Posts Tagged ‘Humour’


Whether in literature or in fine arts, we relate to characters when we find an inner connection. There could either be a similarity in personality traits, or in the challenges faced. When this happens, we laugh with the person. We cry with the person. We willingly suspend our own beliefs and virtually start living the life of the character.

As a member of the tribe of the so-called sterner sex, I confess I have shades of quite a few characters etched out by P G Wodehouse. These could be males, or even females.

Amongst males, when it comes to notions of chivalry and a chin up attitude towards the harsh slings and arrows of Fate, Bertie Wooster becomes my role model. When the summons arrive from someone higher up in the hierarchy, and the prospects of a severe dressing down cloud the horizon, I meekly surrender and follow the messenger…

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Never did Bertie imagine seeing such a mess in his life,

Eagerly waiting for Drones to reopen so loneliness gets over;

Target practicing with darts is a skill which is getting rusted,

Bingo Little has time to sit together but cannot come over.


Back-slapping, hugging and shaking hands is a strict no-no,

Chatting over phone alone sounds a safer proposition;

Telegraph services to-and-fro nephews no longer work,

Aunts use video calls, trying to change their matrimonial disposition.


Roads are virtually free but a drive to Brighton is ruled out,

Peggy receives from Miss Tomlinson online grace;

Kid Clementina is missing the fun of putting sherbet in ink pots,

Prudence Baxter awaits her next egg and spoon race.


Aunt Dahlia is unable to invite nephews and nieces for meals,

Though Anatole is ready and willing to offer many a lavish spread;

Uncle Tom is delighted at Milady’s…

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It was probably early 1974 when I got called for State Bank of India’s (SBI) Probationary Officer’s interview. Because I sort of botched up my M.Sc. exams my plan of graduate studies in the U.S was not looking likely. I had been teaching in colleges for a couple of years. Meanwhile, two of my M.Sc. classmates who were also trying to go abroad and were actually quite brilliant academically, started appearing for bank tests as a backup. So I thought, “What the heck, if these guys are applying I might as well too” (These friends actually ended up as Professors at American universities!)

I did get called for interviews a few times. But I went for these interviews with zero preparation. I really had no idea then how banks worked and what the job entailed. Those days there were no coaching centres and such luxuries. Even if there were, I…

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Those of you who watch the career achievements of the Empress of Blandings with keen interest may already be aware that the silver medal in the Fat Pigs class at the one-hundred-and-seventy-fifth annual Shropshire Agricultural Show held in 2023 has been won by the Earl of Emsworth’s black Berkshire sow.

Very few people, however, are aware how near that fine specimen of the porcine species came to missing the coveted honour.

Now it can be told.

This brief chapter of Secret History may be said to have begun on the night of the 6th of February, when news trickled in that the Animal Welfare Board of India (an advisory body under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying), in its infinite wisdom, had issued a diktat exhorting all the lovers of ‘Gau-mata’ (cow mother) to celebrate the upcoming Valentine’s Day as ‘Cow Hug Day’. It extolled the many virtues of this much-revered animal, describing it as the backbone of Indian culture and even claimed that hugging with cow will bring emotional richness to the hugger, thereby making their life happy and full of positive energy.

As luck would have it, starting on the 13th of February, Lord Emsworth was away to the metropolis for a trip which was supposed to last three days. He hated being in London, but when one has to be a worthy descendant of one’s ancestors and duty calls, one has to take the rough with the smooth.  

While he was away, the Efficient Baxter hatched a juicy scheme in connivance with Lady Constance Keeble. An ingenious plan to boost the revenues of the Castle was unleashed. Learning from the unique initiative of the Government of India, a promotional poster went around on the social media announcing that, for a nominal charge, a person could walk into the Castle and hug the Empress on Valentine’s Day. As an exception, on the day, visitors were permitted to pose for a selfie with the regal animal. Of course, flash photography was not permitted, lest the Empress lose her sense of equanimity and sang froid.

Given the sound reputation of the Empress in the nearby counties, a good many people landed up on the day, and went back with big smiles on their faces, having just clicked a selfie of their having hugged the famous personality. Some even purchased different kinds of mementos, duly cast in ceramic and papier mâché, which were put up on sale on the occasion, depicting the Empress of Blandings in different poses. Special balloons shaped like her were eagerly lapped up by parents who were relentlessly pestered by their obdurate kids.    

At the end of the day, Lady Constance Keeble was delighted when The Efficient Baxter reported back on the magnitude of collections made. She was chuffed that she could not only manage to pay the exorbitant power charges for an entire year of operations at the Castle, but also execute the much-delayed plans for repairs and upgradation of facilities for all its guests, visitors, and impostors.

On the 15th of February, Empress of Blandings, always a hearty and even a boisterous feeder, for the second time on record, declined all nourishment.

On the 16th of February, George Cyril Wellbeloved, the pigman in the employ of Lord Emsworth, sent a telegram to Lord Emsworth which caused many at the local post office to raise their eyebrows by at least a quarter of an inch. The communication read thus:

Empress refuses feeding. Urgent. Need doctor immediately.

Lord Emsworth made an urgent call to the veterinary surgeon, cut short his visit to London, and rushed back to the Castle.

And on the morning of the 17th of February, the doctor called in to diagnose and deal with this strange asceticism, was compelled to confess to Lord Emsworth that the thing was beyond his professional skill.

To recapitulate the events so far:

February 6 – ‘Cow Hug Day’ notification gets issued in India.

February 7 – The Efficient Baxter comes up with a revenue-generation model by declaring the upcoming Valentine’s Day as the ‘Empress Hug Day’.

February 8 – Lady Constance Keeble, anxious about the finances at the Castle, approves the plan.

February 9 – Unbeknown to Lord Emsworth, a poster promoting the gala event gets released on social media.

February 10 – The Animal Welfare Board of India issues a terse notification declaring that its appeal for celebration of Cow Hug Day on 14th February stands withdrawn. Rupert Baxter promptly reports this to Lady Constance Keeble. Nevertheless, both decide to go ahead with their plans.

February 13 – Lord Emsworth leaves for the metropolis.

February 14 – ‘Empress Hug Day’ gets celebrated.

February 15 – Empress lays off the vitamins.

February 16 – Veterinary surgeon gets summoned.

February 17 – Veterinary surgeon baffled.


The effect of the veterinary surgeon’s announcement on Lord Emsworth was overwhelming. As a rule, the wear and tear of our complex modern life left this vague and amiable peer unscathed. So long as he had sunshine, regular meals, and complete freedom from the society of his younger son Frederick, he was placidly happy. But there were chinks in his armour, and one of these had been pierced this morning. Dazed by the news he had received, he stood at the window of the great library of Blandings Castle, looking out with unseeing eyes.

As he stood there, the door opened. Lord Emsworth turned, and having blinked once or twice, as was his habit when confronted suddenly with anything, recognized in the handsome and imperious-looking woman who had entered – his sister, Lady Constance Keeble. Her demeanour, unlike his own, betrayed the inner sense of gratification she was experiencing, having made a substantial contribution to the Castle’s coffers.

