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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Let’s turn pain into a joke

If you thought clowns only belong in a circus, here’s news…

columns Updated: Sep 30, 2018 20:04 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Sonal Kalra,A Calmer You by Sonal Kalra,Sonal Kalra column
One of the few ‘medical clowns’ in India, the woman runs a volunteer group — the Clownselors to do distraction therapy for free at a government hospital for kids.

So the week gone by was a bit of a drain. Half the family down with viral; a new neighbour deciding to act all bully-ish and threatening peaceful residents with political contacts and racist jibes; a film star throwing tantrums in a very film-star way at a work meeting; and well, the usual ups and downs of the daily grind.

Anyway, good doctors prevailed over the viral, good cops over the neighbour, and good sense over the actor. But the bright ray of hope in an otherwise dull week came when I met a bright, young woman called Sheetal Agarwal. A sociology lecturer at a university during the week, Sheetal is a clown by the weekend. Yes, you heard me right. A clown. Literally.

One of the few ‘medical clowns’ in India, the woman runs a volunteer group — the Clownselors to do distraction therapy for free at a government hospital for kids. Let me tell you a bit I learned about ‘clown care’ or medical clowning as a concept, before I go on to tell you why it makes a really strong point when it comes to dealing with stress.

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Started by American physician Patch Adams around 1970 — Robin Williams played him in the popular 1998 film — medical clowning involves volunteers dressing up as clowns and doing antics to relieve stress for those in situations of pain and distress. So basically, in a place like the kids’ ward of a hospital, where children of all ages are admitted for serious diseases and undergoing painful treatments like chemotherapy, these volunteers dressed as clowns suddenly enter and lighten up the atmosphere. In a very quiet and non-disturbing way, they mime, they act, they play ball/balloon — basically do everything that can make a baby momentarily forget his/her pain.

You know how the atmosphere of a hospital can be like, especially for a kid who is suffering and for parents who are stressed and suffering as much. If at all they have any visitors in the form of relatives etc, the conversation still revolves around their illness and the associated pain. In such a situation, to have a bunch of colourful, happy, laughing strangers walk in and act all funny — without knowing or asking about the pain — can be magical. Sheetal told me it indeed is. And not just for the children who forget about the needles stuck in their body because they are too busy throwing the balloon back at the clown, but also for the clown.

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These are people who are students, engineers, homemakers, teachers…you name it. They have stresses of their own life all through the week. But they also have blessings that they are thankful about. And they have the desire to be able to give back in some way. When they come on a Saturday or Sunday to a hospital and make so many kids and parents smile, it must be the biggest satisfaction one could get. Sheetal and her group shared that even the hospital staff participates in their fun games and acts…they are usually as stressed as the patients, after all the hard work and on seeing the kids suffer from pain. The appointed hour when the medical clowns come in is, therefore, as awaited by them as the young patients, who sometimes want to come back even after being discharged, just so they can meet their ‘joker’ friends!

Clown care works beautifully in several countries, not just at kids’ hospitals but at all places with people prone to distress, including homes for old people. They look forward to the visits of the clowns, who sing with them, play with them, and most importantly, do NOT ask them about what is wrong or unhappy about their lives. And that is the point I’m trying to make today.

We all have our pain points in life. For some, it is a bad job, for some a bad relationship, and for the more fortunate ones, simply a bad day. And nothing much can be done at times about situations beyond our control. What, however, is in our control is a magic word called ‘distraction’.

It is easy to keep thinking and fretting about our problem, it’s really tough to distract our mind to something else. But the moment we are able to distract the devil in our minds, half of the pain goes away. There’s scientific evidence that happy hormones are released in our body when we laugh. Now, some of us are able to self-induce that laughter through laughter yoga and stuff, but a lot of us need reasons to laugh. If you can find such a reason, you are fortunate. But if you BECOME such a reason for someone, you are blessed.

The very few medical clowning groups existent in India constantly need volunteers — from any age group, from any profession. You give your time, and you give your heart. The ‘payment’ you get is in the form of amazing smiles from those who found you cute or hilarious, or downright ridiculous. But, in doing that, they forgot about their pain. It’s SO worth it, isn’t it?

Sonal Kalra decided to turn into a clown. She was then told that she doesn’t need any transformation. Ouch! Console her at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or facebook.com/sonalkalraofficial. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra

First Published: Sep 29, 2018 16:39 IST