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Humour thrives in the unlikeliest places, as Sonam Joshi discovers in Naraina.


Jolly good fellow
Humour thrives in the unlikeliest places, as Sonam Joshi discovers in Naraina.

The way to the office of Naraina’s local funny man is through a narrow, dark alley and a dank staircase. But then, above a sign printed with the words Jolly Uncle, is the reassuring logo of two smiley faces welcoming you in. The name is an apt nom de plume for Jatinder Pal Singh Jolly – and one that is easily recognisable to readers ofPunjab Kesari, which has featured Jolly’s jokes and stories for the 11 years.

Jolly, 59, told us that his name was a fortuitous mistake, which came about when an employee of a local newspaper accidentally printed his jokes under this pen-name. As fate would have it, the moniker stuck. “Now, nobody recognises me as Jitender Jolly, everybody knows me only as Jolly Uncle,” he said. Besides authoring five Hindi joke books, this funny uncle’s writing has appeared
in over 100 local and national newspapers.

Jolly runs a cargo cleaning agency in Naraina and has been a resident of Tilak Nagar since 1986. His father migrated from Pakistan during Partition, and settled down in Rajouri Garden in 1955. It was here that Singh spent his formative years. But he discovered his funny bone relatively late in life, when he was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis in 1994. “The doctors told me that there was no cure, that I should go home and rest. As my social circle reduced, I began writing jokes and stories and sending them to various newspapers,” he recalled.

It took a couple of years for Jolly to find success. His earliest jokes were printed in local newspapers, many of them published from West Delhi. These included Uday Prakash and Triveni Bhasha from Tilak Nagar,Meri Dilli from Punjabi Bagh, and Rashtriya Samachar from Paschim Vihar. “These made me realise that I could write,” he said. His health problem still restricts his movement, but Jolly remains undaunted. He published his first joke book, Hansi Ka Khazana, in 2004, and has put out four more since then.

Jolly finds inspiration for his humour in everyday life. “You look here, there is a vendor on the street calling out. You look there, you see children up to naughty antics. There is humour all around us – it only needs to be recogni-sed,” he said. One of Jolly’s oft-repeated stories is centered on a misunderstanding with his dhobi. Jolly asks his dhobi to reverse (ulti karo) his shirt before ironing it. He returns some time later to find the shirt is still unironed because, as per instructions, the dhobi was waiting to do ulti (vomit) first. “It’s nothing but a little bit of wordplay,” explained Jolly, who frequently draws on double meanings and puns in Hindi to elicit laughs.

But jokes are no laughing matter for this gent. “I realised that humour can change people’s lifestyle for the better,” he said, explaining how he began writing motivational stories, which were compiled in his latest book Anmol Khushiyan. He has also tackled subjects like drunk driving for Delhi Police’s Navchetnamagazine, and violence in Kashmir for the Indian army’s magazine My Views. A typical Jolly Uncle story begins on a humourous note, goes on to discuss the issue and concludes with “a strong message that touches the heart”.

Jolly’s most popular characters are Veeru and Basanti, from the Bollywood blockbuster Sholay, which he introduced a decade ago. His own characters are set to make the leap to the big screen too, with a script that’s been made into a movie starring veteran TV comedy couple Jaspal and Savita Bhatti. Titled Chadha Chadhi Te Nikke, the film, scheduled to release in October, is a slapstick take on the state of medical care. Its protagonists are two government hospital doctors who misuse the facilities of the hospital they work in.

Jolly ensures that his fans get their supply of humour in the form of a daily joke on his Facebook page. He’s also become something of a community figure in Tilak Nagar, as his pictures with various eminences attest. “I am lucky I get love and respect from everyone. I am invited to every function whether BJP or Congress, Delhi Police, a temple or a gurudwara,” he said, “because whatever I write is for the betterment of society.”
 
Matrimonial alliance

Rishte Hi Rishte An entire generation of Indians who grew up in Delhi in the ’80s and ’90s could be forgiven for forgetting their own addresses. But only serious amnesia could justify blanking out on 28 Regarpura. The address, inscribed on every wall back in the day, was ubiquitous – inveigling its way into our memories, powered by the breathless message that accompanied it. “Rishte Hi Rishte [Matches and more matches],” screamed the walls, followed by a wheedling “Ek Baar Milein To Sahi [Meet us at least once]”.

Rishte Hi Rishte was a marriage bureau, the brainchild of late English literature professor Dharam Chand Arora, who started it in the early 1970s. Professor Arora’s title, also scrawled across the walls, presumably added a veneer of legitimacy and propriety to the business that shared the august company of “Khandani dawakhanas” and “Gupt rog visheshagyas”. During the early ’80s, Rishte Hi Rishte and the marriage bureau business grew exponentially, attracting johnny-come-latelys like Pathak Ji Ke Rishte. They were undoubtedly aided by their 360-degree approach to advertising, which eclipsed Arora’s crucial contribution to the business of fixing weddings. Before the marriage bureau came along, weddings were fixed through family or immediate friends – Arora managed to tap into the zeitgeist of the Indian arranged marriage, and discovered a lacuna, where people were done contemplating their navels.

Then, inevitably, things changed. From a snoozing, semi-provincial town, Delhi became a city. Defacing walls became a punishable offence. And the Internet brought with it the matrimonial website, an admission-free playground for stressed and time-strapped parents. Rishte Hi Rishte also attenuated its business: it now exists as Connexon H, rebranded with incorrect spellings to answer the demands of the day, and is run by Arora’s niece, Poonam Sachdev. It still stands at the same address, albeit in a new, but curiously weathered-looking building.

In a way, Rishte Hi Rishte was a symbol of the burgeoning presence of West Delhi on the wedding map, with specific markets for each aspect of the celebration. Rishte Hi Rishte may live on only in our collective memory, incubated by the warmth of a shared joke, but these establishments – shaadi bands, kundan set lenders, thali decorators – continue to thrive. Karanjeet Kaur

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