Archive for May, 2022

Elango was not your ordinary sailor. He was fat; too fat for his seniors from Leading Telegraphists (Rank in the navy) to the Captain not to lecture him on getting his weight reduced to a decent level. He was not bothered too much about his resembling a rotund duck that had drunk all the water around it. Indeed, drink, particularly beer – never a single bottle – was the primary reason for Elango’s ever increasing girth.

He would grin sheepishly at anyone speaking on his expanding body. It is not that he did not try to get himself into shape; he ran, sweated it out with thimbles, swam but just could not stop drinking.

One day, five of us friends went to see a matinee show in the Strand Cinema in Colaba: To Sir with Love, a film that would find a place in anybody’s best movies’ list. The sky had been overcast when we went in to the theatre. When we came out after the movie, it was drizzling. We had to stand somewhere under the shade to escape the rain. What better place than Martin’s Restaurant opposite the cinema?

I do not know now but 45 years ago, you were guaranteed a fulfilling evening snack in the place. Elango was particularly fond of the pork vindaloo you got there. We ordered it along with some steamed rice. When it arrived, we pounced upon it with our hands rather than using the spoon and fork the gentleman in the restaurant had put on the table. As it turned out, that was the last time that Elango was going to taste the meat; in fact, any meat.

There was a girl with an old woman sitting two tables away from us. Beautiful was not the word that would have crossed your mind on beholding her; she was not that. There was, however, something about her that made you steal a second glance at her. Elango was sitting on the chair right opposite her. She was eating whatever she was eating with gusto.

We were only about ten minutes into clearing the plate of its contents by gobbling up what there was when the girl got up, paid her bill and went out to join her companion who had already exited and was standing under the sunshade of one of the row of shops in the street. There was no way they could venture out in the rain.

For one thing, the woman was old and frail and looked as if she would catch a cold and follow it up with high temperature if she as much as caught a single raindrop on her head which only had thinning strands of hair. Even a more compelling reason for them not to walk into the rain was the girl’s dress. It was too skin-fitting to get wet all over. She would not dare do that. Not all men are decent. Some can cause more harm with their eyes than with any physical activity.

I am not too sure if Rupert Psmith had ever given Elango some tips on the art and science of courtship. Taking a leaf out of Leave it to Psmith, Elango lost no time to take in the scene, told us to wait, ran out into the falling rain and disappeared. I went out and saw him turning the corner though I did not know where he was headed. The girl could not stop laughing at the fat boy whose limbs were doing dance steps of their own when he ran.

Within a very short time, Elango was running towards us as fast as he could which was not really fast. I saw that he had an umbrella with him. He slowed down as he approached us and without a word, offered the umbrella to the girl. The girl was taken aback and did not know what to do or say.

The old woman obviously believed in making hay while the sun shined; or to put it in context, grabbing an umbrella when it rained. She almost snatched the umbrella from Elango’s hand, stepped out on the road before nudging the girl to follow her even as she was opening the umbrella.

The girl gave Elango a smile and ran a step or two to catch up with the old woman. We noted that they went south towards the Radio Bhuvan. Elango gave them 10 seconds, followed them, stopped at the corner and watched. The two women jostling each other under the umbrella indeed went into the Radio Bhuvan.

Elango stood there in the rain, thought for a while and returned to us. We departed and walked towards Lion Gate. The rain-washed buildings lining the road on either side were not very different from the stately mansions on the streets of London we just saw in the movie. The grey clouds were getting darker in the evening sky and the buildings were glowing, bathed in the light emanating from the lamps all around.

Within a week Elango enrolled himself in the Radio Bhuvan for a telex operator course. Was there any need to do that? Absolutely not. But, why not? Wasn’t Gilda studying at the institute?

In what you can safely call a miracle, Elango shed his weight in a record time. He gave up meat, fish and eggs and shunned everything that could be called alcohol. What the chidings, mockery and his own determination could not achieve, love did. Easily. Such is the power of love. He visibly bloomed into a dashing hero in the mould of someone like Dean Martin, as handsome a man as you could imagine. Rupert Psmith would have heartily approved of his conduct in the matter.

