Let’s have some humour, please

The Guest Post Series onMy Favourite Thingshas contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. These posts are not always by fellow bloggers, and the guest authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.

Today’s guest post is by Srinayan, the infrequent blogger of The Random Walkaround. An engineer by profession, he took up blogging a little over a year ago and writes on many topics, but always with sensitive insight and understated humour. Srinayan, however, prefers to be known as a lethargic blogger who is long on intent, but somehow falls short on delivery. That is probably why I have given up on waiting for an original guest post from him and, instead, am re-posting one of his old posts. A post that I liked very much, and a post that is quite relevant for our times.

We are living in a terrible world and doomsday is just around the corner; or so we are led to believe by television, newspapers, the internet and all other oracles of wisdom. Nothing seems to going to right for humanity—Greece, the Euro crisis, Wall Street, US debt, climate change, rogue states, etc. Closer home we have inflation, falling stock markets, the Lokpal Bill, 2G and scams of every kind and size. The list is ever growing; you only have to add your pet angst to it.

Whatever happened to that wonderful therapeutic called humour? I don’t mean the stand up comic type which is in vogue today; rather, the sly poke in the ribs that reminds us that, even if all is not well with the world, we are doing fine and having a good laugh about it.

Welcome to The Little World of Don Camillo.

In the context of its time, post-World War II Europe was just as insecure and dangerous as the world is today. While the common folk grappled with economic hardship, their political leadership was preoccupied with ideological realignments or preventing them. As a farcical consequence, depending on your leanings, all problems owed their roots to communism or opposition to it. Black couldn’t get blacker and white, whiter.

The absurdity of the situation was too much for an Italian called Giovanni Guareschi. He reacted by creating two characters, a priest named Don Camillo and his communist adversary, Peppone, in a village in the Po river valley in Northern Italy. The battle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was truly joined and the several comic confrontation between the two reflected the pointlessness of the discourse of the time.

Guareschi was born

… in Parma near the Po River; people born in this area have heads as hard as pig iron…My parents had decided that I should become a naval engineer and so I ended up studying law and thus, in a short time, I became famous as a signboard artist and caricaturist.”

As if this was not enough, life had a lot more in store for him. He wrote,

For reasons entirely beyond my control, the war broke out… Since I did not want to work for the Germans; I was sent to … various concentration camps… I had to do everything to stay alive and succeeded almost completely by dedicating myself to a precise programme which is summarized in my slogan ‘I will not die even they kill me’. (It is not easy to remain alive when one is reduced to sack of bones of which the total weight is one hundred pounds, and this includes lice, bedbugs, fleas, hunger, and melancholy).

One must read the Don Camillo stories to appreciate the delicious farce of the battles between faith and ideology. Both Don Camillo and Peppone are  rigid in their beliefs and do not hesitate to use their fists to make their points. But

… one man beats the other over the head, but fairly – that is, without hatred – and that in the end the two enemies find they agree about the essentials.”

Christ is Don Camillo’s conscience keper and the two often converse and argue. But His control over the priest’s temper is tenuous. In one story the Lord restrains Don Camillo saying that “…your hands were made for blessing, not for striking.” In response, Don Camillo made the rather fine point that the Lord said nothing about the use of  feet and proceeded to give his adversary a powerful kick in the behind. But the Lord is even-handed in his dispensations. When Don Camillo refused to  baptise Peppone’s infant son (I’m thinking of the reputation of Paradise, Don Camillo claimed), Christ was annoyed.

The reputation of Paradise is my business, He shouted angrily. ‘What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button.

Though they would not admit to it, both men needed each other. In one story, the communists petition the Bishop to transfer Don Camillo from the village because of his “his provocative and dictatorial poses”. Peppone misses him almost immediately on Don Camillo’s departure and loses no time in leading another group to the same Bishop with a demand to get him back and threatened that

…until our regular parish priest returns to us, not a soul will enter the church.

Giovanni Guareschi is unapologetic about his characters.

If there is a priest anywhere who feels offended by my treatment of Don Camillo, he is welcome to break the biggest candle available over my head. And if there is a Communist who feels offended by Peppone, he is welcome to break a hammer and sickle on my back. But if there is anyone who is offended by the conversations of Christ, I can’t help it; for the one who speaks in this story is not Christ, but my Christ – that is, the voice of my conscience.

For reasons beyond our control, the world has got to where it is now. We take our experts — politicians, stock brokers, bankers and the like — far too seriously. In the general atmosphere of gloom, they appear to be only ones with carefree smiles on their faces. And why not, if they are being paid handsomely just to remind us, day in and day out, of our miserable condition?

The time is just right to shut our ears to the din and stop taking ourselves seriously. Don Camillo and Peppone can teach us how. Along the way, we might also realise the foolishness of taking extreme positions.

