Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Best Medicine

It was past 11 that night, and I was desperately trying to put my 3½-year-old daughter to bed. The little one was asleep. And I hoped to get some shut-eye myself. It wouldn’t be long before the baby woke up for the first of his many night-time feeds. And I wanted to get whatever rest I could.

In vain. Daughter dearest had no intentions of sleeping. She sat astride her father’s stomach (Post-fatherhood, it had been redesigned for comfort) and settled herself to hear a bedtime story (We have more than one storyteller in the family).

I watched the father-daughter moment indulgently. My husband was telling her an original story about Superman and Spiderman, in Malwani, no less. Malwani is a dialect of Konkani, with strong Marathi influences, spoken in the Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of Maharashtra.

As an avowed Superman fan (Christopher Reeve), I fought against the urge to chuckle loudly. In my husband’s stories, and there are at least 8 of them, it is always Spiderman who saves the day, whereas Superman is a buffoon who wears a bedsheet around his neck and underpants on top of his trousers and flies around aimlessly.

Even as the story continued, she suddenly began to laugh, a ha-ha-hee-hee-ho-ho that rose in force and intensity, promising to take you on a guided tour of the Barakhadi, the 12 building blocks of alphabets in the Devanagari script.

The story was temporarily suspended but the laughter continued, getting louder, more outspoken by the second. I scolded my daughter. But she only giggled the more. Alarmed, I looked at the sleeping baby, afraid that he would wake up. He stirred a little, then resumed his slumber. I heaved a sigh of relief, then turned to glare at my husband hoping he would act like the adult he was and quiet our firstborn before she woke her brother up. But he only shrugged his shoulders to indicate his powerlessness to attempt any such task.

My alarm grew. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before he gave in and joined in the laughter, unrestrainedly. My warnings went unheeded. Already it seemed as if the tribe of laughers was going to be doubled.

Intending to thwart their gaiety, I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes. I was quite sure that my face looked particularly forbidding, and that our offspring would certainly be subdued at the sight of it.

To my surprise, both father and daughter took one good look at me and laughed louder. Needless to say my son awoke and made some noise of his own. It was an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment for me and after some mild shouting from all quarters, peace was restored. It was only after everyone else had gone to bed and I had some quiet me-time that my mood altered somewhat and it struck me that perhaps I had been too harsh with her. After all, she had only laughed.

Was that such a bad thing? Hadn’t I been a champion giggler in my time? I remember how one of our teachers at school, Sr Edith, I think her name was, was always telling me to stop giggling. Almost anything had the power to amuse me in those days. And so it was with most of my friends as well. Nothing was immune to the Giggling Fit. No subject was too grave for it. Why do you think the phrase, like a giggly schoolgirl, emerged?

As we entered college, bidding goodbye to our schoolgirl lives, we unconsciously gave up giggling and adopted the full-throated laughter that was a symbol of the way we saw ourselves – independent, at the start of a whole new adventure. The five years we spent in College, we knew with prescience, would be some of the best years of our lives.

Laughter came easily then. We were young. The future seemed exciting, enveloped in a million possibilities, all good. Hope was in our makeup. There was no room for negativity. There were no shadows in our lives, nothing that could resist the assault of Laughter. Authority, discipline, rules – they all crumbled and looked sheepish once Laughter got going. The theatre of the absurd and that of the rational could provoke the same response. The more serious something was, the more ridiculous our Laughter made it appear.

Because we were asserting ourselves, no one could tell us to stop laughing. The giggle was hurriedly smothered, but Laughter could hold its own. It was so infectious that others who had no idea what was so funny would find themselves unable to resist laughing. Sometimes even we would forget what we had started laughing over.

The world itself seemed to encourage us to laugh in those days. So whether it was the Tom and Jerry cartoons that caused us to laugh until our sides ached or Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, the first sit-com on Doordarshan that made us feel so grownup when we understood the jokes, laughter found encouragement. Today when people claim to be LoL or RoFL on chat and sms, it seems so fake.

Recently I got all excited when I saw CDs of Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi on sale at a mall. I couldn’t wait to get home and begin reliving those days. I watched 9 episodes back-to-back in silence, finding the canned laughter increasingly annoying, before my husband had the good sense to switch off the TV and put me out of my misery. So what happened?

