Archive for October, 2021

By no stretch of imagination can I be held to be an expert on P. G. Wodehouse. If you have followed my Wodehouse-related posts over the past eight years, you would have already assessed the literary level of essays churned out by me. The scales would have fallen from your eyes. You would have realized that these have been sculpted by someone who had honed his linguistic skills ‘at a correspondence school and had never progressed beyond lesson three’; much unlike the Master Wordsmith of our times, who, like Michelangelo, leaves us enthralled in awe and admiration of many a literary David, Madonna and Pieta he has dished out. What Michelangelo was to marble, Plum is to literary humour, wit and wisdom. Like the former, the latter’s talents are also multi-faceted. If one was a sculptor, a painter and an architect, the latter was a prolific writer, publishing more than ninety books, forty plays, two hundred short stories, several poems and other writings between 1902 and 1974.

He used a mixture of Edwardian slang, quotations from and allusions to numerous literary figures, and several other literary techniques to produce a prose style that has been compared to comic poetry and musical comedy. One of the qualities of his oeuvre is its wonderful consistency of quality, tone, wit and wisdom. A wise man had once remarked that his works transport us to a sort of Garden of Eden where a benevolent sun always shines, though eating a certain fruit is forbidden. His characters may sound like trivial people doing trivial things, but Plumsville in itself is not at all trivial.

There are several lenses with which one could discern the messages embedded in his works. A literary lens would reveal his canvas to be very wide, comprising not only Shakespeare but also Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Browning, Burns, Frost, Keats, Kipling, Omar Khayyam, Spinoza, Tolstoy, Tennyson, Wordsworth and many others. A spiritual lens would bring into sharp focus the importance of cultivating such personality traits as compassion, gratitude, empathy, humility, perseverance, aspiration, courage and goodness. A well-being lens would nudge us to avoid the pleasures of the table and remain fit and trim. A social lens would help us to notice the kind of efforts one has to keep making to keep the wolves at bay and notice the perils of economic inequality. A political lens would leave us scoffing at dictators and others. A theological lens would reveal the rich Biblical references and allusions in his works. A managerial lens reveals to us the art of managing bosses. A romantic lens would reveal a clear absence of cruder passions. Respect for women reigns supreme. Victorian norms prevail.

In a way, there is much in common between Wodehouse’s works and those of Jane Austen. Both happen to follow strict codes. Both play out as movies suitable for General Exhibition, thereby making these a family affair. Sex is taboo.

In Plumsville, friendly romps and jocular embraces are taken a jaundiced view of. Impersonation and white lies dished out in the course of a boat ride meet with approval; so do the pinching of umbrellas, policemen’s helmets, scarabs, silver cow creamers and such members of the animal kingdom as cats, dogs and pigs. Bunging in a policeman into a cooling stream is not scoffed at. One is forever living in a world which is essentially decent, uplifting and far away from the kind of trials and tribulations one faces in real life. Practical jokes do get played, albeit within limits. A chin-up attitude is the norm.

One of his unique skills is that of deploying a unique turn of phrase and the delightful use of similes. The laughter of Honoria Glossop gets likened to ‘the Scotch express going under a bridge.’ The Empress of Blandings is described as a balloon with ears and a tail. Examples such as these abound all across his oeuvre.

Yet another skill of his is that of weaving in several threads in the same narrative. He gives all the threads in his narrative the same dramatic weight, making them all result in happy endings. His characters do face the harsh slings and arrows of fate, but things invariably remain within tolerable limits. If problems of the lining of the stomach lead one to contemplate suicide, some simple exercise, such as chasing a servant down the street, quickly makes one realize the futility of giving up on the gift of life.

Many of my blog posts happen to be an outcome of a soulful analysis of his books and stories. Quite a few others are pastiches which make one realize the timelessness of his works. Some are examples of the kind of affliction Wodehousitis happens to be. If someone is in the terminal stage, no other literary figure attracts one’s attention. People one runs into get characterized as per the traits of some of his characters. A pitiless self analysis leads one to identify oneself with different characters created by Plum. All incidents in one’s mundane life get viewed through a Wodehousean lens, whether facing a pandemic or appearing in a court hearing or even when one receives an offer of a paltry sum at the hands of a Scandinavian young girl. In retrospect, even career blunders get looked at in a lighter vein.

Plum’s works happen to be an effective balm for a weary and wounded soul. When it comes to shrugging off those blues, these act like the pick-me-ups whipped up by Jeeves and make one rise over one’s dead self to higher things in life.  

All this goes on to show that as a delectable affliction, Wodehousitis has a very long shelf life. Plum’s works continue to enthuse, educate and entertain his numerous fans the world over and would keep doing so for a very long time to come. The more the disruptions caused by advances in technology, the higher the risk of human alienation. The higher the level of alienation, the wider the prevalence of depression and psychosomatic illnesses. His works are based on the psychology of the individual and act as effective anti-depressants. This alone would ensure his perennial popularity.

