I read the article “With humour, you can fight many a battle” by Matthew Adukanil (The Hindu, Open Page, March 10, 2013) with interest. There was a time when insults had class. I feel that ordinary men too should face life with loads of humour.
My childhood was one big laughter zone as it was filled with P. G. Wodehouse and family. My father and his two brothers have only to get together to bring the house down. I recently went to a colony where I spent my youth and everyone had something or the other to say and laugh about my father’s wit even after two decades.
However, it was my father’s older brother who stood out from the rest with his innumerable one-liners. Forty years ago, doctors found a small tumour in his leg very worrying and he was asked to have it operated upon. The doctors were explaining to my father the seriousness of the situation, when my father commented:
“By tomorrow, we will know where we stand.”
To which my uncle quipped, “or whether I stand at all…” That was his statement when he was just in his forties.
On the day of surgery, his surgeon tut-tutted and removed a small hair the ward boy had missed out while preparing my uncle for his operation. Half groggy after his anaesthesia, my uncle commented dryly, “I have the world’s most expensive barber!”
The surgeon made it a point to be present after the anaesthesia had worn off to comment, “The world’s most expensive barber is at your service.”
His leg was always his Achilles heel. The second time he had to undergo another surgery two decades ago, the doctor assured him that he would see that my uncle walked home. “So, you mean to say that I have to sell my car to pay your bill?” was my uncle’s tongue-in-cheek query.
He was left with a noticeable limp after the second operation. One fine day he walked over to my parents’ house during one of our visits, when we asked him if we needed to fetch an auto for his return journey. My uncle replied, “No need, I have a walking stick, on the one hand, and a talking stick (meaning my aunty), on the other!”
He lived a full life before he lost his battle to cancer that led to an amputation a few years before his death. Despite his struggle, he never lost his humour or zest for life. Literal translation was his greatest source of strength. He would often be heard asking guests if they would like to eat, ‘salt flour.’ At their confusion, he would say upma! Even during hospitalisation, a simple collection of blood would elicit the remark, “he is after my blood,” making the technician break into a smile.
During one of his visits to my place, under my urging, my uncle asked my husband to procure a video cassette of a movie, which my husband felt was a big bore. On his enquiring how the movie was, my uncle replied, “it was good and would have been better had we all been cats!” (it was one of those dark, arty kind)
To lift the lines of the Bard, Here was the wittiest man, when comes such another?
My father’s uncle was not far behind when it came to humour. His mother lived on to be beyond 100 and though was ailing, he refused to allow his wit to lose its cutting edge. He had to go to a funeral in a neighbourhood when their family members, as is the norm, regaled the visitors saying the person was completely normal and had just bought a bunch of spinach from a local vendor and she collapsed and died soon after.
He regaled others with a story at a get-together and added that he had requested the woman who sold the greens to visit his house too! He was actually worried that his mother would outlive him and tried to hide his worry with his wit.
When my father’s side of the family meets, it is always an occasion to celebrate with boisterousness and wit. A man living beyond a hundred was being commiserated by others, when a cousin remarked that the reason for the troubled American economy was this man’s survival. He said that after retiring from the American Consulate, his handsome pension ensured that all the four sons vied with one another to make sure that their father continued to live, giving him the best possible medical care!
Humour makes us look at life with a different perspective and is worth being cultivated. It is a worthy legacy to hand down to generations to come.
(The writer is Asst. Professor in Manipal Univesity. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)