The last laugh came all too soon

City Life NEW DELHI

JUST FOR a laugh, my friend Tara and I woke before dawn and took my car to a park on the far side of the Yamuna river. Such behaviour runs counter to our natures, as both of us are night owls and slugabeds, but we were literally looking for laughs.

Our destination was Noida - the New Okhla Industrial Development Area - a name not usually associated with comic possibilities.

But we had heard that in this vast commuters' suburb adjacent to Delhi, you can awake to the sound of laughter - not the playground shrieks of tiny kids but deep resonating hoots of 50 adults who gather on the grass at dawn for laughter therapy.

As a wake-up call, it must be superior to an alarm. If it is a sense of humour that gives our species its humanity, this would be the defining sound effect. We wanted to check it out. Forget the cosmic giggle and go for the belly laugh.

Our search led us to Colonel H K Singh, a retired army officer. He was keen on this new-fangled therapy, even though it seems to be based on the tired truism of "laugh and the world laughs with you". But laughing in unison, at nothing? Was this some new-age joke marketing the wisdom of the East back to itself?

"There are no jokes, just guffaws," Col Singh explained. "This kind of laughing is contagious. It is supposed to ease tensions. Very good for the health. The first group I ever heard of started up on a Bombay beach but now there are hundreds."

Personally, though, Col Singh had yet to turn out for one of these public laugh-ins.

It was because the timetable for these sessions is no laughing matter, according to Renu, Col Singh's Noida neighbour. Occasionally, she hears hearty laughs wafting in through her window while she is still under her covers.

"It is a joyful noise," she smiled. "But they do this very, very early, between five and six in the morning." Her dreams are stirred by this laugh track, but she sleeps on.

As the birds emitted their first chirps, Tara and I wondered what possible reasons to be cheerful existed at this hour. Mosquitoes feasted on our ankles. Local health alerts are out for dengue fever and even dropsy - a swelling disease of leaky blood vessels more familiar from Raj-era gravestones.

Already 47 dropsy deaths in Delhi, and more than a thousand cases in hospital have been traced to profiteers who top up cooking oil tins with used motor oil. The victims frequently go blind. If this wasn't enough to make us feel vulnerable, there's the nuclear peril following tit-for- tat atomic testing by India and Pakistan. Such worries are not so easy to laugh off. Maybe a wailing session would be more appropriate.

By the time we crossed the bridge - passing up the opportunity to breakfast on fried and thereby possibly poisonous parathas - we felt annoyed to be in Noida instead of in bed. But following Col Singh's directions, we found the public park at dawn in a state of hyper-animation, with hundreds of energetic people greeting the sun.

Entire families, balanced with yogic contortions on motor scooters, dismounted for a brisk walk round the track. Office clerks and middle-aged women in saris wheezed through their morning calisthenics. Vigorous youths did kung fu warm-ups while others flung frisbees or practised football. A yogi with lank white hair twisted himself into a tight pretzel.

On the lawn beside him sat a small group ready to laugh. Chortles, sniggers or titters won't do for this therapy: what's required is classic cachination, a jolly loud burst from the solar plexus. It sounds nothing like the mocking or nervous laughter we usually hear. It is uproarious ... but, in this case, puzzlingly brief. After a half dozen laughing outbursts, they stopped abruptly. Next, everyone flipped on to all fours, stuck out their tongues, arched their necks, and began to roar.

We loitered at the edge of the lawn, the only ones not actively pursuing self-improvement. Tara toyed with a cigarette but didn't dare light up, though the smoke might have warded off the mosquitoes.

As soon as the class broke up, we asked about laughter therapy. It is useful for breath control, the yogi told us with a dour expression, but he preferred to teach only traditional yoga postures. A woman suggested brightly: "You should try laughter therapy in sector 15, just around the block. By now, today's session is finished, but you can come tomorrow." Tara rolled her eyes and whispered: "I guess the laugh's on us."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?