The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 14, 2002

Make others laugh, laugh at yourself
Niti Paul Mehta

HUMOUR, according to the dictionary, means "a comic quality causing amusement. (It is) the faculty of perceiving, appreciating or expressing what is amusing or comical... "Humour", continues the Random House Dictionary of English Language, "consists principally in the recognition and expression of incongruities or peculiarities present in a situation or character. It is frequently used to illustrate some fundamental absurdity in human nature or wit."

Humour is all this, no doubt, but it also has a lot more to it. It has so many shades and facets that it cannot be neatly placed within the confines of a single definition.

Humour and wit may look like twins but the two are not the same. Each needs to be differentiated from the other. Wit is sharp edged. It can hit and hurt and might even cause a sudden cut. Even when its edge is not cutting sharp, it can cause blurred pain, the kind you feel when someone treads on your toes. Humour is gentle. It does not hurt, it amuses. The best kind of humour is that in which a person makes others laugh at his own cost.

One of my favourites is what Zohra Sehgal said to her daughter in one of her interviews published in a magazine. "You are seeing me now", she told her, "when I am old and ugly; you should have seen me then, when I was young and ugly."


Ridiculing others and laughing at their expense is easy. How many of us can ridicule ourselves to make others laugh? The saving grace is that there is a lot of humour all around if one has the sense to appreciate it. You can find it in books, you can encounter it at home, you can see it in offices and you can hear it out in the street.

I read in the Encyclopedia of amazing and Fascinating Facts that "Atilla, the Hun leader, was a dwarf; Charles III of Naples and Pasha Hussain were less than 3˝ feet" tall. That reminded me of a funny incident. My boss was short-statured. He stood four something feet in his shoes. He came to office on a moped.

One day he stopped his moped in front of his office and as he was pulling the vehicle back on its stand, the front wheel became detached and simply rolled on while my boss stood watching helplessly. The peon chased the wayward wheel and brought it back. It looked like a scene straight out of a Charlie Chaplin film. All those around had a hearty laugh. It evoked laughter because it looked so comic and because no harm was done. But imagine what could have happened had, God forbid, the wheel got detached in the middle of the fast-moving traffic. A very thin line divides tragedy from comedy. Often our best jokes result from averted tragedies.

Another boss of mine, R.N. Chopra, once complained of a chest pain. His doctor advised him to undergo coronary angiography. When he returned home after the test, a friend paid him a sick call. Chopra looked somewhat put out. "Look", he complained, "Rs 7500 gone and they couldn’t find anything wrong with the heart!"

S.K. Sharma, a retired Education Officer, was out in the park for his morning walk when he was accosted by another retired old man. The scrap of the "conversation" went like this:

"How many children do you have?" asked the old man.

"Three", replied Mr Sharma.

"How many sons and how many daughters?"

"Two daughters and one son."

"All married?"

"All married", said Sharmaji.

Then came the crucial question: "Are you living with your son or is he living with you?"

Sharmaji was amused and answered with a smile, "We are living together!"

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