Can history be a hoot?
Did emperors have to chase homing pigeons across massive courtyards, among other lines of enquiry
From The Mental Floss History Of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization’s Best Bits to the Big History Project funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, there have been many recent attempts to rescue the past from its reputation—its educational pursuit has been known to bore students in stultified classrooms to sleep.
Comic Anuvab Pal hopes to dip his feet into this stream of repackaging history’s juiciest stories in his new stand-up act, The Empire. “So much of stand-up is about names of contemporary celebrities, some bad language, and some random present news headline item. I like all that. But as a writer, I wanted to go back and look at very funny ideas in history. In our history. And revisit history, not as a serious set of events like we are taught, but as real people in real situations,” says the Mumbai-based comedian. “This starts from the Mughals all the way to how we speak English today. But it is not a chronological recounting of history. I just try and pick on fun things,” he says ahead of his shows in Gurgaon and New Delhi this week.
Pal, who famously co-wrote the screenplay for the film Loins Of Punjab Presents and the script for the film The President Is Coming, promises to ask some irreverent (sometimes even irrelevant) questions in his set: Did it confuse the British to meet a Bengali man with a stronger English accent than they, for example. Or did anyone get tired during Gandhi’s famous Dandi march in 1930 and hail a taxi?
What-ifs and anachronisms are common tricks of the trade for comics; and Pal has sprinkled some in this set too. He ponders over mysteries: What if the Mughal emperors had WhatsApp? Did princes and kings tail homing pigeons to get that important message tied to their leg? “In movies and stuff, they always show that the pigeon lands right on the king’s shoulder. It could not have been that easy. It is a pigeon, so I’m sure it was moody,” he says.
His hope through the show is to entertain, yes, but also relook at history as “human stories, fun stories”, says Pal. “We are looking at some stupa Ashoka built and reading about what AD he built it (in) and whether it is made of stone or copper and the plinth is 7ft high. Lovely. I’m not a stone quarry worker; I’ll never use that information. But behind the stupa is the story of why it is there—there was a mad war fought perhaps over a woman some king loved. Someone beheaded someone. Someone ran off with someone’s mistress. The stupa is boring compared to that. Let’s chat about that.”
The Empire is on 26 September, 7.30pm, at Epicentre, Apparel House, Sector 44, Gurgaon, Haryana, and on 27-28 September, 7pm, at India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi. Tickets, Rs.300, Rs.400 and Rs.500 at Epicentre, and Rs.350 and Rs.500 at India Habitat Centre, available on in.bookmyshow.com.
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