[Way back in 2002, having made one of my juvenile attempts at writing, I promptly submitted the draft to the university’s feature service and was paid Rs. 150 as compensation for my efforts. Whether that piece ever made its way to any newspaper or publication, I am still unaware. This is what I wrote.]

WHAT WOMEN WANT? … Numerous surveys and studies have been conducted in an attempt to decipher what even the greatest brains (perhaps even god, if he’s a male) have failed. But nevertheless attempts to unravel this mystery continue. One want of women is ‘almost’ universal (mind the word ‘almost’) – MAN, in him she wants good looks, intellect … blah … blah … blah …. And quite high on that list of preferences lies ‘A SENSE OF HUMOUR’.

This sense of humour is something, which differentiates Homo Sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom (In some of our acts we are worse than beasts). But what basically is humour? – Is it the mere tickling of the funny bone … I believe that it goes much beyond this. Humour is an art (as well as a science) in itself. A person with a sense of humour has a magnetic ability to attract people. This sense is beyond the essential five and the proverbial sixth … I call it the seventh sense. This is not merely the ability to make others laugh, but to laugh oneself as well and most importantly the ability to laugh at oneself, because you can make the world laugh with you, only if you are comfortable with the world laughing at you.

Humour is mainly concentrated around jokes. A joke has no utility in itself; its essence lies in sharing it. It is a social phenomenon – it has a wonderful ability to break barriers, release tensions and establish contacts (if only we could share jokes rather than bullets and bombs across the borders). A joke can be verbal or written on one hand and practical on the other. The latter is an entirely different discipline in itself (one of the specialists of this genre is Cyrus ‘the virus’ Broacha). Here the effort is to keep the focus primarily on the former. The tail of the joke which comes at the end is its most vital part – often called the ‘punch line’; the punch which it delivers results in the following laughter.

Jokes are of a thousand and one types (and more). Ranging from one liners like ‘Hum do humare do, jab tak teesra na ho’ (we two, our two unless a third comes along), the essential elephant and ant jokes to the ones on marriage, mothers-in-law, ethnic, religious etc. (the last two are a dangerous proposition in the present volatile times).

Joke telling and joke listening have been traditionally masculine activities and therefore male chauvinism had a free play. Even today I feel that a good joke shared with a group of men derives more fun than with women (no offence meant). But, ironically humour is one of the ‘wants of women’. Here I would like to make it clear that humour as a whole covers a much broader canvas than joke telling and listening.

Some jokes are universal, while others are not. By universal I mean that it can elicit laughs from one and all; and ‘others’ can get their guffaws from only a select audience. For example, only the people who are familiar with the nuances of the profession can understand professional jokes. Doctors, lawyers, IT professionals have these circulating amongst themselves.

If the world is upto something can we Indians be far behind? The answer is a big NO! If the west can have their Jewish and Irish jokes, we have more than our fair share in Sardarji, Sindhi, Bengali, Jat, Madrasi …. (name a community and you will find a collection of jokes on them. Even divinity is not spared (be careful here). When it comes to characters Santa and Banta lead the race (JP Singh Kaka of Bhopal has been one of the prominent contributors to the S&B repertoire. Flip the pages of history we have our Birbals, Tenali ramas and Gopal Bhars. In modern day India ‘the dirty old man’ – Khushwant Singh and Jug Suraiya are the crusaders for the cause. Our newspapers in addition to the pocket cartoons (RK Laxman is the legend of the genre) and comic strips, there are the third editorials, the ‘middle’ on the edit page, light hearted columns and the latest entry into the fold ‘Comment’ at the tail of the news of the 165 year old The Times of India. But unfortunately in television the golden era of laughs has gone past. Those were the times when we relished the likes of Nukkad, Dekh Bhai Dekh etc. Nowadays we have to be content with the videshi stuff on Star World or Zee English. Even in films the story is similar, David Dhawan has long lost his tickling touch. The current fare is simply slapstick, with notable exceptions like Hera Pheri.

In the social arena we Indians have woken up to the importance of laughter in our lives. Laughing clubs are mushrooming in the parks of every other city. The sight itself is humorous – on a dewy morning, children, adults, males and females of all shapes and sizes are splitting their sides laughing – and someone is yet to tell the joke.

Jokes apart, in the present days of crisis and stress, what we are in the need of most is the seventh sense – the sense of humour. It enables us to look at the brighter side of things, gives hope, let us see things in a clearer perspective. The theme of the days to come should be (a slight variation of that of the 1960s) – ‘Make laugh, not war’.

Q: What is the maximum punishment for bigamy?

A: Two mothers in law.

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