Those of you who run into Geoffrey Raymond of A Damsel in Distress fame – the one who had acquired not only wealth but also a highly obese physical frame and a triple-chin visage – might want to tap him on the shoulder and quote to him the real life example of Elango. For all you know, scales may fall from his eyes and he might eventually end up winning the heart of someone in the mould of Lady Maud Marsh.

The duration of the short course was sufficient for Elango to woo the Eva/Maud of his life. Woo he did and went steady with her. They made a fine young couple.

As of now, those of you who happen to visit Goa might as well find them relaxing in a luxuriously furnished family room, relishing their favourite tissue restorative and enjoying the prattle of the tender feet of their grandchildren around them.

About the author:

Asokan Ponnusamy joined the navy at the tender age of 16. Had it not been for the libraries on board the ships, he would not have read books in the English language which woke up the writer in him. Simultaneously, he was enamored by rock music which he got to hear on the ships. Some fifteen years back, he wrote a book ‘500 Popping Questions, Rocking Answers’ on rock, pop, country and folk music. In 2019, he wrote his second book ‘The Funnyman Who Was Also A Sailor’. Besides unleashing his creative outpourings upon unsuspecting people like us, he also undertakes freelance and ghost writing occasionally.

His permission to blog this piece here is gratefully acknowledged. Yours truly confesses to have taken some liberties with the original text provided by him.

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Netizens who happen to be on Facebook come in different sizes, shapes, hues and ethnicities. Their value systems, personalities, mentalities and quirkiness quotients form a captivating rainbow of humanity. The psychology of the individual varies for all. So do their posts.

Even though the Posters and the Postees on Facebook are merely prisoners of their own individual psychologies, one can discern broad patterns in their behaviour. Some are compulsive Posters who consider a day wasted if they are not able to pass by their Facebook account. Others are casual by temperament and saunter in occasionally, sharing something on their timeline and then getting busy with the mundane affairs of their lives. Many others, who form but a minority, create an account and then blissfully forget all about it.

(The term Poster here refers to those who post on Facebook. The term Postee alludes to the hapless souls who have no…

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On 11th May, 2019, my wife and I were able to meet our daughter and members of her family near Bury, in Lancashire, for the first of about ten performances of the play A Damsel in Distress, written by Ian Hay and P G Wodehouse, and first performed in 1934.  The performance we attended was presented by the small Whitefield Garrick Society, a local theatre group.  What they had not realised was that their first night was just one day after the centenary of the publication of the first instalment of the Saturday Evening Post serialisation of the novel, on the 10th May, 1919.  Their audiences didn’t remain in ignorance, as the anniversary was highlighted in their programme.

This coincidence demonstrates two things about Wodehouse – the longevity of his writing, and the hint which it offers of the different forms of his work.  The purpose of this article is to expand on the latter point, and propose the suggestion that A Damsel in Distress represents its most comprehensive illustration.  (At various points in this article, I will abbreviate the title to ‘the Damsel’, and P G Wodehouse’s name to ‘Plum’ or ‘PGW’.)

Wodehouse’s relationship with the Saturday Evening Post had started in 1915, when it published the serial of Something New (the American name for Something Fresh) in seven parts.  The Damsel was PGW’s fourth serialised novel to appear in its pages, this time in eight parts, and by the end of 1919 it had also published ten of his short stories.  Damsel was published in book form in the United States by George H Doran on 4 October, 1919.

Surprisingly, book publication in the UK was not its next appearance, even though Herbert Jenkins Ltd released it on 15 October, for a silent movie adaptation had already been produced by Pathé Exchange and released in the USA as A Damsel in Distress on 12 October!  And there was to be an even more unexpected surprise four or five years later.

In 1922 or 1923, Pathé had launched Pathé Baby, a form of early home movie cut down to a 9.5mm frame width, and significantly edited from the original film.  The diameter of each reel was only 50 millimetres, resulting in about three minutes running time per reel.  Some clever techniques were utilised to maximise the use of the limited space.  All silent movies incorporate ‘Intertitles’ on which descriptive text appears, and on normal silent movies this frame would be duplicated many times to give the viewer time to read the text.  With the Baby, space was too precious, and each frame representing an intertitle was notched so that it would catch in the projector, and the operator would have to release it when the viewers had finished reading it.

