What Inspired Pravin Tulpule To Quit the Navy and Become a Clown
Growing up I was Pravin Tulpule, the entertainer. I loved performing for people and really adored the smiles that I was able to create on people's faces.
I was brought up in a simple middle-class family where my father was a dairy specialist with a government job and my mother was a teacher at a school. She taught kids around our neighborhood free of cost. Even with such successful professions, there were no barriers to what my siblings and I could become. I am the youngest of the siblings, with an older brother and a sister and our parents never forced their dreams on any of us. They let us be free to explore different possibilities. This really liberated me to be whatever I pleased.
I was 13 when the beautiful art of magic came into my life, and I was instantly in love. Just imagine having the power to be able to do something that others cannot. Back then, it meant a great deal and I could easily fascinate people with my tricks. Books taught me what I initially learned about magic. Those days, we also used to write letters to the magicians that we knew and learnt about their tricks, which was quite a task since the letters would come back days apart.
I performed my first ever show at my house where I invited kids from my neighborhood to watch. Luckily, it proved to be a hit and that was the beginning of my journey as an entertainer. I started getting small gigs here and there and became the kid who kept people engaged before events. Trust me, I had the time of my life performing tricks.
Life happened and I took my path as a navy officer after inspiration found me through my brother-in-law, who was also in the navy. Magic stuck with me throughout my school life, my college life and fortunately enough, also throughout my tenure in the navy. Back in those days, pursuing magic as a full-time career wasn't as sustainable and very few magicians in the country were making it as full-time magicians. So, I decided to pursue magic as a hobby and carried it forward in life.
My love for entertaining people and interacting with kids never ended, even with my highly disciplined job. I was a President’s Gold Medalist, Lieutenant Commander Pravin Tulpule, but unofficially, I was the go-to guy for keeping the kids engaged while the adults could attend and enjoy functions, and I had no complaints.
Birth of Happy the Clown
While I was serving my official duties, I was still doing shows for any charity initiatives through the navy or for the navy week. One such afternoon, I was approached by a lady who wanted me to perform for a group of kids on the coming Sunday. I said a big yes and was happy to do it for free like I always did. She then made a request for me to come in with a red nose and colourful clothes to make it more fun. I happily agreed, since, in those days, I was still experimenting with my character as a magician.
Sunday arrived and I reached the venue with a red nose, colourful clothes, and a bag full of tricks. I was very confident and prepared to perform and win all the children’s hearts like I usually did. I entered the room and this time there was something different. I was to entertain a room full of kids aged 5 to 6 years but, all of them were battling cancer. I looked around those innocent masked faces and I felt my confidence quiver a little. I wasn't sure if I had the heart to perform for these ailing children. Looking them in the eye and keeping the mood light felt difficult. But my goal was to entertain them and create some moments of happiness to take their minds off their pain. So, I performed.
I carried on with my show and all the kids were playing, dancing, and interacting with me, but there was this one kid who stood out the most. He was very involved with everything I was saying and all the tricks that I was performing. He was looking through my bags and my pockets for any secrets and was so engrossed in everything that I was doing that you’d think he was a part of my own troop. The show ended like any other and everything went back to normal.
A few days later, a black and white photo of me and the child was published in a local newspaper, and I thought, "Wow! The kid made me famous." I showed it off to all my comrades and received appreciation and everyone was very happy.
After a few days passed, the lady called, and I expressed how grateful I was to her and especially to the kid who helped me get famous. I wanted to thank that kid and that was when her tone got a bit serious. She said, "Pravin, the child has passed away." She told me that he was terminally ill and did not have much time on his hands, but one of his last wishes was to meet a joker from a circus and my presence that day helped him check off that one final thing from his checklist. His soul was happy, and he left us.
Words couldn't find a way out of my mouth. Less than a week ago, I met this kid who was so excited to meet me and was my best audience and now he was no more. The news struck a nerve and put me in a dilemma. Had I not met him that day, there was a possibility that he would have been here with us today, alive. But, on second thought, our meeting also left him satisfied and he was now free of all his pain and suffering. His parents didn't have to see their child suffer anymore and this also put an end to their agony and struggle. So, perhaps it happened for the good.
In the year 2000, I had completed about 17 years of service in the navy, being a commissioned officer and had just 3 more years before I could get a life-long pension, medical benefits and all the other perks, but I knew I had to call it a day. My soul required me to wear a different uniform now. The one that most people would hesitate to wear and step out onto the streets. I decided to become Happy the Clown.
The decision wasn't easy, and I had countless sleepless nights worrying about how I would financially sustain a living and how everything would work out. People called me a fool for giving up my retirement benefits, but all these feelings were secondary because I knew in my heart that I had the ability to put smiles on even terminally ill people and that was reason enough for me to make the choice. All my strength during this time came from my family, who never doubted and supported my cause with all their heart.
My Happiness Journey
I started with free shows for NGOs and hospitals from different parts of the country, performing for cancer-affected kids and that became my routine for years to come. My children were so proud of me for being a clown. Nowadays, if someone calls you a clown, you’d take offence, but back then it was an honourable job. I also started taking offers from MNCs, for birthday parties and for being Santa Claus during Christmas. This was how I sustained myself all these years. Until the pandemic hit, I was travelling for over 300-400 shows per year and most of them were for charity.
What the Clown Has To Say to You
I am now 61 and have spent most of my life creating happiness for others since I started in 1974. Given a chance, I would do it all again to reach the same position because that’s how beautiful the experience was all these years.
Spreading happiness doesn't cost much, but it is still precious when you share it. You just need to make people realize that you recognize and acknowledge their presence as human beings, and that is all.
Even today, whenever I stay at a hotel and have people helping me at the reception or even the valet, I make sure to give them something like chocolate or a keychain. The smile that I see after that simple act is priceless and when I do this frequently, I build relationships with people and that is what we all stand for, don't we?
I wish to entertain till my last breath and have restarted my journey to tour the country with my same old red nose, colorful clothes, and a bag full of tricks. The world is too beautiful for us to be involved within ourselves and this happy clown wants you to make someone see that beauty whenever you get a chance!
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Bhairavi Hiremath