Humor in Dark – Short Story
By: Arun Mathew
Warsaw, Poland- early spring of 1939
“And now we pray to the lord almighty to give us courage and power to see ourselves through these dark days and we pray unto thee for our sanctity and safeguarding the lives of our fellow countrymen. Amen.” Father Roland closed the Sunday mass. Flocks of devotees had gathered to St Thomas cathedral to pray for their own safety against the marching Wehrmacht. The Fuhrer had set his sights on stripping Poland of its sovereign status and had a keen eye on the Jews living in Poland. Hitler knew he was boiling up the pot for a second world war when he ordered his army, Wehrmacht, to stand guard at the German-Polish border.
Father Roland was back at the seminary and had called for a special lecture to be attended by his students. In no less than 30 minutes, the full batch of first year priests-in-waiting were listening to Father Roland delivering a sermon on how the priesthood needs to serve the country on their own accord. He spoke of the influence of the church on the thinking of the Polish Christians and how through God’s words and by virtue of prayers the church could help the community. The students agreed in unison. Sam was intrigued and confused. Though he had joined the seminary in order to become a priest and serve the people via God’s words, he somehow felt this wasn’t the best way. Better meet Fr Roland and speak for myself, Sam thought and walked towards the Father’s office.
“Samuel, what can I do for you son?”
Sam paused before speaking. “Father, I have been thinking about what you said this afternoon. I agree to your point that the church now needs to be more giving than ever and during such times of uncertainty it is our prerogative to engage people in ways that would unload their emotional problems and the impending fear of death and loss.”
“You got my sermon right, but what is it you want to tell me here?” “Father, I think becoming a priest, that too, a year later would defeat the very purpose of what I want to do now, at this moment. I want to serve the people and being a priest, I would be able to address only half of the Poles, but what about the rest and what about the time it would take me to become one. I worry it would be too late, Father.”
Father Roland took a deep pause and said, “Well, in more ways than one, I presume you are right. But if a priest, what on earth do you suggest you want to be?”
“I think I want to become a comedian”.
Three months later
“So in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and I do not mean alcohol! I wish you all god speed and good luck. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your time tonight and hope you liked my show. Thank you!”
The audience was in splits. Though the theater was only half filled courtesy of the threat of war, the few which had turned up went a little lighter in the head and happier in the heart. Sam retired to his bunk at the theater backstage and was about to catch some sleep when the errand boy walked in and handed him a note. The note read, “Meet me at Radiopol office tomorrow at 11 AM. Signed- Frank Podolski, chief programmer, Radiopol.”
By now Poland was already in talks with England and France for a treaty that would bring about British and French militia support to Poland in the event of a German invasion onto its soil. Soviet Russia was breathing on the neck of Germany to lay down the rules of war and its role in taking the eastern provinces of Poland to fulfill its dream of converting all Balkan states into USSR. Though the treaty was signed, Poland was mistaken that it would be honored by England and France. Poland was sure that it would be able to diplomatically avoid a war-like situation. Completely averse to Poland’s thinking, Hitler was in talks with Benito Mussolini to create a group to be called as AXIS along with the agile Japanese leader, Hirohito. With Japan, came dragging in Cchina on the other side of the table, the allies. The Second World War was already in sights, and lay behest at the mind and mercy of the Fuhrer.
Radio Poland office, Krajowiski road, Warsaw
Dressed in a crisp blue suit, Sam waited patiently outside Frank’s office. He was nervous;this sudden rendezvous had taken him by surprise. A few minutes later he was inside the office and seated on the other end of the oak wooded table was Mr. Frank Podolski. “So, Sam, I called you to discuss if you would be interested in joining Radiopol and do a daily one hour show. Comedy, of course” said Frank.
Sam was stunned. He was expecting some discussions around a possible job, but a straight offer was the least of his expectations. “I will be more than happy to be a part of Radiopol and bring some energy and life into the lives of the people.” Within a week, Sam had set off on his new journey, part emancipation part fulfillment, and mostly his endeavor to do something for his own kind. The show, Life’s like that had soon garnered good reviews and daily listeners. Playing at half past 11 and all the way through half past 12 in the night, the show would reach thousands in the span of one hour and bid the town good night leaving them on a happy note. Humor in dark.
Brewing up a war
By now Hitler and his men, rather followers, had conveniently chosen to blame the Jews for the apathy and troubles in Europe. The Fuhrer had made his commitment to conquest. Though the effects from the previous war were still looming large, the main source of resurgence occurred during the Great Depression of 1930. A couple of years back, in 1937, Japan (with its confidence owing to its friendship with the Fuhrer) invaded the Republic of China. This, along with Hitler’s ambition of ruling across Europe was enough stimuli for an action. The betrayal of Poles by the French and English would stand out as one singular factor that triggered the world at war.
Life’s like that, 12AM, 30 minutes into the show
“You know when it comes to comedy; I like to show off myself as the central star.”
“Till last year I was destined to become a priest, yes, and a good one! But, one bad dream and here I am, chatting and talking to you folks for an hour.
“Good lord, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Well in our seminary, the good ole priestly days, we had a visiting faculty, Father James.
“As a ritual, all of us in the seminary would have to confess to the visiting faculty. Now when it was my turn, I told him, Father James, I am pretty nervous about hearing confessions.