And laugh about it, too. :-D

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30 thoughts on “Let’s have some humour, please

    • I have not seen any of the Don Camillo movies. But the books are freely downloadable from the net. It came as pleasant surprise to learn that this kind of humor still has takers. Maybe it is time to stand up and demand to be counted.

  1. My aunt used to talk about Don Camillo and Peppone. At that time I was in school and the characters did not make much sense to me. Now, after reading this post I am enlightened. Thank you Srinayan and Sudha.

    • I first read Don Camillo in my teens( which was about thirty five years ago). This was about the time when the US and the erstwhile USSR were obsessed with their cold war games and the parallels between the stories and real life immediately became obvious. With age -and experience- I realized that the Don Camillo stories can never really become irrelevant. Thank you for your comments.

    • Please do not pass up the opportunity to read the Don Camillo stories. In my opinion, Giovanni Guareschi was one of the best humorists of the last century. I cannot think of any other writer who could could make his readers laugh with just a hint of sheepishness.

  2. I have never read a Don Camillo book, but I know all the Don Camillo films. They show them on Italian TV regularly. I am not sure if they are also available with English subtitles.

  3. For those who are interested, the Don Camillo books are freely downloadable from the net. I was fortunate to come upon them during my late teens and, if anything, the stories taught me that it is foolish to take an extreme position on anything. To my mind, it is a must read for corporate gasbags, tv anchors, management graduates and just about anyone who thinks that they alone have the answers to our problems.

    • No, Umashankar, throwing something goes against the spirit of the Don Camillo stories. :) You could try laughing at them instead. Thank you for your comments, though.

  4. I have not read the Dom Camillo book nor seen the movies, but it does sound interesting enough to try and get a copy. I used to love Art Buchwald columns which were syndicated in many Indian papers. Brought a smile without fail and set the tone for the day. Yes, we do need humour to tide over all doomsday predictions and actual doomsday too.

    Btw, you must change your blogging status from ‘infrequent’ to ‘regular’. It would be an interesting read. :)

  5. A rather interesting blog. Seems like the sky is always going to end on someone’s calendar. You live once and you can either go through it like a mentally wrecked pinball or you can see the funny that is life. Excellent post.

  6. A cool post and I am sure, a powerful read. Neat quote: “for the one who speaks in this story is not Christ, but my Christ – that is, the voice of my conscience.” The best of interreligious thinkers, Raimon Pannicker has spoken about Christ as more of consciousness than some mythic or historical character or “Son of God”–the consciousness to love and accept all. On a very different note, our own Indian guru, Mata Amritanandamayee once met with a group of young students professing communism and she said and I paraphrase: If you could just practice your philosophy to the very core–fully and thoroughly, you will realize that any spiritual practice and what you follow are not different–we reach the same place.

    The issue with faith or ideology is insincerity, lack of integrity, and dishonesty. Thanks for this intellectual post–it oils the brain where one needs it!

  7. Thank you, Bhavana, for your thoughtful comments. Often, when ideologies clash, the underlying issues are ignored and we fail to realize that we are pulled into a farcical debate which holds no promise of a beneficial outcome. TV debates are an obvious example. More often than not, we are conned into accepting hot air in lieu of facts and reason. The only way one can react is by having a good laugh.

  8. I remembers the times of late 70s when economy was in shackles, but the human spirits were not. As we liberalised the economy, our thought process became less liberal & postures became more rigid. if only we garnish our attitudes with flexibility & season it with a slight flavour of humour, it would be easy to meet the challenges of what we call living. Wonderful article & thanks for introducing me to the world of Don Camillo.

  9. Thank you, Ashish. Somewhere along the way, we lost our sense of balance and became more thin-skinned, opinionated and intolerant. It doesn’t help that the way information is presented to us these days often forces us take to take biased positions. Which is why the Don Camillo stories are a must read. I sincerely hope you will enjoy the world of Don Camillo.

  10. Whoa, reads like an enjoyable world the Don Camillo stories! I have never read one and do not know much about them either. But from what I read, they sound very inviting. Thanks, Sudha!

      • I would love to receive a free download of acollection of Don Camillo stories on my computer. In High School, Sister Agatha, O.P. suggested reading Don Comillo for a book report. I loved the book, but could not come across another that been since 1959. So if you could possibly send your downloads of Don Comillo I would be be most grateful. ciao

      • I have ‘The little world of Don Camillo’. Can you sent me the rest of ebooks you have of Don Camillo?

        Amit

  11. Ahhh, I loved the post and finding Don Camillo and downloading the books is at the top of my to do list. Thank you, thank you

  12. I have ‘The little world of Don Camillo’. Can you sent me the rest of ebooks you have of Don Camillo?

    Amit

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