Moon Moon Sarmah

National Let’s Laugh Day is celebrated on March 19 which reminds us to add a little humour to the busy and hectic schedule of modern life. There is a saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’, that gives positive and powerful emotions to grow universal brotherhood and friendship.

Mahatma Gandhi all through his life talked about his death with a great openness and in August 1942’s ‘Quit India’ movement, he even gave a short mantra, “Do or Die”. Gandhi had emerged as a great communicator through his wide ranging role in public life and has something to say about each of them, whether it was hygiene, sanitation, morality, sexuality, religion, economy and high politics. He was an ideal nurse for the sick, even a doctor at times.

Gandhi’s sense of humour was also wonderful – a quality that helped him withstand the arduous journey of the country’s freedom struggle. Humour lightened his burdens and connected him to others. Few men in history had carried such a great burden or responsibility on their shoulders as he did. He brought millions of men into the public arena – hundreds of thousands had cheerfully gone to jail, thousands had given up their jobs, hundreds had suffered loss of limb, some sacrificed life during lathi-charges and firings. Bapu himself went to jail several times, both in South Africa and India. During imprisonment, Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and other leaders cracked jokes and enjoyed laughter with each other. Gopalkrishana Gandhi, grandson of Bapu, wrote: “Gandhi loved Nehru, trusted Rajendra Prasad, admired Rajaji and respected Maulana Azad. But Patel, he leaned on and laughed with.”

Throughout his life, his sense of humour, his childlike gift of laughter never left him. As a leader of the national movement, he was extremely conscious of what was expected of him and what the limitation of his power were. Laughter provided a creative arena. He famously wrote that “If I had no sense of humour, I should have long ago committed suicide,” which shows how he used laughter as a means to remain positive under the most difficult circumstances.

His sense of humour made him more relatable to people. His laughter cast a spell over people around him, infected them and made them laugh too.

Once there was to be a worker’s conference in Gujarat and many workers wanted conveyances. Bapu said: “We want thousands of workers. If all of them demand horse carriages, our pilgrim band will never reach Dwaraka.” Another day one of his followers asked him, “Why do you always choose to travel by third class in a train?” He answered sarcastically, “Simply because there is no fourth class.”

He practised his wise cracks, even when he was ill. Once he wrote in reply to an anxious enquiry about his health: “Though the doctors say that the blood pressure is high, I notice no effects of it. And three doctors and three instruments gave three different readings yesterday: 200, 180, 160? What is to do when doctors differ?” Again, a doctor friend had lost his teeth. Bapu wrote, “What a shame that a doctor became toothless as I am!” These are some instances, which show Bapu’s light-heartedness.

In 1931, famous actor Charlie Chaplin called on Gandhi in London during the Round Table conference which he attended. Chaplin was surprised that Bapu had never heard of him. However, for the next half an hour, it was Bapu that kept the comedian laughing. In Lancashire, Bapu met a worker and asked him: “How many children do you have? “Eight sir, four sons and four daughters” was the reply. “I have four sons,” said Bapu, adding, “I can race with you halfway!” And there was laughter all round.

In some cases, Gandhi used humour and truth as power. During this visit, Gandhi was invited to have tea with King Georg V at the Buckingham Palace. A reporter asked, “Mr Gandhi, do you think you are properly dressed to meet the king?” He replied, “Do not worry about my clothes. His majesty had enough clothes for both of us!” His joke had an underlying political meaning and revealed the unequal power relation between Gandhi (representing India) and the king (Great Britain).

Gandhi’s humour was truly exceptional. Once a woman came to Gandhi and prayed to make her son aware about the harmful effects of sugar. But surprisingly, Gandhi paused for a moment and told her to bring back her son in two weeks. After two weeks Gandhi talked with her son and warned him against the ill effects of sugar. Then mother enquired, “Why you asked us to wait for two weeks?” Gandhi replied with a smile, “Because I needed the two weeks to stop eating sugar myself!”

Gandhi’s infectious sense of humour reflected once at the time of his maunavrat (vow of silence). A young lady came to him on the day when Gandhi was practising maunavrat. Gandhi was unable to speak but liked to have people visit him. She told Gandhi about the ugliest man in the world, which she noticed during her recent trip. Gandhi disapproves the fact and frowns at her. At once she said, “Oh sorry, I mean the second ugliest man in the world.” At this, Gandhi lost his control and started to laugh loudly.

Examples of Bapu’s humour are legion. It was never without a point which draws people to the cause of non-violence and it is that state of mind where there is no fear.

Gandhi’s simple language, his prolific writings, his meetings enriched with music and prayer, his spinning wheel, his costume – all are unique. Along with all these, his toothless smile was one of his most famous physical characteristics. He knew that laughter dissipates power but the intent was not to collect that power, but rather to bring freedom and courage. Gandhi’s sense of humour always reflected his childlike nature, his intense humanity and his freedom from complexes. A good hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress leaving muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

In this Covid pandemic era, one can rightly accept laughter as a perfect medicine to strengthen the immune system of the body like Gandhi did.