If Bangalore is the ‘City of Gardens’, Chandigarh has no less a claim to be called the ‘city of parks’ where every open space or stretch of land has been converted aesthetically into a park or a green grassy lawn. Neither is there any dearth of parks in the city nor of the health conscious fitness freaks that can be seen jogging or walking in the gardens. Hailing from an over crowded city of Jalandhar where finding an open space is a luxury and where the culture of taking morning and evening walks is alien to the people, going for a walk in the garden was something I was least interested in. I was literally dragged by my husband to accompany him for a walk. But the development of a park in the close proximity of my house changed my outlook and also my daily routine forever. Not only did I start going for the evening walk, but started enjoying it too. I might have begun reluctantly, but soon I became addicted to the walk routine which I follow every evening religiously.
One fine evening while taking a walk, I was amused to find a group of women clapping, laughing and exercising in one corner of the neighborhood park. Every evening at five women would assemble; they would clap, burst into forced laughter every now and then and merrily do some funny exercises. I realized they were the members of the Laughter Club. Though their actions were rather stupid to the onlookers but their zestful and enthusiastic ho ho haa haa amid clapping was some thing I could not resist. Shedding my inhibitions I took the plunge and joined the Laughter club for beating the blues away.
Initially I was a little embarrassed, was hesitant doing the silly exercises, but soon became comfortable with ho ho haa haa.
Mrs. Soni, a middle aged woman in mid 50s, was the self proclaimed leader of the group. Every day, well before the appointed time, she would be there to greet and lead the club members. Despite being semi literate woman from a humble back ground, the way she kept her flock together and engaged them in various activities and exercises was indeed amazing. Be it Janam Ashtami, Teej or the Independence Day, there would be a celebration for every occasion. On Republic day tiny pieces of tricolour ribbons were distributed to us to be pinned on our shirts. Every day before the start of each session, the laughter Club banner would be tied on a tree, around which the chanting and clapping would take place.
Every now and then, Mrs. Soni would arrange visit of a V.I.P and also ensure media coverage. I vividly remember the episode when our leader invited the Mayor of Chandigarh to our Laughter Club. In preparation of the impending visit she held detailed discussions with the club members. Mrs. Soni came up with innovative ideas, though at times, I found these too farfetched and weird. The D Day arrived, for which elaborate arrangements were made. A coffee table and three plastic molded chairs were placed at the designated corner in the garden. On reaching the spot, I looked around for Mrs. Soni. There she was, all decked up for the occasion -a small brinjal dangling like a locket from a string of peas adorning her neck. Her ear rings were made up of green peas. Equally amusing was her bracelet of lady fingers. Not to be missed was her weird make up which left us completely baffled. What a comic figure did she look with a thin slice of cucumber pasted on her right cheek and one thin strip of orange colored carrot and another of the white radish glued on the left cheek!
After an anxious wait, the Mayor arrived with two female companions. She was welcomed by our leader with a bouquet and was served tea and samosas. Later, we gave a short presentation of our laughter exercises. Needless to say, there was the press to cover the function. The Mayor left after giving a short speech. But the baffling design on Mrs. Soni’s cheeks continued to puzzle me.
I could not stop laughing as I narrated the comic scene to my son. It was while I was giving him the graphic details of that suddenly the mystery of the design on Mrs. Soni’s cheek unfolded. Lo! I was able to solve the cheeky puzzle, which I felt, was no less than cracking the Da Vinci Code. I realized that the graphic on Mrs. Sani’s cheeks was the remainder from the tricolor Indian flags, one on her left cheek and the other on the right. In fact, she had tried to recreate the tricolor by gluing the slices of orange carrot, white radish and green cucumber on her cheeks but, in the hurry and flurry of the activities, two slices fell off the right cheek and another from the left cheek, so that what remained was a cheeky puzzle.
LONG LIVE MRS SANI AND HER LAUGHTER CLUB!
(Published in HT Chandigarh on May 19, 2014)