Subhash Rao of Kozhikode teaches people to laugh, casting off their ‘plastic faces.’

“Do you know what the biggest possible distance between two humans is?” asks B. Subhash Rao, sitting in his shop surrounded by clocks, each of which seems to have a mind of its own pointing in random directions. Before one can give an answer, he says with a smile, “It is the distance between two strangers sharing a seat on a bus.”

For Mr. Rao, one of his life missions is to reduce this distance between people through the common thread of laughter.

On top of one of the many narrow alleys in S.M. Street here is a modest display board of Rao’s Chiri Paadashala (laughter school). Unlike a laughter club, which hosts group activities with the same set of people, the school is a kind of a one-man travelling circus which visits schools, offices and clubs to teach people to laugh.

Does his class involve the cracking of jokes? “No, there is enough of comedy shows and mimicry on TV. Why should I add to that? My approach involves making people participate in the activity of eliciting laughter rather than just be mute spectators,” Mr. Rao says.

His first step is the melting of what he calls the “plastic faces” that each one of us wears.

“We are all branded and conditioned to behave in a certain manner in public. Real joy can come only after you peel off this face. So, I usually start by asking people to express their feelings, be it anger or joy. Sometimes, I divide them into groups of two each and make them play a game of ordering each other to do crazy things,” he says.

Once the melting is done, he gets into the physical aspect of laughter, which includes mind-boggling varieties of laughter. One of those, lion’s laugh, is a process that takes up close to a minute with the arms splayed out and lungs opened up for forced breath-outs, topped off by a high-sounding laughter.

He seems to be a champion of self-deprecating humour by the way he makes fun of himself. The ability to laugh at the self can solve many small issues from snowballing, he says.

“Most of the big fights start a few seconds of temporary madness caused by uncontrollable anger. Once you learn to get through these seconds, you can claim to be in control of yourself. Road rage incidents, which are common these days, can be prevented that way,” he says.

He cites as one of his inspirations a book, Anatomy of an illness, by the American activist and journalist Norman Cousins, which narrates his experience of overcoming a potentially fatal illness through laughter.

The favourite of his sessions is the one he conducted for a group having drug addiction. The message of the programme was not the typically anti-drug, rather it centred on drug control. He cherishes the sessions in various schools.

One of his biggest dreams is to bring together members of all political parties and make them laugh together.

“There is so much of bad blood in politics now. They don’t look each other in the eye. A tinge of laughter can do a world of good to our political scene,” he says.

Mr. Rao, who sells clocks for a living, uses his rib-tickling skills to free people from the stresses of the grinding daily schedule.

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