“Fr James, with years of listening to crying woes, scandals and potentially dangerous information during confessions told me, ‘Son, just do this. Cross your arms over your chest and rub your chin with one hand and look deep into the heaven.’
“I promptly asked, ’Father, how would it help me?’ To this the old man replied, ’Now, don’t you think that’s a little better than slapping your knee and saying “No shit! What happened next?”’
“Well folks, so much for laughter around priesthood, but let me tell you, they are doing a fine job. Sacrificing, praying and living for our sake. God bless ‘em.
“Now my broadcast team says there is some news about the half a man, rather half a mustache guy, Hitler the Fuhrer. Let me read it out for you all.
“And here it goes. Berlin Radio, in its broadcast an hour back, has reported Hitler’s pledge on taking back the Polish soil as its very own. The Wehrmacht has been ordered to stand guard on the borders and the Air Force has started off its engines for a flight command order into the Polish skies. The world waits with bated breath as to when Hitler orders the strike.
“Oh boy, I should have been the last person giving you all this news. But let me tell you something, I am sure our boys along with our neighbors, the French and the Brits will see off this threat. So cross one arm over your heart, rub your wife’s and/or girlfriend’s chin with the other and kiss her goodnight. That’s all from Life’s like that , until we meet again tomorrow, god speed!”
Sam rushed back to the dressing room and sped towards Frank’s office to discuss this latest revelation.
September 1, 1939
Wehrmacht had been giving orders to enter Polish territories. Artillery lieutenants, generals and soldiers alike were marching into the Polish villages and cities. The Polish nation of thirty million, including almost one million ethnic Germans, five million Ukrainians and three million Jews was facing horror right in front of its eyes. The secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet pact signed on 23 Aug 1939, had Hitler and Stalin agreeing on Poland’s partition and dissolution. This lead to a double jeopardy for the Poles; the German forces from the west and the Russian forces from the north had them crippled. Polish government knew by now the ill equipped Polish army would not be able to defeat the joint attack on its soil and pinned its hopes on the Anglo-French offensive in the west which would divide Germany’s forces. This was where Poland was betrayed, as the Brits and French took a lot of time before responding to Poland’s request. Destruction had begun all around. One by one, the Wehrmacht had been conquering all the exteriors of the Polish soil and was marching into the capital, Warsaw. The poles that were slaved or had surrendered were either shot or shipped to Kazakhstan and Berlin. During the next week itself, at least 25,000 Poles were murdered by Wehrmacht, each receiving a single bullet in the back of the head. Such was the aggression and inhumanity of the Hitler’s army.
Frank Podolski walked into Sam’s room and lit his cigarette.
“Sam, in the wake of the recent events, I think it’s better we don’t do a comedy show.”
Sam smiled. “Sir, I think this is exactly the right time when we need to step in and bring some humor in such dark times, give people the hope of a life after war, show them that we are facing dire situations armed with a broad smile. Nothing can beat that.”
“I understand your commitment, Sam, but we won’t be able to last long as a radio station. Sooner or later, we will have to relinquish this building and tend to our families.”
“We need to do this Sir, for as long as it takes.”
September 17th, 11.40 PM.
“So folks, how many of you are tuned in tonight. Last I heard from my broadcaster, we had a reduction of more than 50%. Are we on war or what? Where are you guys?
“You know the good part, in the last few days, we haven’t been doing any commercials. That means you and me, we spend one good hour of quality time together. Laugh, smile, joke on others and much more for an hour. Now thank you sponsors for letting us talk in private.
“Yesterday, I asked my friend’s German wife, while having a simple supper of porridge and beans, ‘Stefanie, how does the recipe for German chocolate cake begin?’
“To that, she said, ’First, invade ze kitchen.’ Haha. Germans eh? Now good I didn’t ask her what goes into the German child making process.
“There is another wire that has come in from the Polish Army. Hold on folks, let me catch up with you on the proceedings. Prepare your beds while I come back.”
Sam rushed to his broadcast team. Took the note. Read it.. Slowly and drudgingly he went back to the studio, took his mike and spoke to his audience.
“Well, you know how our capital came to be called as Warsaw? My version of it believes that we saw so many wars, some we won, and some we lost. But what we never lost was our belief in a better tomorrow, our faith in the lord almighty and our respect for each other and as a great nation. So we named it as WARSAW, as we have seen off many such wars, aint it?
“Our military intelligence says that an aerial strike is underway by the Germans. One of the major rules of engaging in a war is to break all communication mediums, radio being one of them.
“I have had the pleasure of being with you all, unified and strong, and within minutes I think I won’t be able to continue, but what would live by is the strength of Radiopol to be able to bring love, life and laughter till death do us part.
“So as long as we have time, let me tell you something hilarious. Do you know what a German warhead…”
There was an utter silence. The German missile blasted the Radiopol building.
The Second World War lasted six years and one day. Though Poland was free at the end of it, many such small stories of patriotism, duty to the people were lost in translation. The mighty stories of bravado were all of militia, diplomacy and statesmanship. Many such Sams and Franks were heroes in their own way, rendering their services through humor in the darkest hours of night and darkest hours of humanity.