Age did. Apparently children laugh 300-400 times a day; adults are lucky if they manage to laugh 15 times a day. Clearly, Laughter is the preserve of childhood and youth. That would explain why youngsters can laugh so effortlessly at everything and nothing and grownups have to get together every morning, as members of so-called Laughter Clubs, and go all blue in the face in order to force themselves to laugh.

That adults laugh less than children is a known fact. And the reason why it happens is that gradually we begin to play less, imagine less, believe less. That’s when cynicism sets in. In my own case, I had allowed the false belief that giggles equals giddy to sneak upon me and strangle my laughter.

Today I, who could once upon a time be booked for inciting a riot just by laughing, allow whole weeks to go by between laugh sessions. And then they are not fits of laughter, just a dry chuckle at the most. I can’t remember the last time I laughed until I cried. And that realisation really makes me cry.

As I think of my behaviour with my daughter, I am truly ashamed of myself. Not so long ago, when she was a little infant, it was over her first laugh that I had first bonded with my daughter.

I don’t know why I’ve let myself go like that. If, as they say, laughter is the best medicine, I have been underdosing for far too long. But I am determined to make amends. From now on, I shall laugh and not care if I risk appearing foolish. I shall seek to laugh easily and more often. I will try to take life less seriously.

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be, sang Whitney Houston in The Greatest Love of All. I will strive to remember that lesson the next time I am tempted to curb my children’s enthusiasm and their laughter.


  1. Cynthia,

    How proud I am to read one of my student's writing efforts all these years later! Great blog, interesting thoughts and ideas expressed in it. I enjoyed reading The Best Medicine. It really is the best medicine, the other being the love of a child. Nothing like those soft little arms wrapped around one's neck to make everything all right!

    It is sad that adults don't laugh as much as they should. I hope you will start laughing more because when I hear that you have gone for weeks without laughing makes me miserable for you!

    We cannot let life get in the way of joy. I don't know what I would do if I did not laugh as much as I do....

    Someone once told me that children need at least ONE good BELLY LAUGH a day so I try to make sure my daughter gets that from me, apart from everything else that "makes her funny" as she used to say when she was a toddler!

    All the best with the blog! I look forward to reading more.


  2. Love it, love it, like a hundred million times. Extremely sweet and touching! As a mom, I have done the same a hundred milllion times and as you share this perspective, it makes me think too. :)

  3. HI Kaumudi, What a thrill it is for me to have you take the trouble to read and reply to my blog. Since I wrote this post yesterday, I have made a good beginning. I have started smiling at total strangers in the train. Last evening, I smiled at 5 people - without warning, without leave. One of them rolled her eyes, the other one stared back in mute surprise. Numbers 3 and 4 turned away in a hurry. That caused me not a little worry. But the last one smiled back. Now that's encouragement.
    You are so right about the kids. My children do bring a smile to my face. Their antics, the things they say, they all make my day. But I miss what you call a good belly laugh.
    Thanks again for your comment.
    Am grinning broadly as I write this. Good start, don't you think?

  4. Shubs, The best part about having friends who are mothers is that one has the satisfaction of knowing that no matter how good, crazy or spaced out I feel, there will be friends who will nod in understanding, and say, "Tell me about it, I've been there." Thanks once again, Shubs, for taking the trouble to comment. I knew you would. :)

  5. You write so well and surely even an uninteresting topic can be pepped up with some "cynthology"! Well written and I look back on the years my own kids were infants and how I swore that I would never let them cry but this oath I guess was too far fetched [I reckon] and the inevitable

    It's so true that we adults take life too seriously and quite often can see the same "serious reaction" in the person we are communicating to i.e. a serious face begets another serious face. So we must "seriously" learn to let go and smile and of course, giggle and laugh more often. Congrats on this well written article.” LoL Wilma.

  6. Hi Wilma, Thank you very much for your comments. As a mother who is always fumbling to do things right, it is always helpful to hear from other mothers who have faced the same challenges and beaten them too.
    Ever since I wrote this post, I have noticed that I have begun to smile and laugh more. Maybe there is hope for me yet. :)



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