‘Clarence,’ she chipped in, ‘have you heard the good news?’

Lord Emsworth looked at her doubtfully.

‘What could be good these days? That man is an ass.’

As frequently happened to her when in conversation with her brother, Lady Constance experienced a swimming sensation in the head.

‘Will you kindly tell me, Clarence, in a few simple words, what you imagine we are talking about?’

‘I am talking about Smithers. Empress of Blandings is refusing her food, and Smithers says he can’t do anything about it. And he calls himself a vet!’

‘Then you haven’t heard? Clarence, Baxter, and I have managed to make a hefty collection on this Valentine’s Day. You no longer need to worry about our backlog of power bills and the critical repairs you were dreaming of carrying out at the Castle. Are you not happy?!’

‘And the Agricultural Show is already upon us!’

‘What on earth has that got to do with it?’ demanded Lady Constance, feeling a recurrence of the swimming sensation.

‘What has it got to do with it?’ said Lord Emsworth warmly. ‘My champion sow, with less than ten days to prepare herself for a most searching examination in competition with all the finest pigs in the county, starts refusing her food—’

‘Will you stop fussing over your insufferable pig and give your attention to something that really matters? I am trying to tell you that we have made a big pile of money while you were off to London to take care of some legal work.’

There was a silence. Brother and sister remained for a space plunged in thought. Lord Emsworth was the first to speak.

‘We’ve tried acorns,’ he said. ‘We’ve tried skim milk. And we have tried potato-peel. But, no, she will not touch them.’

Conscious of two eyes raising blisters on his sensitive skin, he came to himself with a start.

‘Pile of money, you say? How?’

Lady Constance spilled the beans. As she went on spilling the beans, the colour of her brother’s face started changing from a dull pink to a dark shade of red. His physical frame shuddered. His eyes, normally dull, looked like something out of an oxyacetylene blowpipe. As far as he was capable of being disturbed by anything that was not his younger son Frederick, he was disturbed. Somehow controlling his rage, he enquired.

‘Where is Rupert Baxter?’

‘He has gone off to the bank to deposit the amount we collected.’

‘I would surely like a word with him the moment he is back. If he thinks he can go about the place playing fast and loose with the Empress, exposing her to the trauma of getting hugged by all and sundry, and leading her to a mental state where she would refuse her daily quota of fifty-seven thousand and eight hundred calories, he is sorely mistaken. Absurd! Ridiculous! Did he think of seeking her consent before exposing her to such a preposterous arrangement?’


Lord Emsworth blinked. Something appeared to be wrong, but he was convinced that he had struck just the right note – strong, forceful, dignified.


‘We had only worked for the overall good of the Castle.’

Lord Emsworth reflected.

‘But we have to take a strong line,’ he said firmly. ‘When it comes to her, I stand no nonsense. We have no right to deprive the Empress of her right to privacy. I am now going to the pigsty to see how to go about soothing her frayed nerves.’

There is no doubt that, given time, Lady Constance would have found and uttered some adequately corrosive comment on this imbecile suggestion; but even as she was swelling preparatory to giving tongue, Lord Emsworth looked wistfully at the door.

It was smoothly done. A twist of the handle, and he was where harmony prevailed. Galloping down the stairs, he charged out into the sunshine and rushed to the Empress’ abode. Each step that took him nearer to the sty where the ailing Empress resided seemed a heavier step than the last. He reached the sty, and, draping himself over the rails, peered moodily at the vast expanse of the pig within.

The imperial residence of the Empress of Blandings looked very snug and attractive in the mild sunlight. But beneath even the beautiful things of life there is always an underlying sadness. This was supplied in the present instance by a long, low trough, plainly full to the brim of succulent mash and acorns. The fast, obviously, was still in progress.

Not surprisingly, he found George Cyril Wellbeloved on duty there, wistfully viewing the untouched trough.   

‘What does she convey, George?’

‘Sir, I have an impression that it is a matter of time before Reason returns to its throne.’

‘But time is what we do not have’, pointed out Lord Emsworth gloomily.

‘From what I could gather from her grunts and oinks, and also from her body language, she is quite upset at being exposed to so many hugs on a single day. However, she is also happy that she could spread some sweetness and light in the lives of the common public reeling under the impact of unemployment, inflation and the harsher slings and arrows of Fate which are the lot of the lower and the middle classes. She feels that by permitting people to hug her, she has contributed towards bringing about societal change and motivated many to choose the path of universal peace and harmony on a day which celebrates love.’

‘What a fine soul she has!’, quipped Lord Emsworth. ‘I wonder if she has caught the Indian craze of females of all kinds inwardly aspiring to attain what is euphemistically alluded to as Size Zero. But she has never entertained such ambitions. Those who keep a track of her dietary habits already know that she is a hearty and boisterous feeder. You know very well that she lives to feed, thus fulfilling her innate desire to drink deep from the fountain called Life. She has never cared about looking like a balloon with two ears and a tail. She lives a blissful life without bothering about her Size Infinity looks. I daresay all this hugging business has left her totally shaken and stirred, right from her snout to her tail.’

‘Indeed, sir.’

‘It fails me as to how you permitted her getting exposed to such a traumatic experience.’

‘Lady Keeble instructed me to give the Empress a nice bath for the occasion, sir. Mr. Baxter asked me to make a temporary enclosure for people who came over and waited for a long time to do the honours. I merely followed my orders, sir.’

Lord Emsworth drew himself up and adjusted his pince-nez. He felt filled with a cool masterfulness. He felt strongly tempted to fire the pig man. But an inner voice reminded him of the impending competition due to take place in a few days. He also recalled his having had to eat humble pie in respect of Angus McAllister when a favourite pumpkin had to win a prize.

‘Orders, eh, what, what, what? How many times do I have to remind you that when it comes to the Empress’ welfare, you take orders only from me. No one else, and I repeat no one else, is permitted to do so. If you do not see eye to eye with me in this matter, Cyril, say so and we will discuss what you are going to do about it. I value your services highly, Cyril, but I will not be dictated to in my own Castle in any matter, especially anything pertaining to the Empress. Do I make myself clear?’

George Cyril Wellbeloved stood aghast. He thought he had done an outstanding job by following his instructions. He knew the unpredictable temper of Lord Emsworth and wondered if he was about to get sacked. He disliked the idea very much. Blandings Castle was in his bones. Elsewhere, he would feel as if he were in exile.

‘Indeed, sir’, said the pig man sheepishly.

‘You know you have a way of saying, “Indeed, sir,” which gives the impression that it’s only your feudal sense which prevents you from substituting the words, “Says you!”’

‘Is that so, sir?’

‘But how are going to get her to start feeding again? Being an expert at pig rearing, surely you can resolve this issue without further delay? We run the serious risk of her losing out on a medal at the upcoming Shropshire Agricultural Show and instead being relegated to the mean obscurity of merely an ‘Honourably Mentioned.’

‘Sir, I have a suggestion for you to consider. You may remember the time when I was arrested by police constable Evans of Market Blandings for being drunk and disorderly at the Goat and Feathers. I was then jugged for fourteen days without the option of a fine.’

