One is amazed at the almost complete absence of humour in politicians today. If you notice everything that has been happening in Indian politics of late, you realize how even a truly democratic country can fall prey to anger, indeed to abrasiveness on the part of those who matter. No one smiles. Everyone seems to bristle in anger.
Much the same is true of Bangladesh and, of course, Pakistan. You do not see politicians trading barbs and repartees in decent fashion. Ah, but we forget! These days you don't have political rivals. You only have inveterate enemies. When you are always in a mood to pin the other person down with all your strength, you surely have no time to be humorous. Yet when you recall people like Piloo Mody (and what a lovable Modi he was!), you are reminded of all the wit that once used to define politics in the subcontinent. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Syed Badrudduja engaged in good natured verbal combat on the floor of the Lok Sabha.
It is said that Piloo Mody, while listening to a speech by a minister in parliament, felt outraged at some point. A big, roly-poly man, he stood up and showed his back to the minister. That was his way of insulting the minister. Almost immediately, the matter drew the attention of the minister, who complained to the speaker, who asked Mody if indeed he had shown his back to the minister and thereby insulted the House. Mody stood up again, told the speaker to take a good look at him, before telling him, "Mr. Speaker Sir, I have no front, no back, no flanks. I am round all over. So how could I have shown my back to the minister?" The House exploded in loud laughter.
When you are always in a mood to pin the other person down with all your strength, you surely have no time to be humorous
In Britain, where parliamentary tradition has constantly reinforced itself over the centuries, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone were two political giants constantly battling each other in the 19th century. And they often brought humour into the whole exercise. At one point, as prime minister, Disraeli addressed the House of Commons, in the course of which he repeatedly used the terms 'misfortune' and 'calamity'. An MP interrupted him, wanting to know the difference between the two words. A wicked smile came over Disraeli's face. He pointed to Gladstone on the opposition benches and said casually, "Now see Mr. Gladstone there? If he fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if we picked him out of it, it would be a calamity." You can imagine the waves of laughter that followed.
French President Charles de Gaulle had his particular sense of humour, much of which was actually a reflection of his wisdom. Asked about the influences that had shaped his life, he retorted: "Do not ask a lion how many lambs it has eaten. I have been reading books all my life." Once, when asked for his opinion of China, he deadpanned, "China is a big country and many Chinese live in it."
Winston Churchill was a bundle of humour. At the height of the Second World War, he was on a visit to Washington and was lodged by President Roosevelt in the White House. One afternoon, the wheelchair-bound Roosevelt went up to Churchill's room, pushed the door open, only to see the British leader au naturel. Quickly mumbling an apology, he turned back, only to hear Churchill call after him, "Come in, Mr. President. The prime minister of the United Kingdom has nothing to hide from the president of the United States." In the early 1950s, told that Turkey was creating problems regarding its interest in being part of Europe, Churchill told the man who gave him the news, "Tell them Christmas is coming."
Finally, here's a bit of unintended humour for you from the cantankerous Krishna Menon. Menon, a bachelor, was serving as India's high commissioner to Britain. On a weekend, he and a friend, another Indian, and the friend's family comprising his wife and a whole brood of children, waited for a bus to go to either the zoo or somewhere equally exciting. A number of buses came and went, but Menon and his friend's family couldn't get on them because not enough seats were there for all of them.
And so it went on for a long time, until an irritated Menon, walking stick in hand, told his friend and his family that they all had better walk to their destination. Menon's walking stick, combined with his anger, made a lot of noise as it hit the pavement every time. His friend then told him, "For God's sake, Krishna, why don't you put a rubber at the end of your stick?" Menon snarled, "If you had put a rubber at the end of your stick, we wouldn't be in this mess today."
The writer is a Journalist