Once upon a time in India,there was a town called Boring. It was by the side of Dull Lake. The people of Boring never smiled; they did not know how to — Whether it was grownups or children.
All the children ever did was study. They studied in school all day. On returning home they got busy with homework and with revision for class tests in school. No one played any games — there were no playgrounds in the town.
It was a strange town. The children were never happy to meet each other. Sometimes they would try to avoid each other’s eyes. Or they would try to pretend that they had not studied much for tests. That was not all. They also lied to each other about which chapters were important for the coming test. All that the children wanted was marks, marks and more marks.
What a town Boring was! No one knew how to smile let alone giggle or laugh or crack a joke. Life was really dull and boring.
One day the town had a visitor. Ekta’s grandmother had come visiting. It was her first time in Boring. She had silvery hair and a smile that stretched from ear to ear. Even her eyes smiled. The people of Boring found her very odd.
At the end of her first day in Boring Grandma understood that something was terribly wrong with the townspeople — even her own family. When she smiled and nodded, people moved away with alarm. When Grandma told Ekta with a smile that she had made mouthwatering gajar ka halwa for her granddaughter, what did Ekta do? She said: “The history teacher cut three marks in the test. God knows how many marks she has cut over the years. By now she must have a treasure chest full of marks. I wonder what she will do with all those marks? Maybe I should steal her trunk some day. I will be a very rich girl indeed”. She did not touch the gajar ka halwa.
Grandma was amazed. How could anyone talk about marks all the time? But she heard this nonsense day after day not only from Ekta but from every other boy and girl — and as if that was not bad enough,from the parents as well!
If anything the parents were worse.They were always pushing their children to get more marks so that they could get ahead of others. Just as people go to temples to pray, the parents of Boring went to a shop called The Marks Bazaar. The shop sold a special type of pen with which one could write secret messages. The parents would buy these pens for their children who would then scribble answers on their thighs, ankles and elbows during exams. It was called preparation for exams.
The parents did not know that the shopkeeper also secretly sold infra-red detectors that could catch any secret message on any surface. The children ended up getting caught by teachers and so the parents were forced to return to The Marks Bazaar to buy better ‘secret messengers’, as they were called.
Grandma was shocked to see all this. “I must do something so that the people of Boring learn to be happy,” she thought to herself. It was time to use her secret weapon!
This secret weapon had changed Grandma’s life in childhood. As a young girl she always complained about everything and anything. She thought her parents would give her more things to try and make her happy. Then one day Grandma’s cousin sister Haasya decided to change things. She came up from behind and tickled Grandma hard. Without her knowing it Grandma squealed and giggled. “Ah, so you can giggle like other children,” said her cousin. When Grandma laughed she felt very happy. Grandma’s parents named Haasya the ‘Goddess of Laughter”.
Haasya was such an expert at tickling that people could not but laugh. She knew more jokes than there were stars in the sky. Good jokes, funny jokes, that made people laugh with each other. Once they laughed together they felt warm towards each other. They made friends for life.
Once Grandma laughed the whole day — so much so that her dentures fell out! But she made the people of her neighbourhood laugh with her. Since then there had been very few fights in that area.
Grandma had never forgotten Haasya’s words. “You can have power over all the world’s laughter. But that power willwork only if you wish to do something to make people come close to each other.” That day Grandma learnt that laughter was the most powerful weapon in the world, though very few people understood its strength.
“I need to use the secret weapon for my granddaughter Ekta as well as for the people of Boring,” Grandma told herself.
Next morning as Ekta got ready for school, Grandma played a clever trick on her. “Ekta, there is something under your chin, let me rub it off. As Ekta stood obediently, Grandma came up to her and tickled her hard. Something happened. It was like an electric shock. “Aiyeeee, Ekta squealed and then a laugh escaped her lips.”
“What did I do just now,” Ekta asked her grandmother in surprise. “This,” said Grandma and tickled her again, making Ekta laugh some more. Her head had never felt so light before. From the window Ekta saw her puppy bark angrily at two crows making a big racket perched on the neem tree. She laughed.
Grandma took her to the garden. “How come I have never seen these blusing pink roses and the many greens of grass and leaves before,” Ekta wondered. That day she went to school with the plan Grandma had told her.“You just have to tickle one girl. The tickle travels by touch from person to person.”
By afternoon, all the children in school were giggling. Each time they uttered the word m-a-r-k-s, they giggled! Each time they spoke of ‘secret messengers’, they went into whoops of laughter. And when somebody spoke of the teacher’s treasure chest of marks, they toppled over asking each other: how could anyone store marks?
And then something wonderful happened. The same children who could never get a sum right did not do anything wrong that day. Asked to add two and two, they went out to the garden, touched two roses and two champa flowers and said there were four flowers! They said it with a giggle!
Even the teachers started smiling. It happened when one teacher tried to cane a student. He thought the student had cheated to get the right answer. As he held out the infrared detector menacingly over the student’s knee, the student said, “Sir, there is a speck of dust on your trouser. Please let me remove it.” Saying this he tickled the teacher on the back of his knee. The teacher started smiling and broke the cane.
The tickle revolution continued. By evening the parents had started smiling, laughing and guffawing. Next morning, the local radio station broadcast an interesting bit of news about some strange sounds having invaded the town! Nobody knew what the announcer said next, for he too started giggling! The tickle must have got to him too.
Grandma was satisfied. Her work was done. She returned home. Since then, wherever children have laughed and played with each other, those villages, towns and cities have never seen any misfortune…