This article belongs to Sweet Grace column.


Have any of your jokes, given out in a social party, backfired on you with some force?  Perhaps, an offended person thrashed you mercilessly over it?


Well, it did actually happen to me and it indeed backfired like an artillery gun shell. Permit me to share a true story with you, which took place some 50 years back.


If you look at the world map today, you would see only 'one Vietnam' in the far East. However, there were two once.  


Vietnam was a French colony and when the French fled from it in 1954, a war had broke out between the two halves with their respective supporters.  A ceasefire was ordered by the United Nation and thus came into force, North Vietnam and South Vietnam divided at the 17th parallel latitude which became known as the 'Demilitarized Zone,' DZ, in short.  The North was under a Communist regime and the South under a somewhat democratic system.  Families got separated due to the division and there was to be no communication between the two halves in any  manner until a solution was worked out.  If any human being tried to cross over, the Commission pushed them back ruthlessly. An UN Commission comprised of India as Chairman, Poland and Canada supervised the ceasefire.


I was a member of the Indian delegation as its communication officer posted at Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. I never knew that life in a communist country could be so dull, so colorless and so monotonous after working hours.  The Diplomatic community of various countries didn't know what to do with themselves.  They couldn't mingle with the locals. This was not ON in a communist country anyway. So, they spend their evening hours with the diplomatic fraternity by throwing dinner parties frequently.  We, the Indians (we were only two officers), were invited for every party.  You'd be aware that diplomats wouldn't waste words and even in an informal gathering they would talk in words and mono syllables lest they gave away some secrets unwittingly.

Lt Col Advani and I (a Captain then) were not used to this kind of atmosphere in social parties.  Army socials are occasions to remember; one spent those couple of hours in  laughter, gay abandon, jokes and what not.


Whereas in these diplomatic parties, if you heard some kind of sounds, it was mostly due to the clanking of glasses and never a medley of voices. Of course, liquor flowed freely. That was all the attraction in these evening get-togethers.


It was also customary in this community to return the courtesy.  Even when we were hosts ourselves, we had to be somewhat subdued in our actions.  Once or twice I tried to activate some diplomats into a sort of burst out.  However, nothing doing. Absolute silence and mum was the word.


When my turn came to entertain the consortium, I organized, with the help of my soldiers, some skits and plays, that would generate a good dose of  merriment.  Activities such as, the Indian Consul General at Hanoi receiving a pair of live chickens in the diplomatic mail bag from India, a couple of  our soldiers trying to eat their rice and chapattis  with a pair of chopsticks or some men  trying to talk with the locals in sign language and so on, thus  having a dig at ourselves.  The hall truly echoed with dins, giggles and splits at each item - something unique in the diplomatic circles of Hanoi.


The finale was a play wherein, two cows cross the DZ line because the grass is found to be greener at the other side. The incident was duly brought to the notice of the Commission that held a full meeting to sort out the issue.  Both the cows were arraigned at each side of the DZ.  Then an NCO, gives a drill command, "North Vietnam cow and South Vietnam cow, quick march."  And the cows trot to their home side smartly.


The entertainment  was followed by Rum-punch and a sumptuous lunch. 


Every participant enjoyed the variety show and I received  compliments and  congratulations.


But, the North Vietnam members, who had also been invited for reasons of protocol compulsions, took exception to the playlet and lodged a formal complaint to the Commission headquarters,  at Saigon (Now, Ho Chi Minh city). The

Chairman cum  Ambassador had to forward the complaint to the External Affairs ministry at New Delhi  which was then headed by the Prime Minister, (Late) Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, himself. 


One fine morning I was asked to submit the script of my famous playlet which I did  promptly.


Some ten days later, I received a posting order back to Saigon.  Though premature by nearly a month, I welcomed the transfer and looked forward to working in more friendly surroundings. As soon as I landed at the Indian campus, the Ambassador summoned me to his villa that very evening and apprised me that my playlet on the UN Commission had caused quite a stir in New Delhi.  "Not to worry Captain. The Prime Minister wanted me to convey to you that he rather enjoyed reading your screenplay.."


I smiled with elation. "But," Dr. S.S.Ansari continued, "Sense of humor is alien to the communist world.  Will you please remember that for the rest of your service in Vietnam?"


"No.  It isn't a stricture of any kind," the Indian Ambasador assured me.


But what I received from my wife who was on the Indian soil then, was a 'severe reprimand' in the Army parlance.  "Who do you think you are?  Shakespeare the Second?" 

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                                                         Sweetgrace [Israel Jayakaran]