This scourge has, creditably, spawned humongous jurisprudence tickling our funny bone.
The title I chose for a bi-monthly Sunday column seems apt. But it has deeper significance. In their youth, many of us have passed through Irving Wallace addictions—from the scholarly Prize to the steamy Seven Minutes. But few, if any, would have heard of, much less read, his 1965 book, The Sunday Gentleman.
In it, he recounts the context of 17th century England, whose harsh debt recovery laws provided for incarceration in debtors’ prisons for unpaid civil debts. But they allowed arrest on any day of the week, except the Lord’s Day viz Sunday. Hence, debtors would hide six days but walk with complete freedom on the seventh.
One such Sunday Gentleman, Daniel Defoe, author of “ Life of Robinson Crusoe”, walked every Sunday, immune from seizure, “with dignity accoutred in the fashion of the times with a flowing wig, lace ruffles and a sword by his side”.
Applying it to himself, Wallace recollects how, in his struggling days as a young aspiring author, he was forced to write more for livelihood than pleasure every day of the working week. He would write either to suit editorial slants or to fulfil ideas tailor made for a perceived audience or to satisfy markets or to simply earn money, including the churning out of potboilers, many of which put him on the bestseller list for decades.
When he realised that since six days of such work was enough to avoid debtors’ prison, the seventh day belonged to him and him alone. He realised that this day he wanted to be as honest as possible, totally involved in what interested him alone; if published it was good, if not, he did not care and it did not matter.
So each Sunday, over two decades he would write, “from daybreak to dusk, so briefly his own man, so briefly speaking of what he pleased and what pleased him.” He tried, every Sunday, like Defoe to be: “an honest man, full of sensitivity, racked by insecurities, determined one day to be a free and independent soul, to speak and write what is in his mind and heart without fear and compromise, to write in concert with truth or his own desires.” Though suffering from none of the compulsions of Defoe or Wallace, I wonder if I can follow some of this guidance every other Sunday.
If one dares to start a column a third time—bolstered by the success of my two earlier ones, published for years successively in two different and leading newspapers and reproduced in two books, Candid Corner and Straight Talk—then how can it not start with the tragic buzzword of our times: Corona/Covid? This scourge has, creditably, spawned humongous jurisprudence tickling our funny bone. So, to hell with all doomsday predictions and dire threats; let’s defeat Corona with some humour.
It would be macabre for me to ask, do you know this joke about germs? Never mind, don’t ask, I don’t want to spread it around! Though 2020 has made it viral faster than any IT professional could. If you cannot get my COVID joke, just be patient! If you don’t get my CORONA jokes, don’t worry: you will take a week to get it. No I am not punning: I am talking about a PUNDEMIC.
Earlier, my friends used to tell me that one single yogasana will solve all health issues and weight problems. Called MBA, it was explained as “Muhn Band Asana”, which prevented snacking and munching. Now the best Covid vaccine comes as GMCB-14, viz “Ghar Mein Chup Chap Baitho-14 Din”! The only other effective way is what the most successful anti Covid character of Ramayan did. Guess who? Obviously Kumbhkaran! Slept it off for six months.
Personal lives and conduct is changing rapidly because of Corona. The other day a pharmacist fainted when a lady in a striking saree asked for a mask matching the saree. An elder on a charpoy under the village banyan tree was heard lamenting in prosperous rural Punjab in chaste Punjabi, that in the old days, when his emigrant grandson returned from Southall laden with gifts, the whole village would turn out and many would insist on going to the airport to receive him. Now the village empties at so much as a mention of even his future return!
A clever suitor, who had been berated by his fiancée for constantly delaying marriage, came up with an ingenious (possibly disingenuous!) and glib explanation. He told her that he was ensuring that his love for her and their romance was growing (doubling?) day by day (like Covid) and therefore the delay was highly beneficial.
Leaving “jugaadu” India and looking globally, I liked the originality in the bank manager’s plaintive question to his superiors (banks being some of few institutions functioning). How and when could he be expected to differentiate between robbers and customers, if masked people kept entering the bank? Understandably, there was no satisfactory reply. Similarly, amidst escalating US Covid figures, Trump is rumoured to have cancelled budgetary allocations for the proposed US-Mexico wall, since Mexico is considering closing its borders to stop Americans bringing Corona to their country!
The harassed Indian husband’s lament is already viral but in fact has global appeal. He was heard asking his boss to urgently and strongly talk to his wife and explain the difference between his “Work from home” instructions, which his wife resolutely believed to mean “Home Work” i.e., do all home chores. Their son shouted back to his parents when they asked him to wash his hands the Nth time. He said, “You have made me wash my hands so many times that the notes I scribbled onto the palms of my hand to sneak into the exam hall ten years ago have reappeared on my palm and are fully readable”!
Being an animal lover, one of my favourite visuals is of the big pet dog, standing on his hind legs with the house keys as he departs, admonishing his master cringing in a corner of the drawing room, thus: “Now you be a good boy and don’t go out. I shall be back in one hour.”
Many witticisms, while funny, are also philosophical, e.g., the lament “What a tragedy; we now have pure air and a mask on our face”. The Psychiatric Association’s warning is significant: “During Quarantine, it is normal to talk to your walls, plants and pots. Kindly contact us ONLY if they reply.” Or the risqué cartoon about a bulky man, pinned down by five doctors, poking him all over his body, while he screams: “For God’s sake, my name is NORONHA and starts with an N!” Or indeed, Gabbar Singh’s apt adaptation: “Jo Darr Gaya, Samjho woh Bach gaya.”
For those of you sick and tired of these PJs, thank yourself that the Sunday Gentleman has a word limit though Corona Jokes have none. Gustaakhi Maanf till a fortnight later.
Dr Abhishek Singhvi is a senior third term Member of Parliament; eminent jurist; former Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice; National Spokesperson, Congress; former Additional Solicitor General of India; author, writer and commentator. Views are personal.