Mumbai Local

Melting sickness into laughter

Harish Bhuvan (R) with a member of Compassionate Clowns entertaining children at Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health Hospital in Bangalore on Thursday. —Photo: Sampath KumaR  

Harish Bhuvan has a way of making everyone go bananas — even if it is a bleak hospital ward, where ailing children are lying listless on their clanky beds. He looks into their eyes and holds their hands. Sometimes, his painted nose and cheeks entice the little ones so much that they refuse to let go of him. These are the moments Harish lives by.

This 25-year-old from Bangalore is on a mission to spread love and laughter through a unique initiative of medical clowning. A band of clowns, which goes by the name Compassionate Clowns, has been doing the rounds of hospitals and medical care centres in various cities. They have twice performed in Mumbai.

“A couple of years ago, my friend and I struck upon this idea by watching street clowning acts. In our first clowning act, we did not know what to do. We just fell on the floor and rolled on it and were pretty much a failure. But it was still making patients happy. I realised this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It took a lot of courage to make that decision of spreading clowning,” says Harish.

This January, he quit his research-based job at IIT-B and began a journey through the towns and villages of western India. “Many, including my parents asked me how I would survive. I told them just give me one year,” he recalls.

His vagabond spirit took him to unknown places. Harish slept under trees, at bus stops, in houses of hospitable villagers and ate what was offered to him. In Gujarat they called him ‘Ranglo’ (joker). At a retreat organised by an NGO in Ahmedabad, Harish spoke to a number of people about his idea of spreading clowning. A couple of them put it on social media and the idea caught on. The first organised act of clowning was at a hospital in Ahmedabad, says Harish.

The band of clowns has about a thousand members spread across Mumbai, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Indore, Bangalore, Karamsad, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Harish performed in Bangalore on Thursday and is expected to visit Mumbai this month-end.

Hospitals corridors come alive when Harish and his clowns make their way to the children’s ward. They apply make-up, paint their noses, sport smileys or numbers or alphabets on their cheeks. Some sing, some dance and some juggle. Harish, who has dabbled in theatre, does mime and tricks with toys.

The clowns have a “trademark Banana Song”, says Harish. “By the end of it, everyone goes bananas. The collective energy of clowns in a ward can create magic.

“The first thing we try to do is connect with the patients. We ask them what they like. I have discovered that asking what people like to eat is a winning question,” he says.

Harish recalls the several ways in which children’s recovery has moved him. For instance, one-year-old Ramesh was severely malnourished. “His wrist was the size of just two fingers,” says Harish. He was in the PICU (paediatric intensive care unit). On his first visit, Harish took a spring with him for his clown act, which caught the child’s attention. The next week he took a shrinkable ball. As Ramesh learnt to play with these toys, his body movement improved. “By the fourth day he was running out of his ward and in a month’s time he got discharged. The nurses said his condition would normally require two to three months of hospitalisation.”

Most of all, Harish remembers the tight hug of a two-week old infant, who suffered from blockages in his nerves. “Connecting with him was a magical experience,” says Harish.

In the early days, hospitals were sceptical about allowing his clowning acts. Medical superintendents asked if he would be making children angry. Once, the clowns had to perform to the medical authorities to get permissions. “By now we have understood the procedure to get permissions, so it is easier,” says Harish. The working of Compassionate Clowns is decentralised.

“There is no control of what to do. There is only a small code of conduct — never charge for anything or use toxic humour. We also have a round of reflection where clowns discuss their experience and connect with one another,” says Harish. His philosophy of living by “gift economy”, where you do not charge for your services, but depend on what people give, has stood him in good stead so far.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 10:03:44 AM |

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