Joke About It

We live in difficult times. We are not poor. We have the luxury of living in a comfortable home. Essentials get delivered to us regularly. We bake banana bread.

But the world that surrounds us is surreal. The threat of the looming virus persists at the back of our minds. Graphs in news stories only show a steeply-rising upward line instead of the much-awaited ‘flattened curve’. We fight with our loved ones as we cannot fight with an invisible virus. Hand sanitisers, disinfectants, masks and gloves have become things we cannot do without.

What creates fear? Is it death? Or is it the fear of the period in between – the hospital scenes, the ventilator dreams (will I even get one), the vibrantly-hued virus virulently eating away at your immune system, or of not being able to breathe and dying alone under a fluorescent white light?

And, who gets to decide to pull the plug if it comes to it? I am 34, but I do not seem to have thought about euthanasia documents at all, tsk tsk.

Also read: Is It Okay to Laugh During a Pandemic?

Not to mention the way work has been shaping up. I work in what we will term “non-essential retail”. With stores and websites shuttered, there is a sense of doom all around.

And there we have it. The thought spirals. The overthinking. The disquieting sense of persistent anxiety quietly gnawing away at our consciousness.

Within a few days of the pandemic surging in India, I decided I had to cut through this toxic state of being.

The question was: How?

I run a meme account on Instagram. I also work a full-time job which leaves me with barely any time to make memes. However, my meme account is a source of pure joy. The memes I make have always been inspired from my daily life. So, it only seemed natural to start making memes about #quarantinelife.

What I did not expect was how good it would make me feel. There is this meme I made about getting all dressed up to go drinking… in the living room (and yes, I did do this a couple of times, right down to wearing a full face of makeup and fancy footwear.)

Not just were there likes, but I saw a lot of people, and even my favourite art gallery Chatterjee and Lal sharing this post, which made my day.

I realised this was not just vanity speaking. I had stumbled upon something here.

We live increasingly isolated lives. I live by myself in Delhi. The city is relatively new for me and I’ve only lived here for just under two years now. I often find myself grappling with an increasing sense of alienation. I wouldn’t call it “loneliness” since I am comfortable in my own skin. But the gut-wrenching sense of alienation stems from not belonging to anywhere in particular. There is no sense of “home”. The four walls I live in are temporary. Friends are few and far away. Emergency hospital visits, running errands, taking in art and going to watch plays are often solitary activities in a city that does not like to walk, unlike Bombay – which is always teeming with people.

The lockdown has only made this sense of isolation worse. Zoom calls do not compensate for the loss of human connection, the comfort of the hug, the easy pat on the shoulder and the solid presence of other human beings around me.

As I floated through these amorphous meh-inducing thought bubbles, it occurred to me that human connections made over a meme count. Humour shared is happiness multiplied, yes. But creating funny things is where it starts.

When I step out of the drudgery of mindless chores like dusting and doing the dishes (while endlessly conjuring up mental scenarios on how the virus will find its way to me) to create memes, what I am in fact doing is transforming what is a vile and unpalatable thought into something which I can laugh about. This immediately lowers the negativity of the thought.

And when I post the meme, the likes and the comments immediately make me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. Other people relate with this meme and share a laugh with me.

I suddenly belong. These people get me.

Two studies from the Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory demonstrate and confirm that people facing distress fare better when they make a positive joke about the subject that is causing anguish.

Andrea Samson, who conducted one of the Stanford studies, shared this: “If you are able to teach people to be more playful, to look at the absurdities of life as humorous, you see some increase in wellbeing.”

So, I decided to make light of everything around me. My constant food cravings, the never-ending Zoom calls, the prime minister’s calls for gimmicky tasks, the silver-lining quarantine-joy of being bra-less and the lingering smell of Pril long after you’ve done the dishes, nothing is off limits.

The memes lead to endless shared conversations. I understood that followers of the page also wanted some comic relief. They needed outlets to laugh out aloud, so they don’t start crying instead. My DMs are always filled with appreciation and requests for more.

It is incredible to see so many more like-minded people in the world. This page is a community. A digital community, but community nonetheless. Yes, nobody from here will come with me to the hospital for a health emergency. But this account makes every day brighter by adding an incandescent spark of joy.

And, we wield a relatable sense of humour as our tool. Joking about a situation where human lives are lost may seem tone-deaf. But it is this humour that gets us through, so we can deal with the morbidity of what is out there. Humour exerts its psychological effect by forcing a change of perspective.

Gratitude, counting our blessings and seeing the positive side can also get us there. But humour is a short cut with instant results. You laugh. You promptly feel better.

The quick lesson? If you can’t deal with it, joke about it.

Sowmya runs the popular meme-account @rajaravivarmamemes. When she’s not thinking up memes, she spends time figuring out how to make real connections while working in the retail industry in India. 

All images have been provided by the author.