© Dan White. No repro without permission.
One would normally expect an urban park in a rich suburb of Bombay to be relatively quiet at 4AM save the howling of the odd stray dog or the snores of a beggar who has found a secret place to sleep for the night. The park I am in at this fiendishly early hour of the morning is anything but quiet and peaceful. The reason is that I am surrounded by well dressed professionals in expensive labeled clothing and beautiful silk saris and trouser suits going absolutely, barking mental.
They the have fallen under the spell of one of India’s most charismatic teachers. His name is Dr Madan kataria and for his followers he has unlocked the secret of never ending happiness. His formula is simple. Start at the end and finish at the beginning. When we are happy we laugh. So if we laugh it will make us happy.
It sounds simple and I entered Dr Kataria’s world with deep cynicicism. On greeting me, as dawn approached, he nearly shook my hand but then stuck his fingers up his nose shouted like a zulu, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
This had him in convulsions and had me chuckling at his silliness before I knew what I was doing. “You are most welcome Mr Dan. Join me and my friends and become the happiest man in the world!”
Dr Kartaria’s theories are actually firmly based in yogic medicine. Laughter therapy or “Hasya Yoga” has been proven to stimulate the mind and the body. According to the giggling guru it also repairs the spirit.
As the sun comes up the respectable pillars of the community in Bombay go through their laughter routines. The first one is ‘birdy laughter’. This involves running around flapping their arms up and down and squeaking a lot. It looks like a lot of fun so I join in bounding around the grass like a tigger on speed.
The next one is ‘argumentative laughter’. Here the protagonists look at each other with mock seriousness and wag their fingers alot. My opposite ‘argumentative laughter’ opponent is an attractive woman in her late thirties who it turns out is one of Bombay’s most successful lawyers. However I don’t think she actually practices these techniques in court.
Lion laughter is the one that really gets everyone going. This where you stick your tongue out as far as it will go and then laugh your head off. I don’t know what relationship this has to wild beasts of the African plain who probably only laugh when they are searing the flesh of a brutally murdered zebra….. but never mind. It makes me feel good.
I have had a long flight to get to Bombay. I am washed out with jet lag and dehydrated from the sealed cabin, lack of sleep and a surfeit of vodka. But now, after joining Dr Kataria’s laughter group I feel invigorated and full of beans. I am a new man. I am an immediate convert. All cynicism is banished to the dustbin of gloomy thoughts.
“Now Mr Dan I will show you how these techniques are not only for the privileged of Bombay but are also being of benefit to the ordinary working man.” As the dawn turns into early morning Dr Kataria drives me across town to a depressing industrial estate. We turn into a compound where workers in overalls spend long dreary days soldering together bits of metal in order to create something electrical. As with any shop floor at that time in the morning, bleary eyed men wander about with cups of tea in their hands looking as if they believe the world is a dark and foreboding place.
In walks Dr Kataria and he is immediately greeted with smiles and slaps on the back before he says with a flourish, “Now, punks, I am going to be making your day!”
The crowd starts the signature chant of the cult. It is a rumbling, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!” It builds into a crescendo at which point Dr Kataria slams a cassette in the boom box and yells, “Lets boogie!” The shop floor is transformed into a funky Bhangra dance floor as for twenty minutes the whole work force and management get down and get with it. It is an amazing site and I am now so in awe of Dr Kataria’s techniques that I believe all companies should adopt these practices as a matter of industrial law.
As the rave dies down The good doctor takes the work force through the laughter routines. They go for it with gusto. We leave the shop floor a place of harmony and industry. As I climb back in the car the manager of the factory tells me, “Laughter is good for productivity!”
Our next stop on this mirthful tour of India’s commercial capital is to meet Mr Prabhu Hinduja. At a sprightly 87 Mr Hinduja proudly shows me the trophies he has won for his laughter techniques. He then descends into aimless giggles which I am not sure could be counted as strictly orthodox laughter therapy. We leave him and his equally aged wife sniggering over their tiffin.
The culmination of my spiritual conversion to laughter therapy is ‘The World Laughter Day’ in a dusty municipal park near the city centre. Thousands, including myself, gather chanting “Ho! Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!” It is an orgy of silliness that leaves me and all those round me in a really good mood. This can’t be a bad thing. So much for suicide, cognitive psychotherapy or religion. If you feel depressed, follow the good Doctor’s advice and leap around a lot pretending to be a birdy on prozac.
Some of Dr Katria’s ideas, such as to build a ‘laughter City’ and establish laughing as an Olympic sport border on the clinically insane. However the health giving qualities of yogic laughter are well known. Where Dr Kataria differs from other holistic practitioners is that he genuinely believes that laughter can lift the human race to another level. Laughter is without creed or religion. As Dr Kataria succinctly puts it, “Laughter is good for everyone. If people laughed more then we would not be having wars or fighting.” He also theorises, “Laughter is highly addictive, positive, contagious and once it starts it is very difficult to stop.”
The good Doctor has a point. Ho! Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha!