(September 3, 2022) Popularly known as ‘Happy – the medical clown’, former lieutenant commander of the Indian Navy, who had even worked as an electronic warfare officer onboard INS Viraat, found his purpose in bringing smiles to the faces of the terminally ill. Setting on a completely diverse path he chose to adorn the clown’s costume to take kids in cancer wards and orphanages on a laughing spree, opting for a VRS from the navy after 17 years of service.
“It was much to the surprise of my boss and colleagues who thought I had drunk a bit more the previous evening and tried to persuade me away from the idea,” says he adding that he is grateful that his family including his parents supported his decision to switch to a career that offered more meaning to his life. In 2019, he was presented with the Karmaveer Chakra, a global civilian honour conferred by the international confederation of NGO (iCONGO) in partnership with the United Nations.
Pravin Tulpule tells Global Indian
I do miss the beautiful white, pristine uniform and the culture of the Indian Navy but it was not a rash decision, rather a radical move. I do not have a penny’s regret to get into the wonderful world of clowning.
“When I was growing up there were no restrictions in whatever we did at home so long as it was legal and did not hurt anybody. In my teens I picked up the lovely hobby called ‘magic’ and it sort of stayed with me through my school and college days, and later in my naval career”, he smiles. He was always the entertainer of his unit and used to perform in the official get-togethers, mess, birthday parties of his kids and friends’ kids, and for charity initiatives of naval wives.
“A family friend requested me one day to show magic tricks to a group of kids,” he says. Pravin was transitioning in those days from a magician to a clown thinking that instead of fooling people with tricks why not make them part of it by adding the additional angle of clowning to make them happy? “As requested, when I went there in the clown’s costume, I got introduced to a room full of kids suffering from cancer. I was not mentally prepared for it,” he tells. Taken aback by the sombreness of the situation he performed nevertheless. “Entertaining them was overwhelming as I had not been into this situation before, never met so many terminally ill patients at the same time.”
Pravin recalls that a child got particularly fond of him, tagging around him during the show. What followed was his pictures in a local newspaper along with that child the next day. “It was the first time that I appeared in any newspaper and was elated.” Much to his shock, Pravin came to know after a few days that the kid had succumbed to his illness.
“I was deeply moved when I got to know that one of the wishes of the little boy was to meet a joker from the circus. That was the trigger,” he says, about what prompted him to take a plunge from the navy, where he had also worked as a communication specialist indulging in defense tactics and instructor at the naval academy, to the world of medical clowning. He was in his 40s then. Staying back for two and half years more would have led to some additional benefits as a naval officer but the pull was so strong that he could not stop himself from embracing the new path.
The clown’s costume helps break the ice. It does not make you a clown. The clown has to be inside. It helps you portray the clown. It tells people he is a fun guy – Pravin Tulpule
Being one of the trailblazers in the domain which is still at its nascent stages in India, Pravin has provided free-of-cost services in orphanages, shelter homes, slums, old age homes, and hospitals meant for kids with cancer and congenital heart diseases. In addition to these, he doubled up as a happiness coach, and corporate edutainer with a 20-year-association with a leading MNC as part of their branding and CSR initiatives, following his VRS from the navy.
Though the contract like many other things came to a halt during the pandemic, Pravin continues as an independent professional travelling across the country for fun-filled interactions as a happiness coach and corporate edutainer to lift sombre moods or to drive in an important message with the power of humour.
He calls his independent practice ‘Mission Happiness’. “I am doing it at a passion level he says. “If a powerful message is interspersed with humour people get hooked to the message”, he says adding, “it forever gets etched in the memory of kids and adults if a clown is imparting it.’ The entertainer has given close to 5,000 performances so far.
All I need is travel, stay, and food arrangements and I am ready to go anywhere and perform – Pravin Tulpule
Clowning is a technique
Pravin has also been conducting workshops for clowns and those who are not in the profession to make them understand the significant role that medical clowns can play in the treatment process. He addresses medical students at King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, on how medical clowns are important. I tell them that “a clown should be ready to be the target so that people can laugh at you. This is a quality that is otherwise difficult for people to adopt,” says the edutainer who is attached to Toybank NGO to promote mental well-being and socio-emotional development.
Pravin rues the fact that “many people perceive medical clowning as just wearing colourful clothes and dancing around.” There are quite a few people now who are adopting the profession. Not only one of his friends, who stays in Colorado, is a part-time medical clown, but inspired by Pravin’s unique way of serving society, both his children also get into the clown’s costume when the situation demands, even though they are into different professions altogether.
India’s Patch Adams
Pravin is deeply inspired by the 1998 American biographical comedy-drama film directed by Tom Shadyac, and starring Robin Williams. “You must watch it if you have not,” he recommends. “Dr. Patch Adams is based on a real person, not a fictional character,” tells Pravin who appears happy with the fact that he is referred to as Patch Adams of India.
Based on the life story of Dr. Hunter Adams and the book Gesundheit: Good Health Is a Laughing Matter by Dr. Adams and Maureen Mylander, the film that Pravin resonates with is about how using humour, can lead to better and faster recuperation of patients. Like Pravin, the protagonist of the movie had also found a new purpose in life in clowning.
The multifaceted clown
This former naval officer is a jack of many trades due to his constant urge to learn new skills. He is into tarot reading, crystals, face reading, teaching puppet making to children, and more. This festive season has kept him occupied in holding workshops for making eco-friendly Ganesha and teaching clay modelling to the young ones.
The love for underwater activities still stays close to his heart. This Independence Day saw him hoisting the tricolour, 31 feet deep underwater with a team of seven ex-marine-commanders, 40kms away from Mumbai under a controlled atmosphere ‘as all MARCOS (marine commandoes) were above fifty,’ he says. A few years back he had conducted an underwater wedding as the ‘pandit reciting mantras,” says he smiling.
“Incidentally I am an award-winning Santa Claus and boast of at least half a dozen different Santa costumes – the best in the country, I assure you,” signs off the ex-naval officer who believes that makeup in whatever get-up you are in matters. “It should enhance the fun aspect instead of looking scary or evil.”