Today many people employ the iPad to start, and sustain, a social conversation. As the host at a party I attended recently pulled out his iPad, the people sitting near him moved over and clustered around him like thirsty deer around a small pond. I walked over too, my curiosity aroused.
“What are you discussing?” I asked.
“Laughter,” said the host, turning to me briefly, “I was showing them something on the subject.”
“Fantastic!” I said, excited that I could casually mention that I write a humour column. It’s usually difficult to bring up this subject because the typical party conversation topic is cricket or politics or that killer combination, the politics within cricket. If someone says, for example, “When Australia put on a spinner in the fifth over, I knew we would win,” I find it a little odd to say, “Same here. And talking of spinners, did you read my article last Saturday about how I missed my flight by acting too clever?”
So when the opportunity was suddenly tossed plumb into the middle of my lap, I was quick to take the cue. “Talking of laughter,” I said smoothly, “did you read my column last week about how the English whinge about everything?”
“No,” said the host, “Where is it posted?”
I gave him the location of the website and, when I saw him typing, withdrew to refresh my drink, displaying a fine sense of modesty. However, I kept my ears tuned to the group and was gratified to hear a low murmur of laughter as I poured whisky into my glass. Then, as I was adding soda, the laughter erupted like an explosion.
“Ha, ha, ha!” the group roared. I stopped pouring the soda and stared — as others around me were doing — at the group, which was now howling with laughter. As I stood there dumbstruck, one man — while laughing loudly — boisterously slapped another on his back and pointed to the screen, whereupon the second fellow let out a bellow of laughter that shook the sofa he was seated on.
Two other men were bent over, holding their stomachs and howling into the carpet. And it was not just the men. The women were in hysterics too: I could see two wiping tears from their eyes as they let out whoops of merriment.
To say that I was pleasantly astonished is to put it mildly. I had never encountered such a reaction to anything I had written. Even members of my family, who claim to be fans, laugh with decorum when they read my stuff. Why, even I, definitely an ardent fan, have never laughed like this on reading anything I’ve written.
“What’s happening, Paddy?” My friend Rahul Chhabra was at my side looking puzzled as he stared at the hysterical laughers.
“I gave them the link to my article from last week’s column,” I said, trying not to sound smug, “And the next thing I know, they’re laughing like this.”
“Wow! I can’t believe this,” he said. He stood with me for a few minutes and as we watched, the laughter gradually subsided: it looked like the people in the group were beginning to get a grip on themselves. “I’ve got to check this out,” he said and walked towards the group. I followed, trying to walk in a manner becoming of a witty humourist. As we reached the group, I braced myself for a few hearty thumps on the back.
But no thump happened. In fact, was I reading this wrong or was no one even looking at me?
“Hey guys,” said Rahul, “What was that frenzy of laughing about?”
“I was showing them this site about laughter yoga,” said the host, “a concept started in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria. He advocates deep and hearty laughter in a group — without any humour as stimulus — and vouches for its benefits to a healthy and long life. We were just trying it out and by golly! It feels good.”
“You mean,” said Rahul, “You were not reacting to Paddy’s article?”
“Of course not! What gave you that silly idea?” said the host; then he saw me standing behind Rahul and hastily added: “But of course I mean to do it later. Paddy, what was the website again?”