Long live Wodehousitis!

(Illustration courtesy Suvarna Sanyal)

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‘Oh, I say, did you say Wodehouse helped you lose weight?’


‘Wodehouse as in P.G.?


‘The writer or the dietician?’

‘The writer, you ass! He invented the Swedish Exercises, you know. And the Larsen E.’

‘And you did them?’

‘No, I just read about them.’

A couple of years back, I went to a new doctor with my annual health check-up reports. Again, all the results seemed fine. I was eating healthy, staying active, walking twice a day. Balancing the halo on my head, I flashed a smile at him. 

“You need to lose about 15 kg,” he said. “Put in more exercise.”

“But Doctor, I doubt I can do more than this. I’ve had multiple fractures on both my legs some years back.”

Like most normal people, this is when he should have said, ‘What!’ and I would have told him about my near-fatal road accident in an unquivering voice. But he did not raise an eyebrow. “Too long ago. You better get serious about exercise and consult a nutritionist if you want to stay fit.”

Some bedside manner, humph!

But not one to bear grudges, I moved on. I would look up some Swedish Exercises, I thought, having caught a page of Something New while sitting in the waiting room earlier. But, of course, I’m always equipped with a Wodehouse—one never knows when one may need a smile. 

In this first Blandings Castle book, the hero Ashe Marson is a strapping young man who does the Larsen Exercises in the open, unmindful of the audience, till one day, just as he ‘unscrambled himself and resumed a normal posture’, the heroine of the book bursts into musical laughter. Like the rest of ‘Plum’ Wodehouse’s work, this has been a balm to my throbbing head and broken bones. Wodehouse is mild sunshine on a cold day, cool breeze on a hot day, and a gentle sprinkling of life lessons every day.  More importantly, however, it proved to be an inspiration. 

Many of Wodehouse’s novels mention the Swedish Exercises. But somehow, till that minute in the doctor’s waiting room, I hadn’t thought of them as an exercise that I could do. Or should do. Yes, imagining his characters twisting and turning always makes me smile. This bit from Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit has me in splits every time I read it.Bertie Wooster, against whose name there are 11 pages of incriminating matter in the Junior Ganymede Club register, asks Jeeves if there is anything there about fellow Drones Club member Stilton Cheesewright. 


A certain amount, sir.

Not in the real sense of the word, sir. His personal attendant merely reports that he has a habit when moved of saying Ho! and does Swedish exercises in the nude each morning before breakfast.

In his book Over Seventy (1957), Wodehouse reveals that he did his “getting-up exercises before breakfast, as I have been doing since 1919 without missing a day.” He published over ninety books, hundreds of short stories, wrote or collaborated on at least 14 Broadway musicals, and died at the age of 93 while sitting in his armchair, going through a three-fourths-complete typescript of his last book, Sunset at Blandings

Apart from the fact that he had immense talent and wrote at least 1000 words every day, I’ve often wondered what could account for such prolific work. He and his wife always had dogs and cats and even guinea hens around them that served as stress-busters? That, like Bertie Wooster, he never harboured any ill will towards anyone? By his own admission, that he had a case of infantilism and never developed mentally at all beyond his last year in school? That he exercised every day? 

Bingo! E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y! His fictional exercises are believed to have been inspired by the regime invented by the Swede Pehr Henrik Ling or by that of Lieutenant Muller of the Danish Army. But in real life, Wodehouse followed a set of light exercises called the Daily Dozen, which Walter Camp invented and published in Collier’s magazine. He did it every day. 

My visit to the nutritionist confirmed that every day was the magic word. She reviewed my diet and lifestyle and said only a few tweaks were needed to make them work for me. Instead of doing a bit of yoga in fits and starts, I started going up to the terrace to do yoga – not Swedish exercises – for half an hour every day at sunrise. Like magic, I lost over 12 kg in seven months. When I diluted the ‘everyday’ regime earlier this year, the needle started swaying the other way. I think I’ll need to begin reading Wodehouse every day again – no, not to follow his Swedish Exercises, but to exercise – any kind of physical exercise – every single day! 

(Mala Kumar is a writer and editor who keeps her insanity intact by talking to kids, dogs, cats and plants.Her permission to reproduce it here is gratefully acknowledged.)

(This article first popped up on ‘livemint/lounge’; the original can be accessed at: https://lifestyle.livemint.com/health/wellness/how-wodehouse-inspired-me-to-lose-weight.)

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Bertie imageI wonder if I should endeavor to find a true and worthy soul mate,

Who would join me in facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.


Let me be spared of someone like Madeline who gazes moodily at stars in the sky,

While I yearn for smoked salmon, cheese and wine, or some bacon and egg fry.


