The inverted samosa and other Indian jokes

The ancient Sumerians stole humour from the Indians, then the Romans stole it from the Sumerians, and finally the Brits took it from the Romans and, like everything else, they took, they kept it and didn’t give it back


The origin of comedy, as we know it now in India, has come back recycled. And that is what allowed the comedian Tanmay Bhat to poke fun at the diva of yesteryears, Lata Mangeshkar, calling her 5,000 years old. Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/AP
The origin of comedy, as we know it now in India, has come back recycled. And that is what allowed the comedian Tanmay Bhat to poke fun at the diva of yesteryears, Lata Mangeshkar, calling her 5,000 years old. Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

A common perception among non-Indians and other such foreigners is that Indians, at best, have no sense of humour. At worst, they cannot tolerate anyone who does. This, of course, is a dreadful canard spread by anti-national elements and foreigners. Because, Indians do have a sense of humour—it’s just that no one else gets it. It’s that sophisticated is what I mean, and I’ll prove it to you.

Indeed, jokes may well have begun in India. Around 7,000 years ago. That’s because pretty much everything—everything good that is, you can keep your valentine cards—began in India around 7,000 years ago. A year later, the West stole it all. And put our humour in comedy routines. And now their stand-up comedians are making money out of it.

Dreadful business comedy—we should have copyrighted humour. We wouldn’t have had to work so hard at our growth rate then, just to keep the lazy West in business. That’s economic growth rate. Population’s sorted.

Now, there’s another canard doing the rounds: apparently—and this is serious stuff, mind you (wars have been fought over less)—the world’s first joke was cracked not in India, but in Iraq. Iraqis? Were they even around at the dawn of Indian civilization?

Every Indian knows they stole the idea of ziggurats from India. Because they are basically half-built pyramids (must have run out of sand). And, as every Indian knows, the idea of pyramids was stolen by the Egyptians from the Indian samosa. Inverted, of course (which is also the basis of how we journalists are taught to craft our stories—another idea stolen from India, this time by the dreadful Americans).

At any rate, according to the BBC (that would be the British Broadcasting Corp., what did you expect?), the world’s oldest recorded joke caused guffaws and chortles in southern Iraq in 1900 BC (1956 or so Vikram Samvat, the Indian calendar that’s 56.7 years ahead of the Gregorian—we have always been ahead of the rest of the world).

The joke goes like this: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” You may have noticed that the joke basically rests on the concept of a double negative, which clearly was stolen from the ancient Indian Neti Neti (not this, not this).

The ancient Sumerians stole humour from the (even more ancient) Indians, then the Romans stole it from the Sumerians, and finally the Brits took it from the Romans and, like everything else, they took (especially curry), they kept it and didn’t give it back.

That is the origin of comedy as we know it now in India. It has come back recycled. And that is what allowed the comedian Tanmay Bhat to poke fun at the diva of yesteryears, Lata Mangeshkar, calling her 5,000 years old.

And at Sachin Tendulkar, by imitating him and comparing him with some Kohli, who is supposed to be an even greater batsman. And so it was entirely understandable that such towering nationalists as film censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani would tell NDTV this week, “Tanmay Bhat is a repeat offender, he deserves no freedom. He has insulted the mother of music.”

And actor Anupam Kher, a supreme Indian nationalist, would tweet, “I am 9 times winner of #BestComicActor. Have a great sense of humor. But This’s NOT humor. #Disgusting&Disrespectful”

What a lot of foreigners who have stolen Indian humour don’t realize is the subtlety of Indian humour: that in keeping with the finest Indian tradition, both Nihalani and Kher are having you on. They don’t mean it, it’s a laugh!

So you can’t blame them for the fact that leaders of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party (MNS—Marks and Spencer stole the acronym, the blighters) have filed a police complaint against Bhat. It’s all a joke.

You think India is humourless? Sample these two stanzas from The Billy Hawk Calf (Ramgorur Chhana), a very funny poem by Sukumar Ray from his Bengali book Abol Tabol (English translation by Sampurna Chattarji):

The Billy Hawk Calf

Is forbidden to laugh

Crack a joke and he says

‘No way, not by half!’

Billy Hawk’s nest

Has no room for jest

There laughter is not allowed

Not even as a guest.

As you may have noticed by now, this column does not follow the stolen concept of the Inverted Samosa. Indeed, we have cleverly strewn the where, what, when and how of what you call the inverted pyramid all over this piece. We now know where humour began and when. We know what it looked like way back then (a samosa). And we know how humour was stolen from India.

It’s the why that needs figuring out. We are on the job. Keep smiling, have a samosa.

Dipankar’s Twitter handle is @Ddesarkar1

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