Thursday, 16 October 2014

Fighting Flood with Humour

Only man laughs in the whole animal world because only he is subject to sorrow, says Nietzsche

One unsung heroic virtue that has helped us to fight is the Kashmiri’s sense of humour. If fortune laughs on us, why can’t we laugh in turn on it? Some deaths in floods occurred because of heart attack or fright or we can say lack of sense of humour. Creation itself is ultimately nothing but God’s play and we are advised to play our part in a drama staged by God. No jokes! Creation (and destruction as well) is a joke ( for  a consciousness that witnesses rather than judges) that can be enjoyed best as a play of God, or divine joke and that explains rather than contradicts the Quranic statement that all things are created in truth. It is all God’s play and our job here on earth is to dance on understanding the motiveless process of creation and joy that wells up from depths of heart for no reason. Shakespeare said that all life is a stage and let us play the part as flood victims in the drama that ultimately expresses pure joy of the Creator. Heaven is reserved for those who can be like children till death. And we know children would play even in the boat that was rescuing them with great difficulty. 
Humour is the best anti-depressant and anti-stress medicine that is never in short supply in Kashmir. We are, arguably, one of the most humourous communities. We see lighter mood and jokes being shared even in death ceremonies, especially if it is not a tragic death of young ones. can help resist mountains of frustrations.  Perhaps centuries long occupation has taught us to laugh or to perish. Beaten, dragged to baygaar, humiliated, imprisoned, deceived what could we do if not at least laugh at others and ourselves? We can’t live without hope and how much hope we have is seen by how capable we are of treating things in aesthetic or light hearted or humourous way. Even when all is lost the capacity to laugh at misfortune and thus the spirit of joy that no disaster can affect remains with us and this is what laughing saints and philosophers master to fight the bitter things in life. People invented stories, jokes and outlandish theses to escape mental agony that losses in flood could inflict. One recalls why the first response of many saints to any troubling incident or tale narrated to them is a smile and why we are required as believers to greet death – the ultimate terror or disaster from ordinary self centric viewpoint – with a smile. Although I am aware that it may be difficult for us to think humorously about disaster in the present scenario and it may even strike some readers as a completely distasteful suggestion, I still bat for it as a student of religion, philosophy and poetry. Ghalib again comes handy: Mushkilaen muj pae padaen itni ki aasaan ho gayeen. If the genre of comedy (Kashmiris have been brilliant with more comic - ladishahs and bandipathers – than tragic art forms) that is universally popular has any value it is this lesson: the best response to tragic predicament is humour. Beckett, the greatest modern writer of the tragic, was a master of comic. Shakespeare’s comedies are no less great works than his tragedies. To laugh at misfortune is the ultimate weapon God has given us and it doesn’t mean not taking lessons home from a given disaster. That is a separate issue. The first question is how we survive disaster and mobilize resources to fight it with a light heart.
 Can we extend the attitude of greeting death – the ultimate calamity – with a smile to lesser calamities like loss of possessions?  Beyond any gunah and sawab calculus lies at higher and deeper level the interplay of Divine Names. Humans as such don’t come into the picture. And the greatest wisdom lies in taking all this aesthetically. It is the judgment of great thinkers, Eastern and Western, that life or existence can’t be justified except in aesthetic terms. A humourist will note that as many mouths so many theses on why of flood and why it has spared some and none of them standing to rigourous scrutiny or strictly generalizable. He would note so many conflicting views with amusement. One of the strongest evidences of God, according to a famous sociologist, is existence of humour because it presupposes the intelligent or divine order that has been breached. Humour is a royal road to God (possibly because it requires drowning ego and vanity), said no less a personality than Rumi. So humour can’t be lightly taken. It is the best relief to victims caught up in such works as cleaning inundated belongings. Laughing we can heal wounds. Tears and grief would not help. Let us, at least for few days we need to rebuild, take affairs of worldly life non-seriously as Plato advised . 
I am reminded of laughing saints who used to search for any occasion of mourning and make a party of laughter there. On their death, they sought to continue this exercise and stuffed coffin with crackers and as they were ignited a great show of cracking sounds delighted all who were present.  In Orissa there is a tribe that laughs while accompanying corpses to graves as they believe that the deceased will now be free from bondage of body to be with God or the kingdom of Spirit. Muslims also do this but only annually and that too after some time of death of a saint and call it urs. Urs which is the day of death of Sufis is celebrated with great festivity. If we could do this in our case as well – dying before we die – what else would be required to enjoy eternal life?
We all know how jokes eased suffering of people during floods. All of us have heard some special jokes. While visiting some affected families I was amazed at their capacity to laugh away tragedy. I wish we teach courses in humour as part of rehabilitating strategy. 
As Walter Kaufman has pointed out, “The difference between tragedy and comedy is not in essence one of subject matter, but depends upon our point of view.” So with a Shakespearean character let me say that flood mayn’t be evil in itself but thinking makes it so. I hope it becomes a prelude to experience of drowning our attachments, vanity and pride and  soften hardened hearts so that we can laugh on our way to the real, fuller and joyful life that awaits us.  
Tail piece: Hunger is not a joke. Facing cold in winter isn’t a joke. But humour can sweeten our meals and warm our hearts. Flood too will pass. And what will remain is a memory of how we entertained flood victims, not how we fed them. The essence of relationship is delight of spirit to which sense of humour contributes significantly.

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