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Posts Tagged ‘Gods’

What ho!

To the best of my knowledge and belief, P. G. Wodehouse never set foot on Indian soil. But he has often alluded to its exotic temples, its wildlife, its royalty, its fakirs and mystics with magical powers, and even its love lyrics. Many times he has vividly captured facets of my beautiful country, serving up a delectable curry spiced with uniquely Indian condiments.

In this essay, the reader will find a random sample of references to India in Wodehouse’s novels and short stories. Such references are found across all his narratives, whether he is writing a Jeeves and Bertie story, a tale of Blandings, or a stand-alone novel.

Plum’s Indian Connection

Plum’s elder brother, Ernest Armine Wodehouse, was an English Theosophist, poet and educator. He is better known as the tutor of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the famous Indian author and lecturer on spiritual and philosophical subjects. He was admitted to the Theosophical Society at Poona (now Pune) in 1908. Before the First World War, he held a position as professor at Deccan College in Poona, India. After the war he returned to India. One can understand the source of Plum’s inspiration when he named one of his pet cats as Poona.

One of the important landmarks on Wodehouse Road in the Indian city of Mumbai is the Cathedral of the Holy Name. The seat of the Archdiocese of Mumbai, the cathedral is one of the most striking churches of the city. Its foundation stone was laid in 1902. It had then come to be known as the Wodehouse Church since it stands on Wodehouse Road, named after Sir Philip Edmond Wodehouse who was Governor of the city from 1872 to 1877. He was a distant relative of Plum’s. Sometime back, the road was renamed Nathalal Parekh Marg.

Few writers have Plum’s mesmerizing command over English. He uses it in an innovative manner, leaving the reader stepped to the gills with an overdose of Vitamin H(umour). It comes as no surprise that English-speaking Indians who are aware of his works simply adore him.

One of the unique features of India is its linguistic diversity. By default, English is the sole means of communication between different people from across the country. It acts as a bridge between large chunks of its 1.4 billion people who otherwise speak as many as 447 languages. Of these, 22 happen to be scheduled ones, deserving official recognition and support. Six languages – Kannada, Malayalam, Odiya, Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu – are recognized as classical ones. English being a prominent link between people, Plum’s popularity in India is readily understandable.

But we digress. We are here to consider the kind of ingredients Plum uses while dishing out an Indian curry.

Some Indian fans of P G Wodehouse who have a chin-up attitude like that of Bertie Wooster and also a hearty capacity to laugh at themselves may appreciate the kind of India-centric similes Wodehouse uses at times to depict the behaviour of his characters.

In reading what follows, it may be advisable for a reader to imagine herself taking a leisurely stroll through either the Shalimar or the tulip gardens of Kashmir, or the Mughal Gardens in New Delhi, relishing the enchanting aroma of each section at a time.

The Indian Curry

Idols, Temples and Priests

Religious fervour is one of the main strands in the socio-cultural tapestry of India. One of its many unique features is its vast pantheon of gods and goddesses, its handcrafted and bejewelled idols, its magnificent temples and its overzealous priests.

  • In Ring for Jeeves, Rory speaks to Monica of a story published in The Strand Magazine in which a gang of blighters pops over to India and pinches a great jewel which is the eye of an idol. When one of the gang is deprived of his share in the booty, he seeks revenge by tracking down all the others and wiping them out. Rory is of the opinion that Captain Biggar is likewise casting a vengeful eye on Bill, as if the latter had denied the former his share of the proceeds of the green eye of the little yellow god in the temple of Vishnu. 
  • The feisty heroine of Something Fresh, Joan Valentine, acts as a muse for Ashe Marson when he suffers from a temporary writer’s block. She suggests that ‘The Adventure of the Wand of Death’ can only be about the sacred ebony stick stolen from an Indian temple which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. Priests dog this person and send him threatening messages. Yet another episode of the adventures of Gridley Quayle, Investigator, gets dished out by Ashe.
  • Mr. Chinnery of Summer Moonshine is said to be an enormously rich person in spite of the incessant demands placed on his income by a platoon of ex-wives to whom he has to keep paying alimonies. Notices keep getting served on him in that respect. He suspects Mr. Bulpitt to be following him to serve yet another notice and shares his discomfiture with Sir Buckstone. He describes his latest encounter with Mr. Bulpitt as that of someone who steals the jewel and thinks he has hid himself rather well, only to look over his shoulder to find some sinister Indian priests around the corner. (Continued)

Notes:

The inspiration for this essay comes from the scholarly work done by Ms. Masha Lebedeva, who had earlier whipped up a research paper entitled The Russian Salad by P. G. Wodehouse.

The author expresses his sincere gratitude to an eminent expert on Plummy matters for having spared the time to go through a part of this composition and provide insightful suggestions. Some fans of P. G. Wodehouse have also suggested improvements in its contents.

Thanks are also due to Mr. Suvarna Sanyal for dishing out the main illustration; also, to Ms. Sneha Shoney, who has edited the text.

Those of you who wish to cruise through this essay in its entirety may kindly write to akb_usha@rediffmail.com for a PDF version of the complete document to be mailed to them.

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