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FAQ 4: Gandhi's lighter side?

Q

Gandhi's lighter side ?  What made him laugh ?  What did he do for fun ?

  

A

A sense of humor was one of the chief characteristics that people noted about Gandhi.
 
It was one of his strongest features and one of the things people most liked and admired about him. So many of the photographs one sees, and old newsreel footage too, show him smiling or laughing. His "toothless smile" was one of his most famous physical features. Like other saints (if you consider Gandhi a saint) who had the ability to detach themselves from material woes that surrounded them, Gandhi was able to display a keen sense of humor even at the darkest of hours. A minute or two before he was assassinated – and when I believe he was aware of a distinct possibility that he would be assassinated – he was making a quip about the food that had been served to him that day. One of Gandhi’s most famous statements about humor, which he wrote in 1928, is: "If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide." Gandhi did find it necessary to maintain his sense of humor because it did serve as a tonic when events were not going as he would have wished.

As to what made him laugh, one of your sub-questions, my understanding is that almost anything that he a humor about it would make him laugh. The point here is that he was open to see and respond to the lighter side of life, rather than being closed off.

As to what he did for fun, another of your sub-questions, here we see the more serious side of a personality that was essentially serious. As I understand it, he didn’t really do anything for fun. He did not see his life as being for the purpose of enjoyment or pleasure or recreation. Many of the activities he undertook on a daily basis (such as long morning walks and spinning) brought him pleasure and enjoyment, but that was not their prime purpose. He sought a deeper meaning and fulfillment. Self-indulgence of any kind is counter to the Gandhian approach.

What did he have to say about humor or laughter ? In the short time available I have been unable to find anything specific, (other than what I have quoted above). I do know he thought both were essential. He would have agreed with the proposition that laughter could be good medicine (although he felt prayer was a better one).

Did he tell jokes or humorous stories ? Although he would often joke with people, I donut believe he ever actually told jokes, because he simply was not that type of person. As I said above, that kind of self-indulgence wasn’t in his nature. Humorous stories he may occasionally have told, if there was some underlying moral or other useful message to be conveyed.

The important thing to understand about Gandhi and his sense of humor is that his sense of humor was possible was he was a man at peace with himself. His personality was utterly natural, utterly unaffected. There were no underlying conflicts in his psyche. Mentally, as physically, he was a very healthy specimen. He was at ease with himself, therefore he could be at ease with others and the world around him. And the point to grasp about all this is that this did not happen automatically – Gandhi in his younger years went to a very great deal of trouble to get his life in order, to make his outer life an expression of his inner life, even to rid himself of so many material possessions that can just cause grief. Certainly all the material possessions he did not have were to him burdens he did not have. What he believed in he went to the trouble of putting into practice. It was no easy task. But he made that effort. As a result, he was basically a happy person, content with all that his life meant and represented, (although always aware of what he regarded as his and his life’s shortcomings). Therefore he could laugh easily and often.

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