I recall how scheming we were in our younger days to send gullible on a ‘fool’s errand’ to mark April 1, the most light-hearted day of the year when playing pranks and trying to get people to believe ridiculous things is universally accepted. From simple jokes to elaborate hoaxes, friends and relatives who consider themselves to be wise guard themselves from falling into the trap laid for them to be publicly declared ‘fool’. Whatever the prank, the trickster would usually end up yelling to his victim – April Fool. It is one day when the fools gain some social recognition, but not without letting the so-called wise be under the illusion of having all the fun. Curiously, it has something about the time of the year that there is lightheartedness all around. The switch from winter to spring has been a time for celebrations across diverse cultures – the Romans had a festival named Hilaria, the Jewish calendar has Purim, and the Indians clown themselves with colours on Holi. So much for staying foolish once in a while!
I am reminded how it had played differently on Iraq’s erstwhile President Saddam Hussein though, who was at the receiving end of a rather cruel joke. April Fool was the code name of the double agent who had the last laugh in getting the dictator caught from his hiding. Come to think of it, it is one day in a year that reduces the contrast between the wise and the foolish – and lets the wise person know that s/he could easily be a fool at a given time.
The fool’s day, April 1, is an old age tradition which caught popular imagination since the calendar was reformed in France in 1564. Those who stubbornly clung to the old calendar system had jokes played on them. It caught on, and became a global ritual ever since. Such has been its popularity that even films were themed on the subject: the 1964 Saira Banu-Biswajeet starrer ‘April Fool’ had a song which continues to be played till this day, to mark the only day in the year for the fools.
But there is something seriously amiss in our lives in recent times though. Playing pranks on April Fool’s Day has become passé. Is it because our digitally obsessed world has saturated us with all kinds of silliness, more than what we can possibly process? Far from being a medicine, it has reduced laughter into a laughable hoax. Aren’t we been bombarded by unscrupulous videos of people doing and advocating stuff that only makes us look anything but foolish? No one would like to look that way. Isn’t it?
My sense is that most people have become cautious to avoid being publicly fooled. They may have their reasons but I wonder if such a protective approach to life makes them any wiser. Perhaps not, as it restricts us from being aware of our vulnerabilities and makes us less tolerant of the others’ who outsmart us. Learning to laugh at yourself, it is said, is the simplest path to inner peace that helps us to be more resilient and kind. With this, I’m ready for any prank. Are you?
With all of us living in a fool’s paradise why worry if there is just a day for being fooled!
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)
First published in Deccan Herald, issue dated April 1, 2021