April 1 has for a long time been called All Fools Day and jokers have had a field day, fooling friends in all ways, sometimes bizarre. Of late, the day has also been called Humour Day.

The second chapter in the Vishnu Purana deals with a special avatar of the Lord as Maya Moha. The Rakshasas were performing a yagna which forebode a grim future for the devas. Lord Narayana took the form of an elderly Brahmin called Maya Moha, came to the Rakshasas and asked them what they were doing. They said they were performing a yagna which would make them immortal and enable them to subdue the Devas. Also, a horse would be sacrificed in the yagna and its soul would carry their father’s soul to Heaven when he died. Maya Moha said it was silly to make the horse’s soul wait till their father’s end came and then send him to Heaven. ‘Why don’t you get your father here and behead him in the yagna kundam so that he can go at great speed to Heaven all by himself and reach that place quickly’, he advised. The Rakshasas got confused, stopped the yagna and said they would consult their Acharya, Sukra. Sukra was not available and that was the end of the yagna!

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Some time ago there was an uproar in Karnataka (only in the newspapers!) that the BJP was trying to impose Hindutva on everyone. A story attributed to the Pancha Tantra has been retold in a Kannada poem as follows: A cow named Punyakoti, while grazing in the forest, is confronted by a tiger which says “You are my food for the day. I am going to eat you.” The cow pleads with the tiger to give it some time so that it can go home, feed its young calf and return. The tiger agrees. The cow rushes home, feeds the young calf, licks it clean and tells it: “My dear child, you are becoming an orphan today. A tiger wanted to eat me today but I pleaded with it to give me time to come home, feed you and return so that it can eat me. The tiger has agreed and I have to return to the forest to keep my promise because truth is God. The other cows here will take care of you.” With tearful eyes, the cow returns to the tiger. Moved by the cow’s honesty; the tiger refuses to kill the cow. “You say truth is God. If I eat you, God will not be pleased, go home to your calf and be happy. I would rather starve than eat you.”

The Kannada text-books for the children in South Kanara schools had this poem. In the Hindi textbook, the last line in the poem is said to have been changed as follows: The tiger tells the cow, ‘You say Truth is God. If I eat you God will not be happy. Go home and be happy with your calf. I would rather jump from the hill top to my death than eat a cow’s meat.’ This was supposed to be an attempt to impose Hindutva.

This apart, the poem Punyakotiya Kathe Idu is one of the greatest poems in Kannada — there would hardly be any human being who listens to this poem and not shed tears.One newspaper ran a banner headline on the front page that a 3,000-year old poem had been tampered with by the BJP Government. Was there a Kannada language 3,000 years ago? The poem is in hosa or modern Kannada and cannot be more than 400-years old. None seems to know who the author of this poem is. A woman MLC raised the Hindutva issue in the Council. The Education Minister, who was not aware of the textual change, assured her the old sentence would be restored. Nothing more has been heard of this storm in a teacup.

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Tamil is a beautiful language but its script can often lead to funny situations. One person was using a particular Ayurvedic medicine. When he needed a new bottle of that medicine, he wrote down the name of the manufacturer, Baidyanath, in Tamil and asked an assistant to get only that brand. The assistant went to the drug store insisted on the particular brand.

The shopkeeper, not familiar with Tamil, said he did not have that brand. When the assistant returned empty-handed, his boss asked him what he had told the shopkeeper. “I told him I wanted only the Paithyanath (madman) medicine and none other,” he said. Vaidyanath becomes Baidyanath in Bengali. If that Bengali name is written in Tamil script it could be read as paithyanath and that is what the assistant told the shopkeeper.

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The late T.P Kailasam was a renowned humorist but is not well known in other language areas because his humour is all in Kannada. Son of an eminent judge, he had gone in the 1890s to London to study geology but never pursued that profession. He wrote many dramas in Kannada. There are still some original jokes of his in English of which two are presented here.

When Mahatma Gandhi came to Bangalore to rest for a few days, his hosts had arranged for a violin recital by T.Chowdiah. While Gandhiji enjoyed the music he asked Kailasam who was sitting by his side about the violonist. Kailasam said “You are a great non-violonist and Chowdiah is a perfect violinist.” Gandhiji’s toothless smile was the response.

While Kailasam was in London, he had a room-mate in Balasundaram Iyer. One day, Iyer addresses Kailasam as ‘Hello, typical ass’. The response cannot be printed, you have to pronounce Balasundaram Iyer with an anglican accent dividing the name into three words. But Kailasam adopted the ‘typical ass’ name whenever he referred to himself.

The writer’s email: gdwarki@yahoo.com