PITFALLS OF LIFE
PITFALLS OF LIFE
We accept life as it comes along. There are ups as well as downs in its journey. We meet persons who remain etched out in our memory, eons of years after the actual encounter. Certain incidents reside joyfully in our subconscious, only to resurface at times, occasionally, at special moments. Keeping the serious and the mundane angst of daily existence in modern metropolitan cities aside, these moments are precious jewels which one keeps as a treasure cache for future ‘emotions recollected in tranquillity’. Emotions, by their very nature, are effervescent. Hence, there is a need to take hold of life by its very noose, while the light lasts. If one fails to gather enough spirit to capture these fleeting emotions, one repents for them all through his /her life.
Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine. It is the perfect antidote for unhappiness, fatigue and ill dispositions. A good laugh can cure serious ailments, where many medicines are known to have failed. So there is hardly any element of wonder, at the sudden emergence of associations that are named ‘laughing clubs’. These ‘clubs’ can be viewed, first-hand if one happens to go for a jog early morning at one’s nearby park or any open expanse of public space. The members of these clubs range from men and women of diverse age groups, who most usually throw up their hands and go ‘ha ha ha’. There appears to be no rhyme or reason for their impromptu laughter. Any passerby might be shocked all of a sudden at the sight. Put yourself in any of these men or women’s shoes. Won’t you feel light-hearted, full of bustling energy and ready to face the daily conundrums of life? All of a sudden, just by a mere laugh?
I have borne witness to these ‘laughing clubs’ myself. I had seen them when I used to go for my regular ‘morning walks’. My first thoughts had been: Where was this sound of rich laughter coming from? My next thought had been: Are these people laughing at me, probably? Try as much as I can, I would never be able to attain the size-zero or hour-glass figure. So what is the purpose of pursuing a chimaera? Then I discovered, to my utter dismay that these people were actually throwing up their hands and laughing, in a full-throated ecstasy. The laughing clubs can be found mostly in modern metro cities where the stress of our daily lives leaves almost no room for laughter. Laughter, as the best form of medicine, is the perfect antidote for all our sufferings.
My father had been an artist in his lifetime, a painter more precisely. When he had chosen his profession, it was quite uncommon to come across one who had done the same. Those were the decade of the fifties, sixties and seventies. Turbulent times in the chapters of Indian history. There existed a huge cultural as well as economic difference or gap between the middle classes and the so-called business communities. If someone had opted to study art, it would invariably be ‘commercial art’. Because then, there were prospects of earning money. But my father had opted to study ‘fine arts’ at the Government College of Art and Craft, Calcutta. He had to face stern opposition in the home front as well professional front. Often people, negligent of the ways of life lead by an artist, would most frequently pose him with the question:
“What do you do for a living?”
My father used to reply: “I paint”.
Against which, was posed another remark of almost the same nature, but positively hilarious:
“Ok. I understand. But what do you DO?”
To this, my father could just about stifle a smile and add, “That’s what I do.”
The scenario has changed completely since then. Today, if a boy or a girl opts to take up the visual arts as their subject of study and dream of making it big one day as a painter, sculptor or graphic artist, one is hardly surprised. Because one knows that the Indian art market has changed drastically in the past couple of years. Today, art is a veritable subject in the school curriculum. And art teachers are appointed to ‘teach’ students to express their feelings visually. Here the students are given free rein. So if a student, in his or her formative years, draws the sun in the colour blue or maybe red, far from finding it funny, hilarious or a matter of laughter at the young one’s expense, the teacher asks the student the reasons behind the choice or use of colour. Hence what may appear to be funny apparently might not be so hilarious after all. A good joke is unalloyed fun, enjoyed at all times. Yet one in which someone gets to be the butt of ridicule for no apparent reason or fancy, it hardly survives the test of pure jest. It becomes a serious matter - one of crime.
Yet to be a painter or an artist, was considered to be funny in those days. To earn a living and support a family just by painting or sculpting alone, was unthinkable by any parameters. Hence there was the shocked and utterly puzzling “OH!!”