A Damsel in Distress silent movie was released in the Baby format, probably in 1924, bearing the catalogue number 739, and is the only Wodehouse-related film that I am aware of to receive this treatment.  Even though the credit as ‘Scénariste’ was given to Wodehouse, you wouldn’t guess from the revised title it was given that it had anything to do with him.  The female star was June Caprice, and a reasonable guess about the title, Mam’zelle Milliard, is that it was a reference to her marriage in 1923 to Harry F Millarde.  He was a film director who was to direct June Caprice in a total of eight silent films, but not in this one.

By the time this silent movie was released, there had been another book version.  The first translation appeared in 1921 – in Swedish.  It was entitled EnFlickaitrångmål, created by Ulla Rudebeck and published by Hökerberg.  Three more translations, into Finnish, Dutch and Russian were published before the next main event, a dramatised version by Wodehouse and Ian Hay playing for 234 performances at the New Theatre in London in 1928.

Illustration of the Various Uses to which the Damsel has been put

In terms of the number of performances, A Damsel in Distress was PGW’s most successful play in the UK, and its run coincided in part with two other new plays on the West End stage for which he was co-author – Her Cardboard Lover and The Play’s the Thing.  The review in Theatre World in September 1928 included the comment that the Damsel was ‘a farcical comedy that will be a boon to all amateur theatrical societies for years to come.  It is the sort of play that no child need be afraid to take its parents to.’ 

To offer just one illustrative snatch of dialogue, the heroine Maud Marsh says the following to George Bevan, an American theatrical director who is in love with her, so far unreciprocated:

“Mr Bevan, I’m going to pay you the rarest compliment a woman can pay a man.  I’m going to tell you the truth.  Won’t you sit down.”

The play was presented with varying casts at more than forty theatres during the next four years, and has appeared from time to time right up, as we have seen, to the production in 2019.

And so we move into the 1930s, to see what else happened to the Damsel.  Before we reach 1937, the date of a Hollywood musical based on the book, it is necessary to return to the list of translations, for the Czech, Polish and Portuguese translations were published in this period.  So was an Italian translation, in 1931.  And another – different translator and different publisher – in 1932.  And yet another – in 1935.  The details were as follows:

1931  Una signorina in imbarazzo, A Mozzati, Bietti

1932  Una donzella in imbarazzo, Francesco Palumbo, Libreria Editrice Monanni

1935  Un capriccio e poi, Alfredo Bianchini, SACSE Milano

In 1937, Wodehouse had been working in Hollywood for the second time in his career, and was about to return home when he was invited to join the production team (RKO-Radio Pictures) for a musical version of the Damsel starring Fred Astaire and featuring music by the Gershwins.  The script proved to be a substantially redrafted version of book and play, with additional ideas added to respond to the qualities of the chosen actors, but Wodehouse played a significant role in its development. 

Why was the book selected for cinema treatment at this time?  According to a number of commentators including the late Benny Green, since George Gershwin had met Wodehouse in 1917, he had come to believe that the story of the novel reflected his own career.  Like the book’s hero George Bevan, he too was from Brooklyn, and had become a successful American composer who went to Britain to supervise the London production of a Broadway hit.  Accordingly, George Gershwin is thought to have used his considerable influence to have it made on screen as a musical, with Ira Gershwin even writing a lyric, Stiff Upper Lip, for the film, as a tribute to the language used by some of Plum’s young male characters.

His work on the Damsel was PGW’s last personal involvement with Hollywood, and completed the range of productions for which the story was the basis.  But it was not wholly the end of the story.  In Italy, for example, there was a fourth translation published in 1939, entitled ‘Una magnificaavventura’, translated by Gian Dauli and published by TEL Milan, and there were other translations in Norway in 1938 and Spain in 1944.