‘What has that got to do with this?’, Lord Emsworth enquired, blinking his eyes. The agony of having to rejig his memory cells showed on his face.

‘But you had then managed to persuade the Empress to approach the trough?’, he said, brightening up a wee bit.

“Oh, is it?” said Lord Emsworth, and paused awhile in thought. He had a vague recollection that someone had once told him to do something – what, he could not at the moment recall – about someone of that name.

Beach was duly summoned to resolve the mystery. He reminded his employer rather frigidly that his previous attempts at pig-calling in his company, duly aided by Angela, had failed to deliver the goods. He went on to point out that what had eventually brought home the bacon then was a pig-call made by James Belford.

The expression on Lord Emsworth’s face was that of a drowning man who sees a lifeline. He fumbled in his trouser pockets and, duly aided and abetted by Beach, could locate his smart phone. He lost no time in getting James on the line. Once the preliminary greetings had been exchanged, the challenge was brought to James’ notice.

‘Most people don’t know it, but I had it straight from the lips of Fred Patzel, the hog-calling champion of the Western States. It is a traditional call which all pigs instantly recognize and respond to. Can I get to speak to your pig-man on the line? I shall explain it to him.’

‘Splendid idea,’ said a cheered-up Lord Emsworth, handing over the instrument to Cyril Wellbeloved.

After a brief exchange, Cyril repeated what he was told.   


‘Nothing like it,’ James said. ‘You want to begin the “Hoo” in a low minor of two quarter notes in four-four time. From this build gradually to a higher note, until at last the voice is soaring in full crescendo, reaching F sharp on the natural scale, and dwelling for two retarded half-notes, then breaking into a shower of accidental grace-notes.’

Cyril went on practising the same till the time James approved of the outcome. The call was terminated, with Lord Emsworth offering profuse thanks to James and even inviting him and Angela to visit the Castle sometime soon.

The moment of reckoning had finally arrived.

Resting his hands on the rail before him, Cyril swelled before their eyes like a young balloon. The muscles on his cheekbones stood out, his forehead became corrugated, his ears seemed to shimmer. Then, at the very height of the tension, he let it go, as advised.


Slowly, fading off across hill and dale, the vast bellow died away. And suddenly, as it died, another, softer sound succeeded it. A sort of gulpy, gurgly, plobby, squishy, wofflesome sound, like a thousand eager men drinking soup in a foreign restaurant. And, as he heard it, Lord Emsworth uttered a cry of rapture.

The Empress was feeding.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Regrettably, both the unique ideas – whether that of a ‘Cow Hug Day’ or of a ‘Pig Hug Day’ – now remain consigned to a dustbin. Perhaps the ideas were a little ahead of their times. Were these to ever get revived, Valentine’s Days in future would witness disgruntled denizens experiencing a surge of positive energy and an inner glow of joy and satisfaction. Physical contact with a member of another species could work wonders for the psychology of an individual. Such initiatives would surely enthuse people to choose a more peaceable and wholesome approach to life, while keeping them away from such inane acts of mischief as aggression against some movies, coffee shops, fashionable retail outlets and even shops selling potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers.


  1. Based on the story of the same name by P. G. Wodehouse.
  2. Also, inspired by https://thewire.in/humour/cow-hug-day-cancelled
  3. Illustration of the Empress courtesy Shiva Kumar.

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Most authors happen to be sensitive souls. The kind of cruelty they get subjected to in their routine lives makes one wonder as to how they keep dishing out juicy narratives day after day, despite facing mighty challenges.

For those who specialize in spinning fictional yarns, the basic challenge is that of cranking up a plot and etching out characters which fit into the overall scheme of things. For those who dish out a non-fiction piece of work, the challenge is that of coming up with a novel subject which would provide some satisfaction to their target audience.

Cruelty in the Creative Phase

When their creative juices are in full flow, distractions abound. Social commitments often impede the pace of work. Spouses pop up with some mundane queries just when the proceedings happen to be perking up. Maid servants and postmen come in just at the time when the heroine…

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This young lad, aged about 20 years, was one of those who Mother Nature appeared to have wholly overlooked, while distributing her largesse, to each human.

What he lacked in looks, he also lacked in intelligence. It took more than a decade of his going to school for the family to finally accept that this lad was never going to acquire an education, of even a rudimentary level. One has to look for positives in everyone, but in this case, the only positives discernible were that he had an excellent appetite/digestion, and could fall asleep with utmost ease, at any time of the day. Also, his near genius at picking quarrels with anyone and everyone coming his way. The positive here was that he’d lose out every time, at every fight.

As the years rolled by, his unsavoury looks only worsened, while his intelligence continued to be low. The family were frankly worried, about his future; attempts to inculcate some money earning skills always failed.

Asked to graze a herd of cattle, a simple enough task, he led them into a patch of land under cultivation, which the hungry cattle decimated in a matter of minutes. Asked to distribute milk to different households, almost immediately the milk cans were overturned, and the entire supply spilled. Asked to collect and dispose garbage, he just rearranged them, along the route, adding to it some more of his own. Asked to help out at the village grocery stall, somehow, he managed to set off a fire within two hours, burning it to the ground. In short, in whatever he handled, Murphy’s Law prevailed. He excelled at speedily discovering and promptly implementing ways in which any task assigned to him could be messed up, without fail.

The family elders held a council, to discuss the available options, and the future course for this lad. The discussions were long and heated, as every suggestion bore within itself the seeds of failure. The lad himself just dozed during these discussions, waking up from time to time to only to replenish his stock of peanuts which he loved chewing even while half asleep.

Suddenly, a cousin, of his age, hit upon a brainwave. Since this fellow is thoroughly useless, and will never change for the better, he said, why not launch him into the world as a spiritual leader, as a Baba? The earnings could be good, he argued, and, with reasonable luck, sustain him practically for the rest of his life. This cousin also volunteered to help with the launch of the career of the lad as a Baba. He offered himself to deputise, at least in the initial stages, as a co-worker, as a deputy Baba. In fact, this cousin was eager to help with this family problem.

The suggestion was eagerly seconded by a distant female relative, of the same age. She was a female in a purely medical sense. Her emaciated appearance, her hollowed out cheeks and her general demeanour generally caused doubts about her gender itself. Whereas females had convex curves, hers were all of the concave kind. It was only her high shrill voice that convinced people that she was indeed a female. She even agreed, in fact, volunteered, to marry him, to help his image as a Baba.

The default option, of turning him into a Baba, was agreed to, and the initiation process began. In the confusion, his marriage, to that almost-female also went through. The location where the Baba would hold his sessions was no problem. One such site was available quite nearby, under a tree. This was, earlier, in fact, a place from which another Baba was operating, with a fair degree of success.

However, that Baba was manhandled severely, and chased away, when he made some improper suggestions, to the village headman’s wife, during one of his sermon sessions. At the close of that chase, he was last seen splashing across an irrigation canal and limping away at a high speed. He was assured of an   instant assassination if he ever showed his face again within a fifty-kilometre radius. Thus, this vacated space, with some scope for an existing client base, was now available.