It had been my father who had taught me to read funny stories, as well as to find some hard-to-discern, unalloyed fun amidst the travesties of daily life. Someone had gifted me with a collection of Mullah Nasruddin jokes and asides. The latter was a Turkish witty fellow, whose had circulated the notion of ‘The Wisdom of Folly’ and whose funny as well as serious jokes are known far and wide, all over the globe. He is a legendary character in local as well as our vernacular literary world where he has been quoted by innumerable litterateurs. The book, which my father had presented me, is in tatters now, because it had been thumbed by many readers – both young and old - besides me.
In one such worthy anecdote, the Mullah recounts his encounter with a music ‘guru’ who, if the latter relented, would provide him with music lessons. As is the custom, Nasruddin had asked his teacher, on the very first day of his arrival at the latter’s home, “How much should I pay you, if you kindly agree to teach me music lessons?” His teacher or ‘guru’ had responded with, “I charge two hundred dinars for the first month. But from the second month onwards, the fee would be reduced to half, to just a hundred dinars.” The ‘dinar’, being the local currency, has recurred time and again the mullah’s wise asides, the latter being known to be a much-impoverished person.
Nasruddin, after giving it much thought, said with sangfroid, “ Then I would start learning music at your residence from the second month onwards.”
There are many such anecdotes that abound around this legendary character, Mullah Nasiruddin. His wit and splendid repartee are of world renown. On one occasion, the Mullah was asked by another clever Afghan, “Which one is more important for us - the moon or the sun?” Nasiruddin had replied, “Of course the moon.” The other fellow was baffled. He probed further. “ Why do you feel that way?” The Mullah replied, nonchalantly, “Because, during the day, we can see things very clearly. It is only at night do we need the light of the moon. So you see the moon is more important for us.”
It was just the other day that Nasruddin was returning home, after buying meat to make ‘kababs’ from the local market. He had recently had the most delectable variety of ‘kababs’ at a restaurant of his particular choice. While he was heading homewards, a bird, large enough to be an eagle, suddenly snatched the meat away from his hands. He had to return home empty-handed. When other people were expressing their deep regret at the unfortunate incident, the Mullah, quite jocularly, had added after a deep thought, “The bird is a big fool. How can a piece of raw meat be of any use to it? The recipe for the ‘kabab’ is still in my hands.”
It was some time last year when a little mishap happened in my neighbour’s home. My neighbour, let us name her Mita, was hanging clothes, taking them out one by one from the washing machine. The entrance door of her flat faces just opposite that of ours. Most metro cities, with their urban planning of concrete jungles, have the basic layout for the ubiquitous ‘flats’ ( independent residences under a common roof) designed in a way whereby the balcony serves as the sole space for the hanging of wet, washed clothes. Gone are the days when our dear city, Calcutta, could boast of resplendent roof-tops for independent homes, where housewives or their helping maids would turn up, throwing clothes in a gather, only to spread them out to dry over the clothesline, most often made from thin metallic wires which later onwards turned to nylon threads tied together, with the passage of time.
It so happened that Mita‘s husband, let us name him Shekhar, was out helping his wife in her work on a lazy Sunday mid-morning. Well, it‘d be worthwhile to mention here that, this occasion also provided him with another chance of getting into close proximity with his beloved wife. Theirs had been an arranged marriage. Yet the love that had blossomed between them, it was said soon after their marriage, would have put many who had decided to tie the knot themselves to shame. So that day, when my neighbour –cum-friend, Mita was hanging clothes on their clothesline, from the balcony, her husband had other motives in his mind. Maybe he had planned to put his wife within his embrace just then. Whatever may be the case, Mita’s husband, Shekhar, fell flat from his second-floor residence to the pavement of our housing complex. The latter, due to his comparative youthful agility, had just suffered from a fractured ankle.
Another of our neighbours, Mr Srinivasan, who resides on the third floor of our building, had chipped in, with his dry humour.
After all of us had gathered in Mita’s home upon receiving the news of Shekhar’s fall, he had quipped, “Whatever you say, Shekhar had come down to the ground in the fastest way imaginable. He didn’t have to take the aid of the staircases or the elevators. Could anyone suggest a better way of coming down?”
To this repartee, Shekhar had burst out laughing, only to be joined by all of us later onwards.