Laugh Your Sides Out in Hindi Till Your Cheeks Hurt !

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From left, Ved Prakash Ved, Arun Gemini and Ritu Goel regalled the audience with jokes and poetry in Hindi at the Hasya Kavi Sammellan at India House

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: For the packed, sell-out crowd of 350, the words couldn’t be truer; its why they had come out to hear these fluid and fast Hindi speakers.

“English is a very peculiar language,” jested headliner poet Arun Gemini as he stood at the mic, “Some letters are silent. Well then, throw them away! Why are they there? In Hindi the words are written and spoken the same way!” Then he launched into the Hindi one-liner jokes which he is popular and famous for, sparing nothing but staying in safe territory. “Krishna was pumping up Arjun and told him 18 stanzas, then paused and asked him ‘Will you fight or shall I tell you more?!’.” He paused for dramatic effect and the audience roared with laughter.

Gemini was one half of a poetic comedy duo with Ved Prakash Ved who also hit his routine with deadpan delivery. The third member of the troupe that performed the eleventh program of its US tour (they had just arrived from Dallas and would visit eight more cities) was Ritu Goel, who was the serious poet, enchanting the audience with her verses, sometimes sung out without accompaniment.

They had come to Houston at the eighth annual Hasya Kavi Sammellan (Laughing Poet’s Gathering) on Saturday, May 9 at India House organized by the local chapter of the International Hindi Association and spearheaded by organizers Sangeeta Pasrija, Swapan Dhairyawan and Charlie Patel; with a push for the strong ticket sales by Nisha Mirani, Pramod Bengani, Ajit Patel and Fatehali Chatur that led to the sell-out crowd. Mona Thakkar of Krishna Sounds handled the sound system, with Darshak running between events after setup (he thrives on the adrenaline rush!).

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Alpa Shah (on left) and Pallavi Dhairyawan (right) helped Joytsna Dhairyawan (left) and Shakuntla Malhotra light the ceremonial lamp before the event
Photos: Sanjay Sohini

It being the eve of Mother’s Day, the group, led by Deepty Patel, Sangita Bhutada, Pallavi Dhairyawan, Sangeeta Derashri and Sapna Shah made gift bags of a pashmina shawl for all the moms who came. Umang Mehta of Deep Foods donated the juices, samosas and gulab jamuns and Mahesh Shah of Madras Pavilion provided the great chai, refreshments, buffet dinner and later dinner to the artists at the restaurant. The artists stayed at the house of Meera and Umesh Kapur and Raj and Kanwal Bhalla for the limo arrangements for their airport departure.

The emcee for the evening, Manisha Gandhi, introduced the artists, gallantly in Hinglish, thanking the supporters Wallis State Bank, Paradise Gifts, MD & Associates, Hindu Worship Society, Dr. Ashima and Anand Chauhan and the Bhavsar and Bhambani families.
The ceremonial lighting of the lamps were performed by Jyotsna Dhairyawan (Swapan’s mother: he was delighted to be with her on Mother’s Day again after 16 years) and Shakuntla Malhotra (this reporter’s mother) and then Charlie Patel gave a welcoming speech shudh Hindi which was as difficult in construction (and in some cases pronunciation) as it was for many to imagine he could deliver! He was followed by Sangeeta Pasrija, who started the local Hindi chapter (and is known for her one-liners on couples from Haryana), and delivered a complicated and elaborated introduction of the artists in pure Hindi, some words flying over people’s heads.

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From left, Manisha Gandhi, the emcee and organizers Sangeeta Pasrija and Swpan Dhairyawan at the event

Arun Gemini of Delhi is the son of the famous poet Jamini Haryanvi and is one of the most popular humorists in India. His has traveled extensively and this marked his return visit to Houston after seven years. Ritu Goel is from Delhi too but hails from Kolkata. She is a journalist by profession, associated with newspapers and TV channels and has produced documentaries in India. Ved Prakash Ved, also of Delhi, is a highly celebrated poet; a regular on national radio and TV and has published humorous books. This is Goel and Ved’s first visit to the US.

Arun Gemini started off with a series of jokes, saying “only man can laugh, not animals, you don’t see a donkey laughing” he deadpanned staring at the crowd who roared with laughter. He asked Ritu Goel to offer an opening bhajan to the Goddess Saraswati before continuing. Then Gemini launched into a series of jokes on husbands and wives (a common topic throughout the night) before relinquishing the mic to Ved Prakash Ved who continued with one-liners and observations of life in India that had the crowd in stitches. Ritu Goel interposed with beautifully framed poems about feelings, teachers, moms and even SMS or texts and emails.

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The pervading sensation was one of rapt and noisy laughter as the audience caught the jokes and let loose with delight and applause. Hearing the witticisms come out in Hindi, a language that is increasingly less used among desis here these days, made the ideas more impressionable and lasting: an escape from the everyday humdrum in English.