But, a Baba has to speak, to deliver sermons, and he has to speak convincingly, even if the audience comprises mainly of half-witted women. The deputy Baba came up with a solution here. This Baba would interact only with his Deputy, and the audience also could interact only with the Deputy Baba. The Baba himself would maintain a total silence, and therein lay the secret of his greatness – that would be the message spread across the land; everything he said would be a secret, to be divulged only through his Deputy. For a good measure, he was also conferred the title of Rahasya Baba (The Mystery Baba).

Rahasya Baba became an instant hit. The dull glazed expression on his face suggested a deep contemplation of the infinite, of a world and wisdom concealed from the rest of humanity. Armed with an ash covered body, with liberal daubs of saffron and the various large beaded rudraksha chains effectively hiding his scrawny neck, he made a distinct impression on the beholder. The women disciples, especially the half-witted ones, swayed and swooned in ecstasy. The few men disciples came to feast their eyes on the Baba’s consort, that emaciated female seated next to him, about two paces behind him; the men were not sure of what exactly that figure was and were intrigued at that apparition.

The Deputy Baba also was a busy man. He was constantly on the move, conveying messages back and forth, to and from the Baba. Tiring work, this, as well as thinking up clever responses to silly questions. This called for inventive/imagination skills of a high order. But, the pickings, the recompense was good, and kept growing. His earlier job, as a bicycle repair mechanic in a distant town, was good, but nowhere near as good as this.

But, all too often, the offerings were in kind, and, some of these  were outright painful. An offering of pictures of deities, clearly cut from some calendar, and pasted on to a piece of cardboard, was so annoying that the Deputy Baba was sorely tempted to fling it back on to the face of the offering female. However, he contended himself by merely folding his hands in prayer and handing it back. He was reluctant to initiate anything suggestive of violence, considering that he was always the closest to the audience. But, at times, there was a bonanza as well. On occasions, some devotee would hand over a bottle of country arrack, and a pack of beedis. The Deputy Baba had problems only when sharing the same, later, with the Rahasya Baba and his wife, who insisted on even shares.

Talking of shares, the Deputy Baba wanted a review of the arrangements, whereby the offerings were shared on a basis of a mere 25% to him, and the rest to Rahasya Baba, and his wife. After a rather acrimonious session, with most of the shouting done by the wife, his share was hiked to 33%. He could not quietly pocket any of the offerings, as the wife kept her hawk-like vision firmly on him, throughout the collections process.

During this phase, Rahasya Baba and his wife also were now enjoying life much more. Their humble household had undergone a drastic improvement. In the pre-Baba days, a balanced meal was one in which the meagre revenues were balanced with the meagre fare on the table. But, now, the balanced meal took on a more conventional definition – that of three square meals a day, with regular non-veg items, pure desi ghee, sweets etc.

The wife was now blooming, flourishing as never before. The emaciated appearance was a thing of the past. The cheeks were now chubby, and the concavity of her curves had got replaced with convexity, reminding males with their lecherous looks of the scenic and curvaceous track of a mountain train. Now she walked with an almost seductive swing of the hips. Her gait no longer reminded one of a mud-crab scuttling for cover. Her vastly improved appearances did attract the attention of the Deputy Baba, but she kept him at a distance. She was smart enough to know that a dumb husband is always preferable to a smart lover.

Rahasya Baba’s fame spread far and wide. His client base now included devotees from far away towns, and even some international visitors. The fair-skinned goras/goris couldn’t quite pronounce Rahasya, so, it got anglicized to Rex. It was Rex baba who they came to offer obeisance and homage to. So, the name Rex Raba became the official name.

Rex Baba (under the guidance of his Deputy, of course) now held court at different venues. Franchise arrangements were set up in different areas, and his wife also acquired an audience. She was now known, as Rex Babette. Everything went on like clockwork.

Until, one sad day, the police arrived, to ensure crowd control. One of them recognized the Deputy Baba as the very same bicycle mechanic who had stolen a bicycle from the police station when it was given for some repair work. His immediate arrest, and subsequent incarceration meant that no more guidance, no more profound secret sharing between the Baba and his devotees.

This is how the story of Rex baba ended. Incredibly sad, indeed. However, soon enough, there is bound to come along some other Baba, to provide mental solace and comfort, so the devotees could cope with the sadness, deprivation, and such other mundane challenges of life.

Be patient, friends.

(The author is a retired banker. Decades of handling of the fragile egos of his bosses, studying and acting upon the psychology of his colleagues, and mentoring irate juniors, has failed to kill his creative grey cells. His thoughts are based on contemporary reality and are duly seasoned with ready wit, wisdom, humour, and satire. He unleashes these upon his unsuspecting public through his Facebook wall. He happens to be an ardent fan of P G Wodehouse.

His permission to post this piece here is gratefully acknowledged.)

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(The final resting place of Plum at Southampton, New York, USA)

Dear Plum Sir,

I wonder if you happen to realize the kind of life your fans like me live. I can assure you it is not an easy one.

Serving Life Imprisonment at a Plummy Sing Sing

Often, I feel as if I am an inmate at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, surrounded by high walls of delectable humour, on top of which I can see barbed wire fencing of your ready wit and sarcasm. I find it impossible to escape from this high-security prison. You may know that one of your fans (Ashok Kumar Bhatia) has even gone ahead to describe this kind of entrapment as the 3rd and final stage of what he alludes to as ‘Wodehousitis’.

I confess it is a sentence which has not been dished out by a stern-looking beak. No fines have been imposed by anyone. Nor is it an imprisonment which comes without an option. It is purely voluntary. The only crime I have committed is that of pinching one of your books from the shelf of one of my maternal uncles or one of my friends, that too at a tender age. Ideally, it would have attracted a punishment merely under the law which covers juveniles. Surely, not the harsh kind which I have to live through as long as I am alive and kicking.

Early in the morning, there is a roll call which involves all of us presenting the summary of any story of yours, or a quotation therefrom, which we might have come across on the previous day. Ashe Marson then comes in, making us do Larsen exercises, mercilessly ensuring that we jog at least two kilometres within the jail compound, before being commanded to have cold baths. A frugal breakfast designed by Laura Pyke follows. In fact, the two other meals of the day follow the same philosophy – of comprising dishes which are rich in fat soluble vitamins, but which promptly turn to ashes in the mouth.

Twice a day, Roderick Spode, the jailer, passes by for a closer inspection of our cells, giving us supercilious glances. Once a week, Doctor E. Jimpson Murgatroyd, you know the one who has sad and brooding eyes and long whiskers, checks us up, sending our spirits right down into the basement. Once in a month, Sir Roderick Glossop visits each one of us with the sole purpose of checking our Looniness Quotient.

One consolation we have is that it is a mixed-sex facility. But meetings with the members of the tribe of the delicately nurtured are few and far between. Some of the female inmates happen to be of the dreamy kind, like Madeline Bassett. Some are of the sporty kind, a la Pauline Stoker and Honoria Glossop. Few others are of the goofy kind, reminding us of Stephanie Byng and Roberta Wickham.

