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August, 2012:

Questionable questions

The thing that most people seem to look for from a humour writer is serious writing.

I say this because the one question that I am most often asked typically runs: ‘Humour and all is fine, but when will you attempt anything serious?’

But I guess this is not the experience of writers of serious stuff. I suppose nobody walks up to, say, Shekhar Gupta, a writer of solemn reports the kind of which newspapers print on the front page on days when the front page is actually available for news, and ask him: ‘Why don’t you write anything humorous?’

Of course, nobody approaches Shekhar Gupta and start a conversation with him these days because there is a very real fear that he might use the chance to shoot an episode for his TV talk show, which has become very popular for the fact that Gupta fearlessly brings to fore all his journalistic experience and expertise to make people walk.

Luckily, guys who ask me why I don’t pen serious articles, usually don’t wait for a formal response from me, as they themselves go ahead and provide the answer: ‘In a way, what you come up with is right. Who reads sensible stuff these days? Who has the time or mental space for intelligently-written things?’

Another query that regularly gets thrown at me is: ‘What are you like in your house? Are you as humorous as you seem to come across in your writing?’

I wish I could be. But I am in a household that has a teenage daughter. By which I mean I am in a situation where humour dies quicker than Parliament gets adjourned these days.

Me: Is that a skirt or some kind of bandaid that you are wearing?  Go and change it.

Daughter: But appa, I am grown-up. And I know what I am wearing.

Me: It’s so vulgar. I say remove it.

Daughter: If it were so cheap why were you watching, and enjoying, when Katerina was cavorting in it the other day on the TV?

Me: *Slamming the door behind and walking out in a huff*

Anyway, people who ask me whether I am humorous at home, too are never going to, I am sure, accost P Sainath with the question: ‘Sir, what are you like in your house? Do you keep bringing up farmers’ suicide or crony capitalism at family get-togethers?’

But just imagine the scenario if writers were to be the people that their writing seems to suggest. If their conversations resembled the contours of their writing, this is what you can expect:

Arundhathi Roy’s husband (at the dining table):  Just pass the dal makhani. I think I’ll have a second helping. The buttery flavour is yummy.

Arundhathi Roy: We are all daily consumers of the lies and brutality smeared in peanut butter and strawberry jam being air-dropped into our minds just like those yellow food packets dangled into desperate lives of those that the denuded democracy of ours disingenuously digresses from. Shall we look away and eat because we’re hungry, or shall we stare unblinking at the grim theatre unfolding in the dense forests of Chhattisgarh and Odisha that have fallen prey to the insatiable appetite of a State that has only a stomach but no heart?

Arundhathi Roy’s husband: Just realised that today is Ekadasi. I think I will fast tonight.

We will see another example:

Ramachandra Guha’s son: Dad, did you read the news article that says Deccan Chargers is up for sale? But there seems to be no takers for it?

Ramachandra Guha: The IPL has already given capitalism and entrepreneurship a bad game. It has also been bad for Indian democracy, in that it has vividly and even brazenly underlined the distance between the affluent, urban middle classes and the rest of India. The baleful effects of the IPL should worry Indian liberals who admire that form of capitalism, which rewards those with the best ideas rather than those with the best contacts.

Guha’s son (thinking to himself): Is there a legal way to divorce one’s father?

Another thing that people expect from humour writers is them to be tall, dark and handsome. At least, I am not  (I am handsome, tall and dark). ‘Okay, where is Mr Balakumar?’, ‘Oh, Bala hasn’t come with you’, ‘We suppose Bala is caught in a meeting and hence you have come…’ are generally the gist of lines that greet me at whatever function they invite me to, based on the premise that being a humour writer that I will have that one defining quality of a truly funny man: Good looks. And when I tell them that I am indeed the ‘Mr Bala’ they are waiting for, they generally break out into a heavy, hearty laughter, which I have grown to understand to be fully bogus much like the wholesome happiness we exude when the neighbour’s son comes out successful in the IIT exam.

Anyway, now that we have come to the end of this piece, I will round it off by telling you about that one question that many of you ask after reading my article: ‘I like the way you end your pieces. How do you manage to come up with a suitable joke for it?’

No, I don’t. You people just did.