Authored by Sheetal Agarwal
The article was first published on http://kathaastu.com/
Since childhood, I’ve just loved looking at Smiles, and while growing up, I turned out to be a person who just can’t stop smiling. I’ve been invariably asked by people “Why are you smiling,” have also been scolded in school for smiling for no reason during classes, but the way I see it, smiling and seeing people smile is the greatest gift one can ever have.
In January 2016, during an introduction round at a retreat in Ahmedabad, someone introduced herself to me as a clown in a hospital in Vadodara. That was the first time I ever heard of ‘clowning’ in the hospitals. After finishing our work at the retreat, I met her and inquired about clowning. Later, I searched the internet frantically to have a deep understanding of what it is and got a fair idea of ‘medical clowning’. It’s a well known therapy in the west where volunteers dress up as clowns to entertain patients going through stress and pain. This therapy has been gradually blooming in India in the recent times.
The thought of clowning stayed with me even after returning from the retreat and I wanted to be a part of this noble cause. I started looking for people involved in clowning in Delhi hospitals, but could not find anyone for a long time. During this process, I was in constant touch with the clown I had met in Ahmedabad and kept asking her questions and telling her how interested I am.
She sensed my passion and one day she said, ‘If you’re so willing to do this, why don’t you start this in Delhi? All you need to do is take permission from a hospital and gather 15 volunteers at initial stage.’ Honestly, it was a strange feeling to get an offer like that. Suddenly I had zillion thoughts like, “Really? Nah, I won’t be able to do it. How can I initiate something like this? I am not a very social person and somewhat shy too. I have no previous experience in theatre. I have never taken an initiative like that before, not even at a small level, how can I just start something on my own, that too in the capital city of India?”
However, amidst the noise of all these thoughts, there was a whisper overpowering it all, “Why Not?” It was a feeling I had never experienced before. It was like life was throwing a challenge at me. I told myself, “I was so keen all this while and now when there’s an opportunity, then why this reluctance to grab it? If I am passionate about it, I should work towards it.” I was tempted to see that smile on the faces of the patients who are otherwise going through stressful times.
I mustered up the courage, pulled up my socks and wrote a Facebook post to check if I would be able to get 15 volunteers. I was pleasantly surprised to see the response. The positive reactions and people’s eagerness to join me shot my morale up to another level. Soon the work for permissions began. I was clear that this needs to be done in government hospitals. I was confused as to which hospital should I approach. I couldn’t zero down on one of them.
That’s when I decided to try and get permissions for as many hospitals as possible by approaching the Health Ministry of Delhi Government and not just a particular hospital. The universe acted along the way. My brother heard the initiative and absolutely loved it. He helped me setting up meetings with the concerned authorities. After a few meetings, emails and some phone calls, Health Ministry proposed that initially, there will be a trial run in one hospital. Once the director of that hospital approves, permission for the rest of the 14 hospitals would be provided. We agreed to it in a jiffy.
Next thing, a meeting with the director of Chacha Nehru Baal Chikitsaklaya was organized at the Delhi Secretariat. He was briefed about the concept of clowning and how it can help in the healing process. The director was more than willing and the permission was granted within a month’s time. Clowning was supposed to start only after a workshop for volunteers with Mr Harish, Founder of Compassionate Clowns. For some reasons, it could not take place and the director wanted it to start as soon as the permission was given.
On 9th July 2016, without a proper workshop, clowning in Delhi hospital started with six enthusiastic volunteers who painted their faces, donned clown hats with no previous experience in clowning but with a zeal that was unmatched. Each person brought out ones’ clown self beautifully and was best at it. We performed for children using balloons in OPD. We sang and danced for them. Amused faces welcomed us when we went to the inpatient wards and did theatrical acts with nursing staff and doctors. We smiled and laughed for hours with the children and kept doing various acts to spread laughter.
The reason I write this, is of course to spread awareness about clowning and the joy it brings to people going through the pain. However, I also write this to share something I learned while I was performing for those kids and looking at the smiles on their faces. I learned that when your intentions are right, when you want to do good for someone, you don’t have to think, you just do it. The experience of doing something noble for someone is too satisfying to be put into words.
This effort to us was overwhelming and left us hungover till another clowning day. It left me wondering – did I really do it? Is it actually me? I pinched myself a hundred times and smiled every time I realized that I was living a reality and I haven’t been able to stop smiling since then, because now, I have the greatest gift one can ever have.