Another bright spot is that the facility boasts of a well-stocked library which has multiple copies of all your books, keeping us preoccupied with devouring the same, one by one. Unfortunately, no other books of any kind are available to us, creating an intellectual vacuum of sorts. 

To me, and perhaps for many other inmates, identifying such ‘vacuums’ results into our almost getting obsessed with your work, unable to leave the pleasurable cocoon you have built and left behind for us through your canon. It comes as no surprise that many call you a ‘master wordsmith’.

Of Literary Merit

In the realm of modern literature, I find authors in every language who generate the right set of emotions while documenting a particular chronicle to win over the hearts of their readers. Also, we should not forget that any work of art is subjective – whether it is likable or not is left to the reader’s discretion or intellect. Recently, I have often encountered a few authors who have successfully delivered their message to the ‘right set’ of audience and have created emotions that resonate properly with the feelings of the readers.

However, such works of art, according to me, singularly lack some critical ingredients – a witty statement, a dash of wisdom, a clever twist of the phrase, an ingenious use of the Queen’s language, a humorous situation which, even, during a crisis created for the readers to sweat, feels like a cool breeze caressing one’s face at the height of the kind of hot and humid we suffer in my part of the world. Or, like a glass of water naturally cooled in an earthen pitcher.

I started reading you when I entered college and got addicted to your works. I used to search for your books anywhere and everywhere. Earlier, I encountered some great authors like Shaw, Russel, and Priestley but, with due respect, I felt, no one was successful in putting a sense of intoxication (if that is the word I want) in myself other than you.

As fate would have it, my association with you changed my outlook towards life. I learnt to take it more and more lightly, occasionally dismissing its harsh slings and arrows in a nonchalant manner, much like dusting off an imaginary speck of dust from my jacket. I developed empathy for others and even started feeling for my enemies when they were in a crisis.

You are a Man of all Seasons

In my younger days, during my summer holidays, after coming back to the house from the playground, I used to have a glass of water from an earthen pitcher which we used to have in our house in those pre-refrigerator days. The water, as soon as it would touch my parched lips, used to give me a sense of comfort which, I daresay, no water from the refrigerator has ever given! Every single drop of that water was so perfect! Be it temperature-wise, be it taste-wise! It never failed to energize me with a great boost up forgetting all the fatigue which I carried from playground to home. I can easily compare it to the Jeeves’ trademark pick-me-ups.

During harsh winters, your works feel like the warmth of a fireplace which is ablaze. During monsoons, when parts of the city roads could put the canals of Venice to shame, these feel like a freshly pinched umbrella protecting me from the incessant downpour. When spring arrives and my fancy turns to tender thoughts of love, these feel like a post-lunch snooze in the mild sun.

You are Omnipresent

I happen to feel your presence in all the situations and people that I encounter. 

As a youth, whenever I ran into a female, my tongue would invariably dry up. My Adam’s apple would bounce like a table tennis ball. My eyes would bulge. I desperately needed someone who will mix some stimulant in my jug of orange juice.

For many years, my parents thought I would bring home a girl some day and merely seek their blessings. However, I am the subservient and obedient kind. Thus, I could eventually have only what is euphemistically referred to as an ‘arranged marriage’. I admit there are advantages to this. One, for all my matrimonial challenges, I can blame my parents. Two, in such cases, love sprouts much after a walk down the aisle. Thus, the alliance fails to mummify the corpse of love.

In my work life too, I see you everywhere. A tough boss appears like Mr. Schnellenhamer. When he yells, I feel like the young Bertie Wooster facing Rev. Aubrey Upjohn in his study, sans, of course, the cane. A friendly colleague makes me recall the equation between Mike and Psmith. A disobedient and back-stabbing subordinate generates the kind of feelings Sir Roderick Glossop would have had in his bosom when Master Seabury laid out the butter slide for him. When I face a tough challenge at the workplace, I wonder how Jeeves would have met the same. I miss him as much as Lady Constance Keeble would miss Rupert Baxter.  

Of Movies and their impact

Your works chase me even within the confines of a cinema hall.

I love watching movies. However, I keep on searching for various flavours in a single movie and have found that my opinion about wit and humour resonates with that of literature. Lots of things are successfully delivered to the audience but a few new-age films that I have watched recently have not been successful in putting a smile on my not-so-handsome visage. There is sarcasm, there is satire, there is violence and sex in gay abundance, but a refined farce or humour is sadly missing. This provokes me to watch old Indian films, many of which had a Plummy brand of subtle humour the yearning for which has so very successfully been planted by you in my feeble grey cells.

Who can forget the hilarious situation at the end of the movie ‘Rang Birangi’ (Colourful, Dir: Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1983) whereinmost of the characters come together in a police station. It is a truly rib-tickling scene.

I remember another movie from the same director –‘Khoobsurat’ (Beautiful, Dir: Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1980) wherein a family is saved from a Lady Adela like mother by a goofy character like Bobby Wickham.

There are many such instances in old films. Even I get Plummy vibes in many of the films that I have watched in Bengali language. ‘Mahapurush’ (The Holy Man, Dir: Satyajit Ray, 1965) is based on a story by Parashuram (Birinchibaba), who, as far as I understand, was your fan, and took many instances from your stories. The same influences are found in films like ‘Golpo holeo satti’ (True, even if it is a story, Dir: Tapan Sinha, 1966), which was remade in Hindi as ‘Bawarchi’ (The Cook, Dir: Hrishikesh Mukherjee, 1972), and ‘Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen’ (Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, Dir: Satyajit Ray, 1966), etc.

When I think of either the closing scene of the Bengali movie ‘Jatugriha’ (The House of Lac, Dir: Tapan Sinha, 1964), or the opening scene of the Hindi film (based on the same story) ‘Ijaazat’ (Permission, Dir: Gulzar, 1987), when an estranged husband and wife run into each other after many years at a rural railway station’s waiting room, I try to suppress a giggle. The stilted conversation between them, where feasts of Reason and flows of Soul are sorely missing, somehow reminds me of the following lines from one of your greatest works of fiction, ‘My Man Jeeves’:

“What ho!”, I said.

“What ho!”, said Motty.

“What ho! What ho!”

“What ho! What ho! What ho!”

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

While many movies remind me of the kind of the kind of subtle humour you specialize in, there are even songs which take my mind to your delectable works. Consider the song ‘Mere paas aao mere doston…’ from the Hindi movie ‘Mr. Natwarlal’ (1979, Dir: Rakesh Kumar) where the hero describes his encounter with a lion in a jungle.

There is a striking similarity here with one of your famous quotes from Ring for Jeeves which goes like this:

It was a confusion of ideas between him and one of the lions he was hunting in Kenya that had caused A. B. Spottsworth to make the obituary column. He thought the lion was dead, and the lion thought it wasn’t.

