By Misha Kumar Dec. 17, 2017
In this day and age, the only thing that is secular is the toilet. It unites all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed, and religion. Toilet humour is easy to understand, but jokes about dumb blondes, menacing mothers-in-law, and Sunny Leone, are more complex affairs.
What do a fast-acting laxative and a rampaging mother-in-law have in common?
They’re the only two things that make Indians laugh.
De taali! Give claps!! (Not “the’’clap, just claps, please.)
I often wonder why mainstream Indian humour refuses to move beyond toilet jokes and screeds against your wife’s mother? Why must purgative substances and badly drawn cartoons illustrating the similarity between your “better half” and an alpha predator be the only acceptable form of comic release? The world has changed. We have chatbots with extraordinary intelligence, Teslas that run on the sun, and we will soon colonise the moon, but still the mental image of an overflowing orifice tickles our funny bone, year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation.
Perhaps the fault is not ours. The humble toilet is a safe source of mirth. It’s not safe to poke fun at politicians any more, unless they’re from a certain party. Jokes about other communities are generally safe, as long as you share them only within your own perfect community. Jokes about religious figures or people from history will get you deported, beheaded, or see you excommunicated after a short but painful Trial by Twitter. In these times, the only thing that is secular is the toilet. It unites all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed, and religion. We may not always remember to flush, but we always remember to forward.
Potty humour is easy to understand but jokes about dumb blondes, menacing mothers-in-law, dastardly daughters-in-law, and Sunny Leone, are more complex affairs. They are forwarded with equal delight by blondes, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law but presumably not by Sunny Leone herself. The toxic world of the all-male WhatsApp group has been written about extensively, one that thrives on forwards that perpetuate tired and lazy stereotypes about women being hysterical, shrieky, shopping-mad, phone-clutching, selfie-taking, money-minded morons, and secretaries who strip and so much more at a moment’s notice. But beyond this wonderful world, there are many mixed gender groups. So what is it about the women that press that little green arrow on WhatsApp and forward, magar pyaar se?
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with laughing at others.
The easy guess is that by embracing the XY-chromosome’s brand of XXX humour, the XX-community a) Avoids rocking the boat; b) Increases its personal cool quotient; and c) Can be superficially subversive while actually being about as threatening as a soggy newspaper.
But the truth goes deeper. In an era where the othering of communities, religions, and sexualities is widely discussed, the women that share these jokes as gleefully as their male counterparts have simply chosen to “other” the women who are the butt of the jokes. “I’m not a bimbo, or a shrieking wife, or a porn star-turned-item-girl… but it’s hilarious that somebody else is.”
This “othering” is frequently perpetuated on WhatsApp by depicting other communities as stupid/dirty/ludicrous/odd eaters of a kind of food completely different from yours, or gleefully seizing on the silly way in which they mangle the vernacular.
Ai-ai-yo idli dosa sambhar, cries the Mirthful Madrasi.
Hoodibaba, phees, exclaims the Bouncing Bengali.
Santa Cruz hai to Banta Cruz kyun nahin hai, asks Santa, the Sardarji.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with laughing at others. The whole world does it. There are Polish jokes about intelligence, Italian jokes about hygiene, Chinese jokes about plonunciation (sorry, pronunciation), German jokes about efficiency, Irish jokes about alcoholism, and there will probably be Martian jokes about being green and three-eyed, once Elon Musk gets over Amber Heard and takes us to the Red Planet. But the ability to laugh at ourselves seems strangely absent in this, the second decade of the third millennium.
“What did you say about MY community?! Only I have the right to mock you!”
In an ideal world, we’d all sit together in one Big Fat Indian Mehfil and guffaw over ALL these jokes like a Great Indian Laughter Challenge judge on speed. But sadly it looks like we’d much rather sit in our own little Biraadri Bubbles (BBs) and laugh at everyone on the other side.
Our cartoon caricature visions of other communities, other religions, other body shapes, other orientations, other world views, OTHER women, are far more fun. But we can only share those among like-minded, like-insular individuals that have emerged from the same mental ghettoes as us, lest fire and damnation descend upon us.
Akele hasna mana hai, doosron ke saath share kar ke khushiyaan badhaaiye.
Misha Kumar was born in 1979, but has never partied like it's 1999. He's a freelance TV writer/producer/director in the non-fiction space, though his dreams tend to be completely fictional. He tweets at @themishanthrope.