I walked into the dining room to find Nawab, my chow-hound, with his snout buried inside the fridge.
“Oye! Dog! Get your face out of the fridge. NOW!” I yelled at him.
“You are such a grouch,” said the canine, "I am beginning to wonder why you don’t laugh much.”
“What do you mean?” I snapped, looking away from the reams of flowcharts that I had bought home from work.
“Well it could just be because of your Indian heritage,” said my mixed-breed talking dog, leaving me slightly confused. In case you are feeling the same, a quick recap for you. Nawab is the dog, my friend Ahmed dumped on me before migrating to Canada. Never told me the dog could talk for obvious reasons. Actually I have never told my family too because the dog talks only to one member of the family – me! But I digress from the story.
“What has my Indian heritage got to do with laughing?” said I grinding my teeth (well you would too if stuck with an opinionated hound).
“You only have to read the news to see that India has become even less tolerant of humorous dissent; in other words, it's become that boring solemn person who we all avoid at parties. Ahmed bhai did say Indians don’t have a sense of humour. All your rulers are too busy scamming and making money and the rest are so regressive that depression comes easily,” said Nawab chewing on the chicken drumstick he had scrounged, “although I admit it could be worse - you could have been a rice eater.”
“Well you ain’t nuttin but a hound dog - so there.”
“See..see...see what I mean no sense of humour at all. I mean your politicians are so touchy that you can’t even write or like a Facebook status update criticising a public holiday being declared for any politician’s death because you just might get arrested.”
“But that’s just one incident. And thank you for not taking names. Maybe it’s better not to say anything.”
“Sure that works quite well in an alternate universe where it is easier to not say anything and oh while we are keeping quiet can we also burrow our head in the sand? Plato had said that laughter expresses scorn but really that doesn't mean that people have to worry that their laughter might be misconstrued for mocking. Pulling down politicians from their self imposed pedestals is good. Even Aristotle, while agreeing with Plato, had also stated that wit is a valuable part of conversation. ”
“That's not fair. Our sense of humour is sophisticated, nuanced, and referenced across a vast array of comedy-rich social and cultural cues, much of it universally accessible, much of it unmistakably rooted in the Indian context.”
“Really? I think India has—along with the rest of the world—become even less tolerant, if that’s possible, of humorous dissent; in other words, grown more boringly earnest. Cowering in a safety-first mode, you are all much less prepared to stand up for the right to joke. As a result exclusivist, intolerant extremist movements get more floor space and less ridicule than they deserve. So much more to joke about, and so much less space to do it in. That monkey model working for you then?”
“Monkey model? What is that?”
“You know, the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil. Now it means that if you don’t see anything bad, then you won’t have to say anything bad. And why does your news have all these image-obsessed politicians who use phrases like ‘tarnish the national image’ without a shadow of irony.”
“You can't expect people to be quiet if you make fun of their heros. Not everything can be taken in a humorous way you know.”
Nawab scratched an ear with his left hind leg and asked “So what is the desired national image and how do you tarnish it? If outsiders were to read nothing but your newspapers, and listen to nothing but your public figures, then they would think that there is this conspiracy by outsiders to make India look small in the eyes of the world. The national image and national pride are constantly reported to be under threat by many things. Who would have thought scantily clad shop mannequins were such a threat to morals?”
“I think the intent there was just to provide safety to dummies. See I can make joke too. Tell me why do you think O wise hound that there is a lack of humour?”
“A joke might not destroy a politician's reputation quite as effectively as a corruption scandal, but it deflates credibility. And brings the wrath of hired goons. Have you heard about Immanuel Kant's incongruity theory?”
“I've herd of cows” I replied, “Get it? Herd of cows.”
“Very droll” said Nawab “Kant holds that humour arises from perceived discrepancies between what is expected and what is observed. All it means is that something absurd must be present in whatever is to raise a hearty convulsive laugh. But for Schopenhauer, humour arises when we suddenly notice the incongruity between a concept and a perception that are supposed to be of the same thing. Like the frequently repeated example of a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard categorised under dog.”
“And that's supposed to be funny? But I get it, so all that you are saying is that a joke is set-up by creating a scenario with an assumed conclusion; but the punchline provides quite a different conclusion, which subverts your previously held assumptions about the joke scenario. Hmm so something like this fits right in: How do you make a dog drink? Put him in a blender.”
“That's disgusting,” said Nawab, “any more cracks like that and you are on your own.”
“So are you ashamed to be taken out for a walk by me now?” I queried.
“Not really, I do come from long line of friendly dogs but...”
“But what? Come on spit it out”
“Well we only go on walks and I really like to run but with you it’s a bit difficult. You are not as athletic as us dogs!”
“I can write computer code.”
“Now that’s funny. Anyway as Snoop Doggy once said - 'looks, humour and sports. Three things in which we dogs are ahead'. In the grand scheme of things, these are the three most important things in life.”
“I am buying a cat,” I said, as I walked away from the dogfight.