The Psychology of the Individual and “pi”

As a child, long before I became aware of your works, I remember getting solace by thinking of alternative endings to any terse situation. For example, someone being carried to the hospital in a serious condition used to invoke a thought in myself – what if, after checking the patient for, say, tuberculosis, the doctor felt that he/she was wrong, and the patient was suffering from nothing but an ordinary cough and cold?

Perhaps, Mother Nature had sown the seeds of a deep craving for pristine humour in me, long before I started reading you. The entire maternal side of my family was a fan of your works. Our genes and our environment surely shape our psychology. Jeeves was surely not much off mark when he extolled the virtues of studying the ‘Psychology of an Individual’ (PI in short) to resolve problems.

There are indeed times when I wonder if Jeeves, with his keen intelligence, had ever studied mathematics. If so, he would have been happy to know of the number “π” (spelled out as “pi”). I allude to the mathematical constant which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, approximately equal to 3.14159. It also helps us to figure out the area of a circle, given its radius.

If so, Jeeves would have surely figured out that the circumference, as well as the area, or scope, of the challenge faced by Bertie or one of his pals is intricately related to the radius, or the magnitude, of the disgruntled person’s Looniness Quotient.

Just like “pi” (approx. 22/7) happens to be an irrational number, the decimal representation of which is never ending, human behaviour and the circumstances prevailing at the time of executing a fruity scheme are a finicky and unpredictable lot. Consider the case of Bertie’s plan to shove Oswald into the lake and getting Bingo Little to rescue him, thereby winning over the affections of Honoria Glossop. Jeeves never approves of the scheme. He believes that there are too many imponderables in the situation. Soon, we realize, that (a) Oswald knows swimming, and (b) Bingo Little is missing in action, having just transferred his own affections to a lady other than Honoria, thereby rendering the whole scheme null and void.

Lord Emsworth

The Appropriateness of Valentine’s Day

When hormones started sloshing about within my veins, I started developing attraction towards the opposite sex. However, a mushy sense of love has never been part of my psychology. Gifting chocolates, flowers and having the guts to look a pretty lass in the eye and murmur some sweet nothings happen to be beyond my level of competence.

Typically, a Valentine’s Day would find me in a sad mood, much like the feeling Lord Emsworth used to have on a Parva School Treat Day. I would see apparently happy couples around me and celebrating the day to their heart’s content! But once I became used to devouring your works, I realized that love was wherever you were. Whether it is Angela and Tuppy fighting over a shark, or Joe and Julia sharing the condition of their stomach lining, or even Mrs. Spottsworth imagining being clubbed and dragged by her hair to a man’s cave many centuries back, love invariably lurks behind most of your works.

Being an Inmate at the Psing Psing Correctional Facility

The fact that you decided to hand in your dinner pail on a Valentine’s Day was an understandable coincidence. I do feel sad on this day, but it is a sadness which has a dash of elegance to it, arising out of my being a part of your beautiful world! I guess the feeling is akin to the kind of sensation one feels while putting a sweet-and-sour dish down one’s hatch. Had you lived longer, spreading joy, sweetness, and light for all your Sing Sing fans, prompting them to never consider leaving the facility. In fact, we should refer to it as the Psing Psing Correctional Facility.

In any case, unlike the two protagonists of the movie ‘Sholay’ (The Glowing Embers, Dir: Ramesh Sippy, 1975), who planned a daring jailbreak, I entertain no such ambitions. I am sure many other fans would approve of this sentiment.

I hereby rest my case and apologize for disturbing you in your well-deserved rest and recuperation in the heavens above with a long letter of this kind. I also wish to assure you that the love for your oeuvre down here on this planet is very much alive and kicking, thanks to many experts, several societies, virtual groups, and fanatics like yours truly.

I can see you smiling down at all of us, waving a gentle hand – this, indeed, is my reward. 

A hearty pip pip!

(Photo of Plum’s grave courtesy Ms Anuradha Bharat. Illustration of Lord Emsworth courtesy Suvarna Sanyal. Inputs from Ashok Kumar Bhatia are also gratefully acknowledged.)

(Suryamouli Datta is a 42-year young fan of P G Wodehouse. He is a software professional, presently associated with Tata Consultancy Services. He is an amateurish author who is yet to knock at the publisher’s door. He is a black belt in karate and occasionally dabbles in theatre. He also happens to be a movie buff.

He believes that Wodehouse, like golf, should be caught early and that his Guardian Angels have will-nilly ensured that this is what has happened to him! Thus, the ‘child’ in him is yet to grow up and he is pretty elated about it.)

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One of the major events our marketing honchos keenly look forward to happens to be the Valentine’s Day. Promotional goods flood the market. Aggressive campaigns get launched, with a sharp eye on the purse of the customer. Producers of chocolate, balloons and heart-shaped objects rule the roost. A sense of eager anticipation prevails. Love is in the air. Couples can be seen holding hands and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears, cooing to each other like turtle doves.

Quite a few friends of mine believe me to be a romantic. However, I confess I have never quite understood the sentiment alluded to as love. Perhaps, I am too much of a perfectionist. Or, I may be a creature of rigid habits, inwardly shuddering at the prospect of being ‘reformed’ in any way by a member of the species of the delicately nurtured.

Often, I wonder if the concept of love is merely a mirage which people keep chasing relentlessly, possibly encountering a few oases of a deeper level of infatuation along the way.  

Love – A Gigantic Swindle? 

What exactly does it entail to be in love with someone? If at all someone gets to experience this sentiment which is responsible for a major chunk of our literature, fine arts, and movies, why would one be referred to as having fallen in love? Is this sentiment akin to the ‘bottomless perdition’ referred to by John Milton in Paradise Lost?

Instead, why can’t people follow the example of such kids as Thomas Gregson, Bonzo Travers and Sebastian Moon? Some of you may recall how they rose in love by trying to be worthy of the affections of their favourite silver screen divas like Greta Garbo, Lilian Gish, and Clara Bow.

Consider the views of the highly opiniated and strong-willed Ann Chester of Piccadily Jim fame who calls love a swindle of gigantic proportions. She hates all this noise about love, as if it were something wonderful that was worth everything else in life put together.

“Because I’ve had the courage to think about it for myself, and not let myself be blinded by popular superstition. The whole world has united in making itself imagine that there is something called love which is the most wonderful happening in life. The poets and novelists have simply hounded them on to believe it. It’s a gigantic swindle.”

She continues further.

“I believe in marriage. . .but not as the result of a sort of delirium. I believe in it as a sensible partnership between two friends who know each other well and trust each other. The right way of looking at marriage is to realise, first of all, that there are no thrills, no romances, and then to pick out someone who is nice and kind and amusing and full of life and willing to do things to make you happy.”

Of Love, Saint Valentine, and Martyrdom

I am reasonably certain that the soul of the 3rd century Italian Saint Valentine would be rather pleased at the positive press he keeps getting year after year, though his name represents not only courtly love but also being worthy, strong, and powerful. Those who have already experienced this emotion can alone confirm if these personality traits happen to be essential for one to aspire to be a star performer in the realm of love.