After the war, things were much quieter.  A new Finnish translation in 1951 and a German translation in 1964 was a lone post-war translation until a new Swedish version, now entitled Flickaifara, translated by Birgitta Hammar, was published by Bonniers in 1979.  In 1994, yet another Italian, Rosetta Palazzi appeared on the scene, producing ‘Una demigella in pericolo’ for Mursia.  Apart from a Russian translation in 2002 and one in Hungarian in 2010, it does, now, seem that that particular well has run dry.  (The original novel in English has, of course, been included in the 99-volume Collectors’ Wodehouse series published by Everyman between 2000 and 2015, and appeared in 2003.)

But using the novel as a basis for theatrical productions did not cease.  Apart from further presentations of the 1928 Hay-Wodehouse play, there have been a number of new musical adaptations, using the outline of the novel’s story and a selection of George-and-Ira Gershwin songs, not all used in the 1937 film.  The first of significance was probably A Foggy Day, presented at the Shaw Festival, at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada in 1998, and this proved so successful that itwas reprised at the equivalent festival the following year.

In 2015 the Chichester Festival in England featured the première of another new musical version, although this time the title A Damsel in Distress was retained.  About half the lyrics which were included had been in the 1937 film, but all the lyrics in the show were composed by the Gershwin brothers.In the original story, the principal setting for the story had been called Belpher, a town on the south coast which had suffered badly from a scandal of the contaminated local oysters.  Local residents attending the 2015 production would have recognised that had been a thinly veiled reference to Emsworth, just along the coast from Chichester, where Wodehouse had lived for many years, and which had given its name to his famous fictional Earl.  In the film of the Damsel and in this production, however, the setting was renamed Totleigh – another fictional place with Wodehousean connotations, best known as the Gloucestershire home of Sir Watkyn Bassett.

And that completes the review of a century of A Damsel in Distress, probably the most widely adapted Wodehouse story in existence.  How apt that its centenary was celebrated by yet another theatrical performance.


This article had first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Jeeves, the annual journal of The Wodehouse Society in Sweden (WSS).

About the Author

It would be well nigh impossible to find a P. G. Wodehouse enthusiast who has not heard of Tony Ring. His name pops up often and in a surprising variety of places: from journal articles and forewords of new editions, to theatre programmes. Tony’s books on Wodehouse’s life and work adorn the book shelves of many of us, and his sparkling presence has enlivened Wodehouse society events around the world. It is an honour and a privilege to host his article on this website.  

Few other posts which mention A Damsel in Distress

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Naval aviator and NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell believed that there is a spectrum of consciousness available to all human beings. At one end of the spectrum is what one may refer to as material consciousness. At another end one may experience what could be referred to as ‘field’ consciousness, where a person becomes one with the universe, perceiving the universe. When he was out in space and looked at our beautiful planet, Mitchell said that he felt having attained a state of field consciousness.

Different Hues of Consciousness

Identifying different hues of consciousness is akin to the case of seven blind men trying to describe an elephant. People have different perspectives.Many of us use our brains to explain what we understand it to be. Many others use our hearts to do so. But the concept of consciousness is rather profound. It is beyond the sensory limitations of the human mind, which has an uncanny ability to divide and analyze things. So, when Mitchell spoke of field consciousness, he was possibly referring to the part of the consciousness spectrum which is beyond human imagination.

Spiritual masters tell us that consciousness is the breeding ground of all things, the source of creation. Thus, whatever we see on the material plane – all species and each one of us – possesses consciousness. Our individual consciousness is embedded in this universal consciousness. In the interim stages, we have collective/group consciousness. All of these could be different but lead eventually to the universal/field consciousness.

On the mortal plane, for those who are aware of their inner reality, a shift from one to another kind of consciousness becomes possible. As per the Shamanic tradition, this would be like shifting the Assembly Point.

How Travel Becomes an Uplifting Experience 

Many decades back, as a kid, I had the privilege of seeing – from a distance, of course – Yuri Gagarin, a former military pilot and the first human being to have travelled to outer space. When he looked at Planet Earth from inside his Vostok 1 capsule in 1961, he expressed his feelings thus:

“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it”.

