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“MeDi Clowning is not just cracking jokes and doing funny stuff”, says Fif, a woman of Indian origin grown up in Canada, who works with kids as a therapeutic, healing clown in Auroville.
As I walk down the corridor I see a pair of big eyes rolling from behind the door. Two more steps and a red nose emerges. She finally reveals a big smile and thrusts her hand forward. I find myself smiling, ear to ear. Nothing really funny this lady in salwar kameez and white locks has done, but I am all giggly. Next eight hours along with some thirty parents I find myself rolling on floor laughing, playing games like a kid and chatting away and hugging them. At the end of the day, I find a certain warmth flowing and calmness set inside me. I am brimming with love, wanting to go back to my family and friends to spill it over them.
This is how in a workshop at Heritage Experiential School, Gurgaon I got introduced to Fif, and later during my visit to Auroville discovered clowning is a full fledged profession.
You must have read laughter is a therapy, but do you know that clowning is a medical profession? What more, we have two professional MeDi Clowns right here in India who have had over 30 years of experience. Here’s their uplifting story.
Fif and Hamish, the pair of clowns from Auroville, do trainings across organisations. They began as MeDi Clowns and their considerable time is still spent in hospitals where they make corridors smell of laughter and not just disinfectant. From young to old, people lying in hospital beds suffer more from a disillusioned mind than the disease itself. So instead of a nurse with a usual tray of medicines, temperature and blood pressure check, asking you if you have passed the stool, Fif and Hamish arrive as two cuddly clowns bringing a gift of hope and joy.
‘MeDi Clowns are not buffoons. Let’s not undermine this work and confuse the two,’ says Fif.
She goes on to explain, ‘MeDi Clowning is not just cracking jokes or doing funny stuff. MeDi Clowns have to understand the science of healing. I had to undergo various programs and practice to understand how continued laughter can alter the brain waves to bring healing. I had to dive deep into the psychology and the neuroscience behind it.’
Soon the pair realized people suffered not just in hospital, but everywhere. Recent studies reveal that parenthood is the most stressful thing, another study reveals rise of drug abuse and decline in healthy sex life amongst corporate employees and depression has come to sneak right into our schools. Thus, their work began to spread beyond the four walls of the hospitals.
Born in Tanzania, of Indian parents and being raised in Canada, Fif would accompany her aunt, a medical doctor, to visit the elderly at a home for the aged in Canada. While her aunt did her rounds, Fif would engage in conversation with patients, sing, play piano and often even do a jig. She didn’t know then what she was doing but the smiles registered in her conscious and sub conscious mind. She saw it lightened up their hearts and hers too.
At the young age of eighteen, Fif knew she had to explore her roots and came to India to find herself. With the generosity of another aunt, a nun and her convent, Fif had the opportunity to experience orphanages, villages, leper homes and slums firsthand, doing theatre programs. She learnt the art of body percussion and used it to be the fool to make people laugh. She had no idea at the time that what she was doing would later become her career. Years later, she realized that she was clowning and did not need a nose or costume to be a clown! What was required was an open heart, curiosity and love.
Fif was at home at last. She wanted to stay on but her parents were sure a girl brought up in the West could never settle and work in villages of India. She had to return. But not before experiencing a life altering incident. Days before she had to leave, while she was at the hospital she saw two bodies arrive on a stretcher. One was that of a young boy who was crying that he wanted to live. But the poor child had no control on the deadly swine flu that had spread like an epidemic. The other was that of a sixteen year old girl who had taken away her life herself.
‘The wailing of the mother of that girl echoed in the corridor and in my ears. It never left me even after I had boarded the plane and gone miles away to Canada. I just knew that I had to do something to help people find joy and when it is time to go, leave in peace and hopefully a smile,’ says an emotional Fif.
Back in Canada, Fif completed BFA in theatre. In 1986, an official program for clowns had been launched. At the same time, Fif was going through a phase of life where she was losing people close to her one after another. First her uncle, then her two aunts went away within a couple of years. It was during these hospital visits, her sister would play the piano and Fif would act the clown. She didn’t want a costume or put on makeup, but she liked the idea of juggling balls and hearing laughter echo in the hospital where otherwise there was silence of death or cries of pain.
By now, Fif had become the second therapeutic clown in Alberta and was working hand in hand with medical practitioners in Canada. She further went to Israel to study the socio-psycho aspects of MeDi Clowning to understand their process of healing.