However, there is no evidence that poor Saint Valentine was a patron of lovers. Just before his beheading, apparently, he wrote a note to a girl, whose eyesight he had restored, signed ‘from your Valentine’. This might have inspired today’s lovers to associate him with romantic overtures. Moreover, during the Middle Ages, it was believed that birds paired in mid-February. This could have been another factor which could have led to Valentine’s Day getting widely recognized as a day for romance and devotion.

The fact that he was martyred on February 14, 269 at the behest of Claudius II, the then Roman Emperor, might have even led people to say that they fall in love. Those who are experts on the topic of love alone may be able to say if it feels like being martyred at the altar of love when one falls in it. After all, it would need nerves of chilled steel to willingly surrender one’s freedom, carefreeness, and sovereignty to another human being, thereby, in a way, getting martyred upon falling in love. Sure enough, they follow Indian scriptures which strongly advocate the spiritual concept of surrender, albeit to a higher power.

Shades of Love

Having exercised my limited grey cells a wee bit and having perused some of the narratives of P G Wodehouse, I have veered around to the view that he captures at least three shades in the rainbow of this much-revered sentiment.  

Light Pink: The Butterfly/Chamois State

Those who behave like either butterflies or the chamois of the Alps constitute this category. Consider these cases from the oeuvre of Plum and you would know what I mean.

“Are you insinuating that I am the sort of man who turns lightly from one woman to another—a mere butterfly who flits from flower to flower, sipping . . .?”

(Frederick Mulliner to Jane Oliphant in Portrait of a Disciplinarian)

“But the real reason was that he thought Boko was a butterfly.”

I couldn’t follow her. She had me fogged. Anything less like a butterfly than good old Boko I’ve never set eyes on.

“A butterfly?”

“Yes. Flitting from flower to flower and sipping.”

(Nobby Hopwood, to Bertie Wooster, Joy in the Morning)

“I haven’t seen Pongo since we were kids.”

“Even then he was flitting from flower to flower like a willowy butterfly.”

(Bill Oakshott and Lord Ickenham, Uncle Dynamite)

“I think young Mike Cardinal is a butterfly, Shorty; the kind that flits from flower to flower and sips.”

(Terry Cobbold to Lord Shortlands, Spring Fever)

“And this will show you the sort of flitting and sipping butterfly the hound is.”

(Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, to Bertie, about Esmond Haddock, The Mating Season)

Like so many young doctors with agreeable manners and frank blue eyes, Ambrose Gussett continued to be an iodoform-scented butterfly flitting from flower to flower but never resting on any individual bloom long enough to run the risk of having to sign on the dotted line.

(Up from the Depths)

“He is a flitting butterfly and a two-timing Casanova.”

(Valerie Twistleton, speaking of Horace Davenport, The Shadow Passes)

For some time past, it appeared, he had been flitting round this girl like a pimpled butterfly, and it had suddenly come to him with a sickening shock that his emotional nature had brought him to the very verge of matrimony.

(Oofy Prosser’s self-realization, The Word in Season)

“And you stand revealed as a cross between a flitting butterfly and a Mormon elder,” said Sally with spirit. “You and Brigham Young, a pair.”

(Sally Painter to Freddie Widgeon, Ice in the Bedroom)

“The trouble with you, Bertie, is that you haven’t got it in you to understand true love. You’re a mere butterfly flitting from flower to flower and sipping, like Freddie Widgeon and the rest of the halfwits of whom the Drones Club is far too full.”

(Gussie Fink-Nottle accusing Bertie Wooster in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves)

“Like so many substantial citizens of America, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag.”

(Summer Moonshine)

It was unfortunate that none of these arguments presented themselves to Bill Oakshott as he turned the corner. In Otis Painter he saw just another libertine, flitting from flower to flower and sipping, and we are already familiar with his prejudice against libertines.

(Uncle Dynamite)

‘What did he say?’

‘Well, he seemed to hint, unless I misunderstood him, that the above Haddock hadn’t, as it were, done right by our Nell. According to Catsmeat, you and this modern Casanova were at one time holding hands, but after flitting and sipping for a while he cast you aside like a worn-out glove and attached himself to Gertrude Winkworth. Quite incorrect, probably. I expect he got the whole story muddled up.’

(Corky and Bertie Wooster, The Mating Season)

Dark Pink: The Nightingale State

What happens when the sentiment of love has survived the ravages of time? Or, when two persons suddenly rediscover each other and sparks of love fly. Having had a rich experience in their lives, they use their astonishingly rich repertoire to ‘sing’ to each other like nightingales, sharing their social, familial, health, and many other issues with much felicity.  

In most of his works, P G Wodehouse regales us with the topsy-turvy romances of couples who are invariably in the impressionable phases of their lives. But in a few of his narratives, such as Indian Summer of an Uncle, Extricating Young Gussie, and Ring for Jeeves, even a seasoned romance gets celebrated. Gone are the impulsive breakoffs linked to sharks, moustaches, and an abysmal record at the golf links. Nor are we treated here to an impetuous affair kick-started by the heroine’s cat being saved by a chivalrous and dashing hero. Instead, we are allowed to bask in the soft glow and warmth of a long drawn out romance the embers of which get rekindled after several years.

Such couples often find a common cause in family affairs, shared ailments, and, of course, areas of common interest. Piggy and Maudie, Joe and Julia, and Mrs Spottsowrth and Captain Biggar fit into this category. So do Sir Roderick Glossop and Lady Chuffnell and James Duff and Beatrice Chavender.

Bright Red: The Turtle Dove State

Marriage is not a process for prolonging the life of love, sir. It merely mummifies its corpse.

(The Small Bachelor)

However, the good news is that as long as the embers of romance are aglow, a bright red shade of love prevails.  

Consider the state of matrimonial bliss Bingo Little attains after he has realized that Rosie M Banks is indeed The One as far as he is concerned. Much like a sub-atomic particle which altogether skips an orbit and jumps from one to another, he transcends from being a butterfly to a turtle dove state.  

We know Bingo Little to be a diehard romantic, perennially in love with some dashing female or the other. Even when at school, he is reported to have had the finest collection of actresses’ photographs; at Oxford, his romantic nature was a byword. He is inclined to fall in love at first sight on a regular basis and become highly emotional about his affections.

Residents of Plumsville are aware that objects of his affection have included a waitress named Mabel; Honoria Glossop, the formidable daughter of Pop Glossop; Daphne Braythwayt, a friend of Honoria; Charlotte Corday Rowbotham, a revolutionary; Lady Cynthia Wickhammersley, a family friend of Bertie’s; and Mary Burgess, niece of the Rev. Francis Heppenstall. After each failed affair, Bingo does not necessarily sulk. The scales fall from his eyes, and he suddenly realizes that the next girl alone is his true soul mate.

After many failed affairs, Bingo ends up marrying the romance novelist Rosie M. Banks, an author whose outlook on life happens to match well with that of his.

Within ten days of having met his future wife, Bingo announces to Bertie Wooster that he has been successful in his latest endeavour.

‘Good Lord! That is quick work. You haven’t known her for two weeks.’

