Tongue in Cheek: The Funny Side of Life

by S. Shyam Sankar

The resounding thud set off a stream of panicked visitors huffing and puffing to my room: my mother looking very concerned; my neighbours too – wasn’t that concern on their faces, or was that anticipation of something sensational, a broken limb, for instance? They all found me sprawled on my back with an open book seemingly plastered on my face, but without any serious damage. Some were relieved; some disappointed. Some family members didn’t even bother to check, but that’s a story for another time.

The culprit for all the cacophony: the book that was resting on my face. Detractors will shake their heads and focus their gaze up on the antique chair, which had now multiplied into many antique pieces. At them, I cock a snook. I have read many books sitting in the very chair, but I have always come out of the book reading exercises, safe and normal, having always been mindful not to push back the back-rest beyond a certain angle. But this book consumed me so much that I forgot about the back-rest angle constraints; I even forgot about the chair. As if that was not enough cruelty unleashed upon the antique seating equipment, my cachinnations started to rock the chair’s world. There is only so much that a chair, a very old one at that, can take. And the resounding thud was the result.

So, what is this book that captivated me so much and sent me into peals of laughter finally resulting in a mishap? It is ‘Tongue in Cheek: The Funny Side of life’ – the latest offering from Khyrunnisa A, the creator of Butterfingers, a kids’ favourite across India.

All you grown-ups who have looked on enviously when the kids were engrossed in the Butterfingers series of books, and those who sneaked into their children’s rooms when they were asleep to pinch the Butterfingers books and replace them before the children woke up, please do not despair. Stop turning green or blue or whatever you turn into when you burn with envy. This time the shoe is firmly on the other foot, with the kids looking on enviously as the adults sit engrossed in the book. ‘Tongue in Cheek’ is Khyrunnisa’s first book for grown-ups.

The ‘Author’s Note’ sets the tone for the stories that follow. It begins with a claimer, which is the opposite of disclaimer, as the author tells us. What follows the claimer is a collection of articles penned by the author that had appeared in the Thiruvananthapuram edition of The Hindu Metro Plus. The stories are woven around everyday occurrences in the life of the author.

In the claimer, the author claims that the claims made in the book are all true – the characters, the events and so on are real. You look at the number of chapters and you start wondering how so many incidents would have happened to the author. You start reading the book and you slowly realise – most of these incidents have happened to you too. So, what sets these stories apart? It is the author’s eye for discovering humour in the mundane; for detecting the absurdities all around us in our serious lives. While we may curse and our irascibility is triggered when, while attending a wedding, we are unable to find a parking spot for our car, or a parking spot for our own derrieres in the lunch hall even after employing whatever eye-of-tiger we can muster, only to find that there are hundred other much sharper tiger eyes focusing on the same chair, the author paints a hilarious picture of such situations and unwraps its absurdities for us.

You would think that humour at a dinner with friends in a fancy restaurant would be generated from some banter. Wrong, as it turns out. The first chapter in the book is an amusing story that arises from a wrong order being placed at a restaurant due to a confusion arising out of the names of the dishes. The other stories are weaved around such mundane events as cookery gaffes in the kitchen, appearance of four-legged creatures inside the house, no-legged creatures (snakes) in the vicinity of the house, the working or non-working of a refrigerator (which also leads to some amusing physics, chemistry, and anatomical lessons of the refrigerator), and the anticipation of arrival of the LPG cylinder delivery man. Much mirth is generated when a hanky is used to reserve a seat on a train, and also by the condescending attitude of a security personnel of a gated community. I am not going to reveal the plot of all the stories here. You will have to buy the book to enjoy the idiosyncrasies of the world around us, and sometimes our own.

But the discerning eye of the author is only one part of it. The aspect that takes these stories to a layer closer to your heart is the writing. Infused with a heavy dose of humour, words flow with the smoothness of a Laxmanesque drive. While it is the wrist work of VVS that powers the cricket ball to the boundary, here it is the skilful writing of the author laced with humour that takes the stories forward. Take for instance the story (the one I was enjoying when my chair betrayed my trust) in which a rubber band tied around a packet in the kitchen snaps and flies off in an unknown direction. Without giving away the whole plot, let me quote the passage which heavily tickled my funny bone: Buoyed up by this reflection I quickly went on all fours in the kitchen. That was how my husband found me when he came, seeking breakfast. ‘Er… um… something’s fallen, I’m looking for it,’ I explained. He had guessed as much, he said, it not being my regular practice to navigate in the kitchen on all fours. The maid breezed in late to find me crawling at my husband’s feet. She was delighted to have arrived at an emotionally charged moment and her face fell when I jumped up to explain.

The word play is intelligent, witty, and in some cases subtle. She watched the bride make her coy way to the decorated stage, bent to the shape of a comma by the weight of the ornaments on her person. When the bride came to a full stop….

The fun is in the pun, and the punning that runs throughout the book brings a smile to your lips. The Vanda orchids are ‘vandarful’; the advancement of technology in general and the availability of apps for everything may link everyone and everything, ‘per apps’. If it is not smart word play that is tickling you, the self-deprecating humour of the author certainly is. The subtle humour elevates the proceedings.

And across the stories, in fact, right from the Dedication, you will find an ever-looming presence – that of the author’s husband. The husband is so lovingly and endearingly presented by the author, it is almost like a love story running in the background, while the entire attention is grabbed by the hilarious absurdities of everyday life.

The book cover is very attractively done. The colours used and the illustrations on the cover by Priya Kuriyan call out to you as if to say – this is a peppy fun book; come pick me up.

Make sure you have hidden the book before you go to sleep, lest the kids sneak into your room and pinch it. No, it is not an 18+ rated book. This is a helpful suggestion to save face. If the kids lay their hand on the book, there is a high chance that they will identify you in almost every page of the book and the hitherto swept-under-the-carpet follies of yours will creep out from under the carpet. The kids will start looking at all those incidents in a new light and will have a jolly good time having a laugh at your expense.

If there is a criticism of the book at all, it is a mild one, and it pertains to the grouping together of the articles under various themes. The laughs that satire and humour generate need not be grouped by themes. In fact, satire generates more laughs when the unexpected happens. But this is only a minor roadblock in what is otherwise a breezily smooth journey aboard a vehicle of humour on the highway of the mundane.

The book goes way beyond being just a collection of humorous articles. ‘In these troubled times’ must be one of the most used phrases for centuries. Times have not become any bit untroubled over time, and the chances of times getting untroubled in the near future seem bleak indeed. So, why add our own serious time to the already troubled times? This book goads the reader to look at everyday life from a different perspective and helps in untying the knots of seriousness that we have all artificially created. In some ways, this is almost a therapeutic book. And as such, it is also a great gifting option for grownups (serious as well as the jovial ones).

PS:(Though no one asked) The chair (broken pieces) and I (whole) jostled for space on the floor and I ceded my territory and got up only after I had finished the book.

Book Title: Tongue in Cheek: The Funny Side of Life

Author: Khyrunnisa A.

Publisher: Westland.

Price: Rs. 250/-

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