When one looks at our planet from outer space, geographical and man-made boundaries disappear. Fault lines arising out of religious beliefs, caste, creed and nationality vanish. Conflicts look petty manifestations of the inflated egos of our leaders. Wars sound meaningless and a waste of precious resources. One ends up seeing the bigger picture. A composite whole becomes the reality.   

Not many of us get to travel to outer space. However, even at the mundane level of our lives, our experience is not different. Once we shift our Assembly Point, so to say, or change our frame of reference of viewing things, people, objects and incidents, we experience the exhilaration of a fresh perspective on the situation at hand. By distancing ourselves from our immediate surroundings, we allow the windows of our minds to open up to newer possibilities and ideas. Our problem solving abilities improve.

Take the case of what happens when we travel. The worries of prior preparations melt away. The concerns at the point of destination take some time to pop up. In this brief interval of time, we often gain a fresh perspective. We get charged up. Likely solutions emerge to intricate problems which sounded insurmountable till yesterday. Hope dawns. We walk into the sunset with our heads held high and our vision clearer.

Three Catalysts of Universal Consciousness

Switching over from one kind of consciousness to another one is not easy. Nor is the inner journey from material consciousness to universal consciousness. Three catalysts, which can help us to achieve this universal consciousness, are: Awareness, Care and Intent.

If simple awareness is the starting point on the spiritual path, attaining a deeper level of awareness brings us face to face with our true selves. The more we care for our environment and our society, the better human beings we become. If our intentions are as pure as fresh snow, driven by a compass of benign values, the actions we take and the resultant results we get are more likely to enrich the cosmos at large.

Enlightened leaders who strive for a higher purpose in life are indeed the conscious ones whom we could all look up to.

(Inputs from Dominique Conterno and Esther Robles, co-founders of Consciousness Enterprises Network (https://www.consciousenterprises.net) are gratefully acknowledged).

(A version of this article also features on the website of Conscious Enterprises Network: https://consciousenterprisenetwork.blogspot.com/2022/05/the-cosmos-and-consciousness-by-ashok.html)

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When the Wooer is a Persistent Superman

George Emerson is a persistent wooer. He is genuinely concerned about Aline getting thinner and paler since her arrival at the Castle, for which he holds her father responsible. The diet of the father of the wooed is his own problem, but for his daughter to support him by declining baked meats and restrict herself to some miserable vegetable dishes, is, he thinks, his problem. That is how he painstakingly assembles the tray which he intends to deliver at her doorstep late in the night. Unfortunately, laws of nature ensure that he collides with Ashe Marson on the staircase, rendering his efforts null and void, what with the cold tongue and its adjuncts getting strewn about the hall.

It never occurs to him that he is often offensively patronizing towards Aline. Supermen are made of a stern stuff of this kind.

By the…

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A Singular Absence of Morality

Once the Cheops of the Fourth Dynasty goes missing and the needle of suspicion points to a forgetful Lord Emsworth, Mr Peters veers around to the view that:

‘There’s no morality among collectors, none.’

Rupert Baxter, having served collectors in a secretarial capacity earlier in his career, also knows that collectors who would not steal a loaf of bread even if they are starving do fall before the temptation of a coveted curio.

A Female Who Aims to Break the Glass Ceiling

The feisty heroine of Something Fresh could well be a role model for the younger females who have to bear with prying eyes, eve teasing and inappropriate advances in all spheres of life. This is how Plum describes her at one stage:

Her eyes were eyes that looked straight and challenged. They could thaw to the satin blue of the Mediterranean Sea, where…

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When it comes to the oeuvre of P G Wodehouse, Stephen Fry says that ‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.’

With due respects to him, yours truly would beg to differ. As someone who suffers from the 3rd and final stage of a pleasurable affliction alluded to as Wodehousitis, I cannot but analyse the sunlit perfection of his narratives. In a world full of hatred and conflicts, one survives on the metaphorical juice of the oranges of his whodunits. Unless one analyses, one does not extract the maximum possible juice out of these luscious oranges. My Guardian Angels have conspired thus, and I just cannot help myself.

Allow me, therefore, to capture here some of the life-enriching lessons which dot the vide canvas of one of his works, Something Fresh – tips on well being, riding the socio-economic divide, the spirit…

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