Parsi Thy Name Is Humour!

5th May, 2024 (tomorrow) will be celebrated as ‘World Laughter Day’. It is an annual event celebrated worldwide to raise awareness about laughter and its many healing benefits, as well as about thousands of community groups worldwide who regularly practice laughter, which is known to promote wellness and overall well-being. World Laughter Day is celebrated in most large cities around the world – hundreds gather on the day to simply laugh together!

According to Wikipedia, World Laughter Day (WLD) was founded in 1998 and reportedly the first celebration was on 10th May, 1998, in Mumbai, India, arranged by Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of the Worldwide Laughter Yoga Movement. WLD is now celebrated on the first Sunday of the month of May, worldwide.

Human beings seem to be the only creation endowed with a sense of humour. We do not see animals, birds or other creatures laugh. We know about laughing hyenas. However, the laughter vocalization, for which they are known, is simply a high-pitched series of short giggle-like sounds. These sounds, rather than being associated with hyenas having a good time, are generally made when they are threatened or under attack. A hyena may also produce a laughter like sound when frustrated. Hence a laughing hyena is not happy, but unhappy, when ‘laughing’. Only human beings laugh when joyful. Little wonder that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, “The highest state (of being) is laughter.”

The Laughing Prophet

Laughter is an integral part of the Zoroastrian religion. According to the Pahlavi Dinkard, Zarathushtra, instead of crying, laughed at birth and the whole of creation rejoiced. Pliny the Elder has also recorded this in his writings.

Osho (Rajneesh) was critical of most prophets and seers but admired Zarathushtra enough to print one of his discourses in the form of a thick volume titled: ‘Zarathustra: The Laughing Prophet.’ I had read this book many years ago and found that it was based on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who loved the teachings of Zarathushtra, and had authored the book, ‘Thus Spake Zarathushtra’. Believe it or not, Nietzsche could not find any Perfect Master as life-affirmative as Zarathustra – a man who began his life with laughter and whose vision and mission was ‘Happiness For One And All’.

To this date, Zoroastrians look in the mirror set on the meiz-e-murad (the wish table) on the day of Navroze (New Day) and smile. This ritual is a silent affirmation, reminding us to smile every single day. Also, on any festive occasion, it is almost mandatory to enjoy a play that is humorous. Parsi theatre and comedy go together from the days of late Adi Murzban.

The Parsi Sense Of Humour

Parsis are known for their sense of humour and consider laughter as an integral part of their life. A classic Parsi blessing in Gujarati that I grew up hearing, was, ‘Hasto-ramto-rehje’, which means ‘live with laughter and playfulness.’ Comedian Charlie Chaplin believed that, “A Day without laughter is a day wasted.” Little wonder why my mother used to see me off at school every single day with the words, ‘Taro divas hasto ramto jai!’ (may your day pass with laughter and merriment).

Even the Avesta greeting, ‘Ushta-te’ (meaning Happiness unto you) resonates with the belief of American philosopher and psychologist, William James, who deemed, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.” Laughter, in other words, is the key to happiness.

An important trait that makes Parsis so loving and lovable is their amazing sense of humour. We are a community which can laugh at itself and is tolerant of people criticising it. Some think that Parsis are an insane community taking everything so lightly and in their stride – be it politics or health. But, Robert Frost believed, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” Surely a community that considers laughter as religion can only be an insanely happy community!

While most like to jog outdoor for fitness most Parsis consider a hearty laugh a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoor!

The Laughing Buddha

In most homes, we find a figurine of the Laughing Buddha. Laughing Buddha, also known as Budai or Hotei, is a figure from Chinese folklore and Buddhism. He is often depicted as a stout, bald man with a large smile and a protruding belly. The Laughing Buddha is a symbol of joy, contentment, and prosperity in various East Asian cultures, and he is considered a representation of happiness and abundance.

Contrary to common misconception, Laughing Buddha is not the same as Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Instead, he is based on an eccentric Chinese monk who lived during the Liang Dynasty in China. This monk, named Budai, was known for his benevolent nature, wisdom, and jovial personality.

The Laughing Buddha is often depicted carrying a cloth sack, which is said to contain treasures and wealth. He is also shown with prayer beads, a fan, or a bowl, each carrying its symbolic significance. The large belly of the Laughing Buddha is considered a symbol of happiness, good luck, and abundance. Exploring the spiritual insights and cultural significance of Laughing Buddha unveils a pathway to transforming our lives, inviting a spirit of mirth and abundance into the tapestry of our existence.

Humour In Leadership

Leaders often use humour as part of their leadership skills to enjoy their work more. When leaders use humour in their leadership skills, it builds deeper relationships, increases their personal likability, and improves their team’s job satisfaction. Humour also minimizes status differences and can defuse certain tensions, which also helps everyone enjoy their work more.

It may not be out of place to recount here a few examples of wit and humour. Let us start with the doyen of Indian Industry, Late JRD Tata…

When a politician wrote a letter to JRD Tata with the ‘Dear Jay’ salutation, he wrote back: “I have looked up the dictionary and find that a Jay is ‘a noisy, chattering European bird of brilliant plumage’ and, figuratively, ‘an impertinent chatterer or simpleton’. For future reference, please note that my name is spelt ‘Jeh’, in abbreviation of ‘Jehangir’. Any resemblance between me and the bird is purely coincidental.”

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was passionate about the army he commanded and often had low tolerance when it came to dealing with politicians who tried to manipulate or control matters concerning the army. He once famously quipped: “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter.” Only Sam Bahadur could have said that and gotten away with it!

Parsi Humour In Parliament

Nehru’s Finance Minister – T T Krishnamachari once depicted Feroze Gandhi as Nehru’s ‘lapdog.’ Feroze Gandhi did not take that lying down. He said, since Krishnamachari considered himself a ‘pillar’ of the nation, he would do to him what a dog usually does to a pillar!

In another instance, Congress’ J.C. Jain kept mocking Piloo Mody. An annoyed Mody yelled, “Stop barking!” Jain pleaded with the Chair, “Sir, he is calling me a dog. This is unparliamentary language.” Chairman Hidayatullah concurred and pronounced, “This will not go on record.” Piloo Mody corrected himself thus, “All right then, stop braying.” Jain did not know what the word implied. It stayed on the record.

On another occasion, Piloo Mody was censured in Parliament for talking with his back to the Speaker. Mody shielded himself by saying, “Sir, I have neither front nor back, I am round.” Such self-deprecating humour can be an effective instrument for managing tensions and keeping tempers cool.

Indeed, laughter is a great form of stress relief, and that is no joke! It draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects you from the damaging effects of stress. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humour lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps you release anger and forgive sooner. So… laugh on, live on!

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