mind for days.
Sheetal also worried about her lack of experience and the reaction of her family. She was sure theatre would be a prerequisite to becoming a medical clown and that her parents and community wouldn’t accept it as a career. “Who will help me? How do I go about it? Where do I start? Who will give me space to practice? Who can I approach? Which hospital would be best to start from? How do I do this all alone?” Questions revolved around her mind endlessly.
Finally, she decided to at least give it a try.
Sheetal started by researching and learning more about medical clowning, teaching herself the profession while also looking for people working as medical clowns in India. She then wrote to the Health Ministry requesting their permission to practice medical clowning with her self-taught skills. The Ministry granted her permission just a few months later.
Her biggest challenge was now to find a hospital which would let her practice clowning on their patients, even though she had no professional qualifications. After visiting hospitals all across Delhi, she finally got a call from Chacha Nehru Hospital. They wanted her to visit with her team for a session. She was thrilled with her first achievement. Her next hurdle was finding a team.
Sheetal took a chance and posted a Facebook request asking people if they would be interested in joining her for two hours the following weekend, with the goal of ‘just spreading a smile’ to cheer up patients at the Chacha Nehru Hospital. To her surprise, she received 31 replies. She was now ready for her first public performance as a medical clown.
Not all the volunteers showed up on the day, including the chief trainer. This was demotivating but not the end of the world. Sheetal composed herself, regained her confidence and got ready to go on with the show. The team entered the hall together and then split up, each member running towards a different ward. It took the children and their parents in the paediatric ward a moment to realise what was happening but soon everyone started reacting and responding to the ‘Clownselors’ facial expressions and gestures.
When Sheetal saw the children’s joy in response to the actions of the Clownselors’ she realised that her clowning was a success. The team of volunteers were happy and motivated to see the impact they had had on both children and their caregivers in just two hours. Children who had not been properly responding, reacting or smiling were now happy and laughed with the Clownselors.
“I could sense my heart becoming liberated. I was thrilled with the feeling of finding myself in clowning. This satisfaction was something I wanted to be part of my life-experience ever since. Now it is almost two years since I started practising medical clowning. But even today, the peace, joy and the level of fulfilment that I get after every session is unexplainable. After our first few visits to the hospital, there was never a thought of looking back”.
Currently, Sheetal is a guest faculty for the Sociology department in Amity University, Noida. She is also planning to do her PhD in the field of Medical Clowning.
Sheetal thinks Delhi is beautiful. The city has given everything that she wanted. Delhi has provided her with space to experience and explore her aspirations and talents.
“Even before my parents could understand and guide my life journey, Delhi has always supported me with open arms. Particularly in the context of a rare profession like Medical Clowning, it was easier for me to build a career base, only because of being in Delhi. In no other city would this have been possible. I am very blessed to be living in a city like Delhi.”