Although many people said she was a healer, for a long time Fif refused to call herself a healer. She felt the word brought lot of responsibility. But after many miracles, she could no longer deny that it worked and that she had been chosen by the Universe to heal people from within.
One afternoon sitting at the airport in the year 2010, Fif received a call from the father of a nine-year old boy who had been diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of three, and whom Fif had been visiting as a Therapeutic Clown at the hospital she worked at.
The father said, ‘Can you please come and visit. I don’t think he will make it.’ Fif took a deep breath and asked the phone to be given to the child. Fif asked him which laughter he wanted, the Zebra or the Lion laughter and they were both soon giggling away. All this while an older lady was watching and listening to Fif. After the call was disconnected, the lady thanked Fif saying, ‘My grandson is suffering from leukaemia and doesn’t have much time left. But now I know what to do in whatever time we have with him.’
Alex, this nine-year old boy survived the night. When she was at the hospital, Jumpa, Fif’s Therapeutic Clown character would make her visit to him. But when she was not working, as she had made a commitment to the young boy, she would talk to him on phone every day, week after week. The doctors informed he was getting better.
Not only did the boy live for months, but also went on to fulfil his last wish which was to meet the Dalai Lama. Then on April 6th, at 10:30 at night when she was celebrating her birthday dinner with Hamish, she received a phone call from Alex’s father. Alex was rapidly declining. It was time to say goodbye to him. Without a costume or nose, Fif visited him in Intensive Care. He in his unconscious state, sleeping between his mum and dad, together they offered pizza to the Buddhist deities the boy believed in.
At his funeral, his parents knowing that there will be melancholy songs and sad speeches, also wanted people to remember joy. Alex after all had died laughing and that’s how they wanted to send him away. Fif was entrusted the task to facilitate and be the Master of Ceremonies at the funeral and share laughter as she had done with Alex when he was alive. It was the most difficult thing for Fif to clown and laugh in a packed hall with pin drop silence. She was lost, for the first time not knowing how to laugh. Then Alex’s little brother said, ‘I want the zebra laughter’. And together the whole hall led by Fif laughed and tossed Alex up in the air to give him a grand send off.
It was 12/12/12, Fif and Hamish landed in Auroville to support the setting up the town which was to be the home of some 50,000 people and was not to be ruled by any Government. This township was to be driven by the charter that Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole, it is a place of unending education and it is a place for the research and embodiment of humanity. Even before leaving, Fif knew she would definitely return to this place. They both kept coming back till they finally decided that once their Moms are gone, they will settle in here. So it happened that one fine day they packed their bags and made Auroville their home.
Ever since then, they have presented programs and collaborated with various hospitals and organisations to spread joy and healing. Aravind Eye Hospital, Saveetha Medical College, EKAM Foundation, Stella Maris College Autonomous to name a few. Together they founded the Komali MeDi Clown Academy which offers professional programs and courses in MeDi Clowning.
Created from Palmyra seeds, collected from the forest in and around Auroville, the clown nose came to be known as the Auro Nose. The idea behind this nose was to create a symbol that people across ages, background and organisations are equal and together they can laugh and heal. Painted in different colours and handcrafted with love, the Auro Nose can be donated by anyone to organisations and help MeDi clowns raise funds.
“With time, The Auro Nose has become a symbol of love and unity,” says Fif.
Komali MeDi Clown Academy recently won the Yes Foundation YES! I am the CHANGE 2018 Award to scale up and replicate their 600 hour program of the Art and Science of MeDi Clowning to train trainers and train 5000+ MeDi Clowns to be placed in hospitals, healthcare, and organizations across India. Imagine an army of 5000 clowns walking around in the hospitals, corporate, schools giving them the gift of uninhibited laughter .And without their knowing healing their chipped hearts and infusing them with energy. For a country as vast as India, even this army doesn’t seem enough but the image certainly brings a hope.
In the circus of life, we are grateful that we have Fif and Hamish to remind us whatever role we play let’s not forget to laugh.
To know more about MeDi Clowning and work of Fif and Hamish, visit www.mediclownacademy.org
Images: Fif and Hamish, Healing Clowns
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Manmeet is a writer by passion and a facilitator by choice. She works primarily in
Thank you for an inspiring story about Fif Fernandes and Hamish Boyd. Beautifully written… about beautiful work in the world.
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