Recently at a friend’s house I met a stand up comic, who strongly resembled the laughing Buddha figurines. He was brilliant in his repartees and had all of us in tears with his quips. He was accompanied by a very attractive young woman, obviously in love with him, and we learnt that she was defying family pressures to be his muse and life mate.
I offered them a piece of unasked advice, sharing a warning that my wife has been giving my daughters.
To explain this shared wisdom, I have to tell a story.
In my teens I was a dark skinny bespectacled gangly boy, shy and nerdy, enthusiastic but indifferent at games, and absolutely addicted to reading. This did not make me popular among the boys of my peer group, and the girls I liked were all fictional. For self preservation amongst the denizens of the jungle that is the teenage world, I used my facility with words as a substitute for brawn. Sharp repartee, wisecracks, ridicule and satire were my defensive and offensive weapons. This gave me a small measure of popularity and the school bullies kept a wary distance. But with adolescence, my soul cried for the company of feminine creatures outside the pages of books.
My prayers were heard by some bibliophile god, and a neighborhood kid I had played with as a child metamorphosed from a gangly awkward girl into someone who could be every teenager’s dream girl. To the combined shock and resentment of the entire young manhood of the area, she adopted me as her official boyfriend.
Basking in the glory and warming in the heat of jealousy of my peers, an emotion that was novel to me, I still could not quite believe in this miracle. What could the prettiest girl see in the ugly bookworm ignoring the hunks, sportsmen and the Richie rich kids who usually monopolized all such girls? To unravel the mystery, I asked her.
‘You make me laugh” was her honest reply. The secret unveiled, I blossomed into the class comedian.
Later we moved into different cities and drifted apart, but the mantra she taught me served me well. This message was later validated by my Guru, Graham Greene, in whose ‘Travels with my Aunt’ the unprincipled uncle teaches the protagonist the secret of his successful serial liaisons as ‘YOU HAVE TO MAKE THEM LAUGH”
This so became a habit with me that I could not be serious when required and poems I tried to write turned out to be limericks. No one sought serious advice from me, job interviews provided entertainment to the interviewers but resulted in no jobs, and offering condolences in my flippant style would replace the grief of the grieving into rage, which could potentially get me killed.
By now I was looking for long term commitment in life, and was stuck by the fact that no one would take me seriously. The bright and personable young ladies would enjoy my company but would choose the serious young academics, budding bureaucrats or corporate cutthroats, when it came to long term liaisons.
Thus when I met the lady I could not live without, she would not believe I could be serious, and took my impassioned entireties as more attempts at comedy. It did not help that she had been seeking relationship advice and my solution was to replace her current flame with me. I resorted to another Guru, Wodehouse, and presented her with ‘Leave it to Psmith’ to convince her of serious intent behind flippant content.
Finally, the argument that clinched the deal was that the advantage of marrying anyone so obviously crazy is that you can never get bored. Ignoring saner counsel from all concerned, parental bans, cultural differences, she banked on a wisecracking clown and potential entertainment on long winter evenings for her future happiness.
As the decades that rolled by, I was blissfully happy, and presumed that I had kept up my side of the bargain, as I heard no complaints on that ground. But then I heard her advice to my daughters as they reached the dating age. “Never marry a guy just because he can make you laugh, he might be fun, but jokes tend to pall after 25 years and get rather stale. One can bear to hear the same jokes only so many times. You may live to regret it.”
This was the statutory warning that I shared with the couple at the party, who were giving me such a strong sense of déjà vu. I hope they ignore it.