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The art of the laugh lines

Laughing Buddha head illustration.  

Humour tickles everyone in the universe, if not often, at least once in a while.

Though the general belief is that laughter hardly solves life’s problems, it does help overcome situations not so pleasant. Those with the funny bone and a freewheeling give-and-take attitude are found to be less egoistic and more successful in relationships.

Some of our legendary artists were known for their impromptu jokes and repartee, cracking them the way they sprinkled manodharma on stage. When the violin maestro Tirumakudalu Chowdiah played Raga Kapi brilliantly while accompanying Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar in a concert, the legendary musician, during a pause, extolled: “Mine is an ordinary Kapi, and here is the Nescafe.”

On song

On a train journey, a music lover asked Chembai, “Sir, are you Ariyakudi?” He nodded “no” with his hallmark smile. After a while, the bemused aficionado asked, “Then, are you Semmankudi?” Chembai threw back, “I am simply Chembai, no kudi,” punning on the word kudi which in Tamil and Malayalam means drinking alcohol.

Decades ago at a U.S. airport, seeing Ustad Vilayat Khan carry a sitar, an airline staffer, ignorant of who the great musician was, dropped a comment, “Ravi Shankar is a legendary sitarist.” Khan saheb shot back, “Huh, Ravi just passed away.” Those aware of the Ustad’s temperament and the issues that he and Pandit Ravi Shankar had right from their first (and last) concert together during their teenage years can understand the black humour.

Once, Ambatt Shankaran Menon (1851-1894), an acclaimed Kathakali actor, began his performance as Duryodhana in the play Utharaswayamvaram without waiting for the arrival of the Eralppatu Thampuran, the local ruler. By the time the Thampuran arrived, the first scene, a captivating erotic act with intricate techniques and rigid grammar of the art, was over. Instructions went to Menon to repeat it. But he did not oblige.

Next morning, summoned by an annoyed Thampuran, Menon politely said it was Duryodhana who was on stage, and not Shankaran who would have obeyed the command.

The Thampuran yelled, “My order was to Ambatt Shankaran and not to Duryodhana.” Menon was quick to submit that it was an act of sambhoga shringara (eroticism of sexual union) and “Shankaran is not that young to repeat such things immediately.”

The amused king let him off with a token punishment — no remuneration for the performance, and he was to re-enact the role that evening “to see whether he is strong enough to repeat it then”.

During a Chakyarkoothu performance, the Chakyar happened to narrate the story of a cat-eyed king. The ruler of the province was also cat-eyed and taking it as a jibe, he ordered that the Chakyar be arrested.

Early next morning, the king, holding his “ready-to-chop” sword, asked, “What do you feel now?” The Chakyar knew death was close, but said politely, “Now I am like a mouse in front of a cat.”

The king burst into laughter and honoured him for his humour even when facing death.

Who said humour won’t solve problems?

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 9:51:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-art-of-the-laugh-lines/article34004559.ece

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