Honoria Glossop would be prone to slapping the backs of guests with all her might,

Nudging me to perform goofy deeds without any consideration of my own plight.


Roberta Wickham would sashay up to the altar with much aplomb,

But each moment spent with her would be like a ticking bomb.

Pauline Stoker would exhort me to swim a mile before breakfast,

And then play five sets of tennis post-lunch, leaving me gasping and aghast.


Florence Craye would like to mould me into an intellectual cove,

Being a…

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On the occasion of the 140th birth anniversary of P. G. Wodehouse, allow me to present a collection of a part of my blog posts on the Master Wordsmith of our times.

Many of my followers on social media keep complaining about suffering from dyspepsia of a Plummy kind. Even before they can devour a piece, a new one pops up. In the social media rapids, earlier posts are apt to sink without a trace rather promptly. Often, this leaves them disgruntled no end.

I hope this compilation would work like Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo, enabling fans of Plum to look up different blog posts at their own convenience and leisure, with a jaunty sang froid. I can readily imagine a reader, with this basket of plums by her side, relishing a single plum at a time while seated in her favourite rocking chair, with her preferred tissue restorative perched on a tiny table next to her.  

These essays have been grouped under different sections. Volume I, entitled ‘A Soulful Analysis of the Wodehousean Canon’, has the following sections:

In Jeeves We Trust

Of Mentally Negligible Masters

Women in Plumsville

Analysing The Code of the Woosters

Something Fresh Under the Lens

The Girl Friend and Lord Emsworth

When Cupid Strikes

Some Seasoned Romances

Shades of Plum in Some Movies

Hapless Rozzers and Stern Lion-tamers

Matrimonial Bliss

Rogue Kids

Napoleon and Shakespeare

Of Politicos

Canines, Felines and Others

If Volume I takes an analytical view of the Wodehousean canon, the upcoming Volume II, entitled ‘Pip pip’, comprises pastiches and some autobiographical posts. It endeavours to highlight the relevance of his narratives in the contemporary times.

Over the years, many fans of P. G. Wodehouse world over have contributed to the essays which form a part of this compilation.I am grateful for the affectionate support received. Thanks are also due to Mr. Kevin Cornell, Mr. Suvarna Sanyal and Wikipedia for the illustrations; to Ms. Sneha Shoney, who has edited the text; to Mr. S. K. Sarath Bharati and Mr. Sanket Bhatia for composing the text and finalizing the layout.  

This collection of essays is for private circulation only. The intention is not commercial but merely to share some thoughts regarding the oeuvre of P. G. Wodehouse.

Those who are keen on receiving a PDF version of Volume I may please mail a request to akb.usha1952@gmail.com. The PDF version can also be downloaded directly from here.

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The Indian Curry Dished Out by P. G. Wodehouse

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What happens when a banking professional like Suvarna Sanyal, who has spent a life time poring over bulky ledgers and checking debit and credit figures, turns his attention to one of the popular stories dished out by P G Wodehouse? Well, he simply whips up a series of illustrations which figure some of the better known characters from the canon in some selected scenes from the story!

Residents of Plumsville would recall that this is the only story in the canon which is narrated by Jeeves. Savour below the results of his labour of love which, incidentally, have already undergone a scrutiny under the precise microscope of an expert in all Plummy matters.

I want to explain to you why I am speaking to you directly, instead of letting Mr Wooster present one of his tales.  I have been asked quite frequently to explain any formula I might have for…

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What happens when a banking professional like Suvarna Sanyal, who has spent a life time poring over bulky ledgers and checking debit and credit figures, turns his attention to one of the popular stories dished out by P G Wodehouse? Well, he simply whips up a series of illustrations which figure some of the better known characters from the canon in some selected scenes from the story!

Savour below the results of his labour of love which, incidentally, have already undergone a scrutiny under the precise microscope of an expert in all Plummy matters.

‘The day was so warm, so fair, so magically a thing of sunshine and blue skies and bird-song that anyone acquainted with Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, and aware of his liking for fine weather, would have pictured him going about the place on this summer morning with a beaming smile and an uplifted heart.’

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I confess I have never had the chance of listening to the prattle of tender feet around me. However, this does not mean that I do not observe kids. I do so, with all the shrewdness at my command. When they giggle and stare at public speakers, the latter are all of a twitter. When they seek protection money from their wannabe step fathers, the soul cringes. When they use paraffin wax to douse fires, one sickens in horror. When they decide to extract a revenge of sorts from cabinet ministers who have reported their smoking endeavours in the shrubberies, one draws appropriate conclusions. When they celebrate their birthdays by either putting sherbet in ink pots or by going AWOL to enjoy a dinner and a movie, one gets overawed with the kind of courage they have.

Having suffered at the hands of such obnoxious kids as Thos, Seabury, Edwin…

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