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Done being serious, time to get silly

Why radical playfulness alone can help us step out of the vicious echo chambers of our minds

Written by Shelja Sen |
Updated: April 27, 2021 2:39:23 pm
playfulnessIllustration: Suvajit Dey

Be serious, don’t be silly!” is something we grow up hearing. Why is silliness so maligned? It invites suspicion, wariness, a mild contempt, especially at times like these when we are expected to be all sombre and grave. Even children are told, “Pull up your socks, enough of this nonsense”, “Stop being so frivolous, life is not a joke”, “Time to be serious”.

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What if we didn’t take things seriously? Don’t be alarmed, hear me out. The COVID-19 fire is raging, nothing makes sense anymore. What if we make more time for nonsense, being ridiculous and letting go off our metaphorical socks? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The world has been brought down to its knees by a virulent virus and here I’m suggesting we need to be silly and not serious.

Reflect on the last year. Didn’t it seem as if we have stepped into an absurd parallel universe? A blur of months melting into each other, and just when we were hoping things would get better, the second-surge tsunami hit us. When all routes hit dead ends, the only way out might be the nonsensical one.

In the last one year, we have all loved watching videos of medicos dancing to inane tunes in hospital corridors. Seeing playfulness in spaces which are supposed to be places of doom and gloom has brought us much joy. The viral Rasputin dance videos from Kerala medical students have made us laugh and marvel at how humour can be used to stand up to communal hatred.

All my life, I’ve campaigned for silliness and craziness. In fact, it is our PQ, or playfulness quotient (a subversive term I’ve coined), that matters much more than IQ and EQ. But last year, this playfulness started slipping away from me. The enormity of the hardships people were facing started weighing too heavily — crushing poverty, loss, suicides, mental-health struggles seemed too overwhelming. It seemed to morph into the polluted air we breathe in, with no way of escaping it. Creeping in on all of us, convincing us of catastrophes, pushing us into believing our worth is in our productivity. We have become like the hamster on the wheel, speeding up, in all earnestness, without realising it’s only making us stuck evermore in the echo chamber of our minds.

What got me out of this conniving hamster wheel was a meeting with Manya (name changed). The 15-year-old had lost her beloved grandmother to COVID-19, following which they had to leave their family home having incurred financial losses. Not only that, her mother had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. When I asked her what kept her going on, she said, “When the voice of sadness becomes too strong, I just shut myself in the bathroom, put on my headphones with loud music and dance it all away. People might be shocked at my craziness but I don’t care.” As I saw her struggling with her tears, all I wanted to do was to tell her to hold on to that “craziness” no matter what the world thought of it. Manya’s tender words were rich offerings to me as I realised how I had let the seriousness virus rob me of something I held so precious — playfulness.

Notice how after a painful experience such as an injection shot or the taste of a bitter medicine, children are back on their feet, running and giggling with an extra spring in their step. It’s as if they are shrugging off the negative energy residue through their playful activity. There is a fantastic body of evidence which indicates that playfulness brings down the cortisol levels (the stress chemical) and enhances happiness chemicals like endorphins and oxytocin. No laughing matter! Radical times demand radical playfulness.

Have you got your PQ vaccine yet?

Radical playfulness alone can help us step out of the vicious echo chambers of our minds.

PQ diet: Isn’t it great you don’t need a nutritionist for it. All you have to do is roll up your sleeves and let your hair down. Crawl with your toddler, dance as if nobody’s watching, laugh raucously until the neighbours come knocking (those wise oldies you smirked at in the parks know the magic of PQ). Anything that has no hidden agenda (losing weight, practising dance steps). The only agenda you need to stick to is sheer fun and the only thing you have to lose is the COVID-19 despair that has been seeping in through our doors.

Be silly: We have grown up hearing “Don’t be silly” for so many years that to do the opposite might be a little tough at first. But do not give up, start with baby steps. It could be doing silly dances in your room’s privacy, or wearing a flower in your hair (irrespective of the gender) to going full radical and putting up #PQchallenge videos on social media.

Culture of wackiness: What we need is safe spaces where we are allowed to be playful and silly, especially in our homes. Your teen might roll up her eyes and dismiss your nuttiness with “So lame!” but actually she will love it as you are definitely more relatable and fun despite your annoying “uncoolness”. Add a dash of glee into your Zoom-and-gloom work meetings by turning the funny filters on. As American children’s author Dr Seuss very wisely said, “If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”

Riddikulus: All Harry Potter fans know that Riddikulus is a spell used against Boggarts. A Boggart is a shapeshifter that feeds on fear and is defeated by laughter. To get rid of it, the caster has to think of something outrageously funny and ridiculous. We have to concoct our own Riddikulus spell to defeat the COVID-despair Boggart.

As Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1946 novel Zorba the Greek put it, “A (wo)man needs a little madness or else — he never dares cut the rope and be free.” Maybe, more than the vaccine, our silliness will finally set us free.

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