A Wodehouse revival?
I don’t know whether Pelham (Plum) Glenville Wodehouse is coming back into fashion in Madras or not, but several clubs have recently held ‘Wodehouse evenings’ where there have been a couple of short Wodehouse films, a brief talk by a diehard Wodehousian, and a quiz which, in its search for detail, demonstrates that there are some still around who remember every word of their Wodehouse.
I also see that an inexpensively priced series of all the Wodehouse books is now on the stands.
I was brought up in school on Wodehouse — but also on Baroness Orczy, Henty, Conan Doyle, Sapper, Leslie Charteris and a host of others. They all taught me English, but much as I enjoyed Wodehouse, I tended to gravitate and stay with the others.
Now that would be blasphemy to diehard Wodehouseans — and I can’t wait for a call from that young woman who is likely to demonstrate a sharp tongue quicker than a gentle Wodehousean manner or the nose-in-the air disdain of some of his Grand Dames. But when she settles down, she’s likely to remind me that …
Shashi Tharoor feels that P G Wodehouse was “the writer who had given me more joy than anything else in my life” and Evelyn Waugh once called him “the greatest living writer of the English language, the head of my profession”.
Indeed, a certain section of Indian readers who agree with these views has always had a long-time, on-going connection with Wodehouse and this is something many of Wodehouse’s compatriots, and a number of our own, find hard to understand.
After all, the world of spats, oojah-cum-spiff, Eggs, Beans and Crumpets disappeared a long time ago, well within Wodehouse’s own lifetime, as a matter of fact, and what possible relevance did all of it have with life in India, anyway? Then, or at any other time?!
But if you think you could find a connection, you may see the ‘idyllic world’ of Wodehouse being re-located very well by Jaspar Utley, well-known in Chennai circles as a former Director of the British Council, South India, a frequent visitor, and a Wodehousean par supreme, in his recent book Tales from The Puffugees.
Set in the precincts of a venerable old club in Chennai, it is replete with characters reminiscent of many found in Wodehouse’s stories.
Theories abound over the reasons for Wodehouse’s appeal to many an Indian.
Perhaps the answer, many a Wodehousean would say is that India, with its very strong family ties, can’t but respond with an understanding and, sympathetic nod to those caught in imbroglios arising out of the tyranny of aunts or gaga uncles, and the difficulty of convincing relatives who’ve seen you as a snotty-nosed kid, that it is about time they took you seriously as a mature, even mildly sensible, adult.
Did Wodehouse ever refer to India? Yes, several times in his works. Here’s a quote from: ‘The Artistic Career of Corky’ in Carry On, Jeeves: “One of the rummy things about Jeeves is that, unless you watch like a hawk, you very seldom see him come into a room. He’s like one of those weird birds in India who dissolve themselves into thin air and nip through space in a sort of disembodied way and assemble the parts again just where they want them. I’ve got a cousin who’s what they call a Theosophist, and he says he’s often nearly worked the thing himself, but couldn’t quite bring it off, probably owing to having fed in his boyhood on the flesh of animals slain in anger and pie.”
Wodehouse’s work, with its quintessential “insidious but good-humoured subversion of the language, conducted with straight-faced aplomb,” to quote Shashi Tharoor again, is discussed threadbare by e-groups and hundred of societies round the world that are dedicated to P. G. Wodehouse. India has its share of them.
WodehouseIndia is one such e-group, which began in 2000, and has over 200 members, a few of whom are right here in Madras.
Those who are interested can check out details of the group on the Internet, or can send a message to WodehouseIndiafirstname.lastname@example.org
Madras’s Wodehouseans should probably consider getting together regularly, form a society perhaps. Like the Shakespeareans.
Remembering an author, and reminiscing and discussing his work with like-minded people is the best way to discover kindred spirits, I’ve often felt.
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