First, from the horses mouth. As I am thinking about humour in literature, I quiz this friend of mine about it. “Tell me about any funny piece of literature you have read.” She’s not your typical literature-type, I assure you. She answer promptly: The Inscrutable Americans. Then she looks at me, I am the literature-type, and asks hopefully, Three Men in a Boat?
Then she explains: I really got sick of the flowery humour of Three Men. You read it and it goes above your head in the first time and then you realise, oh, my, it was supposed to be funny. On the other hand, Inscrutable in effortlessly funny. Oh, I forgot Five Point Someone, it’s cool!
Poor Jerome K Jerome and P G Woodhouse and their ilk, and lucky Anurag Mathurs and Chetan Bhagats. (I did not tell my friend about the thing called British humour with its intellectual depth, wit, and self-effacing culture).
Every culture has its own sense of humour. Whereas British humour is subtle, full of understatements, American humour is more of tongue-in-cheek, lilting towards slapstick.
And for many years, we Indians were supposed to be people without a sense of humour. Indian literature is always considered to be serious stuff, always talking about issues, problems and the grim realities. Looks like things are changing now. Mathurs and Bhagats are the example.
But then humour was always there in our fiction, isn’t it? Apart from our very own Pu La and Sharad Joshi in Hindi, there’s a host of Indian English writer who has tried their hands in humour, and very successfully, from R K Narayan to Chetan Bhagat.