She Fell… We Laughed!

Mummy was all of 4’9” tall. That should be more like ‘short’ than tall, but for all her pint-size stature she packed a giant image and not once did I ever perceive her as short, as long as I was a kid.

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Mummy got tickled very easily. Even the silliest of jokes would get her in splits. And so it was only natural that any kind of goof-up, even someone tripping and falling or tumbling would make her laugh first and help later. She always helped, with tears rolling down her cheeks….well so what if they were squeezed out by laughter! So it only stands to reason that all of us kids also have the same foible. I wonder if foibles are contagious! Let’s not digress and get along with the tale.

To start at the beginning, this happened in Delhi. We were living in Moti Bagh. One day we decided to take the short-cut to the taxi stand. My elder brother and I were walking ahead and as we came to the rather wide and deep gutter, we jumped over it effortlessly, without interrupting our conversation. We had carried on the conversation and went through the motions of walking, jumping over the gutter without consciously paying attention to what we were doing or to our surroundings, for that matter.

A few yards later, I turned to look for Mummy and she was nowhere to be seen. In typical little girl fashion, I panicked. Where had she vanished? Kidnapped! The thought immediately sprang into my wildly adventurous mind.

“She was walking behind us,” I gasped as we ran back, looking left and right for any sight of her. I stopped to catch my breath. We were a yard or two short of the gutter. She was nowhere! Now my brother was beginning to worry.

“Let’s ask the taxi drivers he if they’ve seen her,” he said looking towards the taxi stand. “Maybe she’s already there.”

“But how could she be there when she was behind us and we’re not there yet?”

For a few seconds, we were totally flummoxed and couldn’t make head or tail of the situation we found ourselves in. We were just a couple of minutes away from approaching a traffic cop, when lo and behold, our mother rises up from under the earth it seemed!

There, before our eyes, getting up inside the gutter was our mother. We were dumbstruck and for a moment didn’t react beyond open-mouthed, wide-eyed bewilderment. Then we ran to her.

Thankfully, it wasn’t the rainy season and the gutter was dry! The relief and the sight of her emerging from the gutter had a huge comic effect, and I burst out laughing. Jasper, the good old soul that he is, stifled his mirth and stooped to give her a hand up.

“Mummy, what happened? I was so scared you’d been kidnapped!” I said.

She gave me a look that said, ‘Look at you… you don’t look scared let alone worried!’ She appeared more upset than hurt. I gathered she wasn’t injured. But why was she so angry? Was it us, my brother and I, because we walked on ahead? Were we in for a reprimanding lecture?

“Stupid tailor,” she grumbled.

“What? Why are you blaming the tailor? How did he make you fall in the gutter?” I said between giggles and short bursts of laughter.

“The idiot stitched my petticoat so narrow, I couldn’t span the width of the gutter. So when I jumped, my leg couldn’t reach the other side. And I told him to keep it wider than they normally do and to mark that instruction down in his book.”

To understand her complaint against the tailor, you need to know that she was wearing a saree. Now, a saree has a long skirt petticoat that is tied around the waist and reaches the ankles. The saree is a 5-meter long panel of material that is tucked into the petticoat, at the waist, to hold it up. The length of the material is wrapped around in a particular fashion. It was this petticoat that the tailor had stitched rather narrow. 

Thankfully, except for some minor bruises and scratches, she didn’t get hurt much.

I got the sermon. However, it wasn’t for what I had expected it to be about. It did not rankle either, but it did prompt me to retort that she laughed too whenever I fell. I didn’t mind it since I laughed too, harder than anyone else.

It’s hard to contain my laughter at times even now, and I feel that maybe later, when one is brushed and dusted, and no physical or egoistic injuries have been sustained, a little laughter is ok. 

Thinking back to this incident, I wondered why laughter gets triggered when it seems apparent one shouldn’t laugh in a particular situation. I recalled the Charlie Chaplain and Laurel and Hardy comedies we’d grown up watching. How we’d howl with laughter when someone fell or when they’d knock each other down. In a way, did it condition us to find comedy in such incidents?

So I googled it. And this is the scientific explanation I found. As it turns out, it isn’t about being mean or uncaring. It’s about “play frames” and incongruity. here’s an excerpt:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ask-the-brains-why-do-we-laugh/

EVERY HUMAN develops a sense of humor, and everyone’s taste is slightly different. But certain fundamental aspects of humor help explain why a misstep may elicit laughter.

The first requirement is the “play frame,” which puts a real-life event in a nonserious context and allows for an atypical psychological reaction. Play frames explain why most people will not find it comical if someone falls from a 10-story building and dies: in this instance, the falling person’s distress hinders the establishment of the nonserious context. But if a woman casually walking down the street trips and flails hopelessly as she stumbles to the ground, the play frame may be established, and an observer may find the event amusing.

Another crucial characteristic is incongruity, which can be seen in the improbable or inconsistent relation between the “punch line” and the “body” of a joke or experience. Falls are incongruent in the normal course of life in that they are unexpected. So despite our innate empathetic reaction—you poor fellow!—our incongruity instinct may be more powerful. Provided that the fall event establishes a play frame, mirth will likely ensue.

However, I still can’t explain why in some instances when I fall… slip, stumble… I find it funny and feel laughter rising up, and sometimes, I feel embarrassed, and yet, I feel laughter rising up! There’s a difference between the two waves of laughter, though.

Perhaps that is why, when #she #fell… #we #laughed. The incident brought in both the “play frame” and the incongruity.

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3 thoughts on “She Fell… We Laughed!

  1. Damn that ‘langa’ or “pawade”🤗 its funny, mine are longer so id do fall like Mom. My daughter’s skirt is three quarters long.
    Loved your recollection, brings happy memories for me…
    Yes, bruised dignities but great moments for the memory bank.🤗

    Liked by 1 person

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