‘Not in this life, no,’ said young Bingo. ‘But she has a sort of idea that we must have met in some previous existence. She thinks I must have been a king in Babylon when she was a Christian slave. I can’t say I remember it myself, but there may be something in it.’

(The Inimitable Jeeves)

In the post-matrimony phase, we find a Bingo Little who is completely transformed. He is singularly devoted to his wife. Maintaining matrimonial peace and harmony is the sole purpose of his life. When it comes to keeping his lady-love happy and contented, there is little that he leaves to chance.

‘Oh, sweetie-lambkin, isn’t that lovely?’


‘Laura Pyke wants to come here.’


‘You must have heard me speak of Laura Pyke. She was my dearest friend at school. I simply worshipped her. She always had such a wonderful mind. She wants us to put her up for a week or two.’

‘Right-ho. Bung her in.’

‘You’re sure you don’t mind?’

‘Of course not. Any pal of yours…’

‘Darling!’ said Mrs Bingo, blowing him a kiss.

‘Angel!’ said Bingo, going on with the sausages.

(Jeeves and the Old School Chum)

Wherever Plum is, love cannot be far behind. He covers its varied hues with much aplomb. If he, the Master Wordsmith of our times, has covered this sentiment so very extensively, I guess it must have some merit to it.

In any case, to all those who claim to be besotted, captivated, charmed, enamoured, enchanted, enraptured, obsessed, smitten, and taken in by a party of the other part, I hereby extend my best wishes. May their tribe flourish, keeping our marketing honchos, authors as well as publishers of mushy romantic books, movie moguls, and many others laughing all the way to their respective banks.      

The Pale Parabola of Love

Staunch believers in the concept of love, as well as purists, may register a protest at missing out on a few other shades of this sentiment in Plum’s universe which thrives on humour, wit, and positivity. A unique feature of this universe is that nothing negative happens here. The worst suffering may involve looking for strawberries around Christmas time and getting fined as well as jugged for trying to steal some. Or, being confronted by someone like Roderick Spode who goes about issuing sinister threats to lover boys who make the party of the other part cry.  The ultimate sacrifice may be going on a strict vegetarian diet and forsaking the pleasure of putting steak and kidney pie down the hatch till the time the relations are restored, and love is back on its shimmering throne.

Even death does not depress. Nor does it make the spirits sag. Instead, it finds mention in a positive vein. It confers wealth, castles and titles upon the best loved heirs and wards, thereby spreading joy and sunshine all around.           

A Pristine Shade of Love

Plum presents a pristine version of love. He takes the reader on a leisurely stroll in his Garden of Eden where apples are of the high hanging kind and such creatures as snakes are singularly missing. A strict code of chivalry is in vogue. Romance blossoms. Devotion is permitted. But physical intimacy is a taboo. Aphrodite has limited access to the goings on. Eroticism is denied entry. Saint Valentine would have heartily approved.  

It is rather fitting that Plum decided to hand in his dinner pail on Valentine’s Day, a day associated with love, romance, and devotion. He bequeathed his works to all his fans, spreading eternal joy and sweetness on this planet.    

(Notes: Butterfly/Chamois quotes are courtesy Ana Jung. Inputs from Suryamouli Datta is gratefully acknowledged.)

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P. G. Wodehouse, the British humourist, did not intend his books and stories to impart management lessons of any kind. However, his keen observation skills, his detailed characterization, and certain traits he endows on some of his characters could be used by CEOs and managers of all kinds to achieve greater success in their careers, enabling them to face challenges with a chin-up attitude. Decision making while facing such disruptive situations as that of a pandemic could then be achieved with a jaunty sang-froid.

Management and Humour?!

Those of you who are from the realm of management and are dimly aware of the existence of a British humourist known as P. G. Wodehouse would by now be shaking your heads in disbelief wondering how something dished out by way of making one chuckle, guffaw and laugh could have anything to do with the stiff-upper-lip discipline of management.

Seriousness vs. Humour

I believe that seriousness and humour are two sides of the same coin. Consider the fact that humour is serious business indeed. It is bound to make us feel lighter but cannot be taken lightly. In fact, humour is a good lubricant which could be deployed to communicate serious messages more effectively.  

The deeper reality is that we value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Our minds boss over our hearts. Most of the times, anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and perhaps fit to be scoffed at on the intellectual plane. On campuses of high-brow seats of learning, it is easy for us to visualize absent-minded professors going about with a heavy tome or two clutched in their hands, with a morose look on their faces, as if they were just being led by an invisible hand to the gallows. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get applauded, whereas a speaker conveying a plain vanilla message coated in delectable humour is ridiculed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein runs the risk of being viewed with a jaundiced eye.

One admires such management thinkers as C. Northcote Parkinson, Sharu Rangnekar and Laurence J. Peter who have broken this glass ceiling and given us rich management lessons in a humorous manner. All those who have worked in a large bureaucracy revere Parkinson’s Law which postulates that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Some of you may be familiar with Rangnekar’s The Wonderland of Indian Managers, an uproariously funny account of how things really work in organizations. Those who have missed out on a coveted promotion would be twiddling their thumbs to figure out if they have attained their level of incompetence, a la The Peter Principle.

In their book Humour, Seriously, Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker debunk the myth that humour has no place at the workplace. In an interview, Jennifer Aaker opines that leaders with a sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating; their teams are more than likely twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge. When leaders use humour in their interactions with their team members, they signal humility and humanity, thereby reducing the status barrier between themselves and their audience. The goal of humour at the workplace is not merely to make others laugh; it is to put people at ease, thereby enabling them to be more open and candid in sharing their opinions.

Of Humour and Brands

Consider the innovative way humour gets deployed by a few brands of repute to keep their images shining bright.

Since 1946, the Air India Maharajah has been representing India with charm and dignity, making the company more visible to its customers all over the world. Created by Bobby Kooka along with Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, it has kept pace with the times – as a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a Romeo in Rome and even a guru of transcendental meditation in Rishikesh.

Likewise, we have the case of the Amul girl. The mascot was created as a response to Amul’s rival brand Polson’s butter-girl. The idea was conceived in 1967 once ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion) clinched the brand portfolio from the previous agency FCB Ulka. It was executed by Mr. Sylvester Da Cunha, the owner of the agency and his art director Eustace Fernandes on hoardings, painted bus panels and posters in Mumbai. The mascot, since then, has been mobilized to comment on many events of national and political importance.

Not to forget some of our politicos who rose from the ranks after having been successful comedians, motivating their denizens to stand up to bullying by oversized neighbours waging wars so as to widen their own sphere of influence.

Wodehouse and Management  

If a lay manager were to pick up such books by P. G. Wodehouse as Psmith in the City, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere and Something Fresh and put them under a managerial lens, she is surely apt to discover a treasure trove of precious lessons in such diverse fields like marketing, human resources, entrepreneurship, operations, systems and procedures, human resources, and the like.

When it comes to the art and science of managing bosses, Rupert Psmith, Reginald Jeeves, and Ashe Marson offer quite a few templates for a manager to follow. Then there are precious lessons in administration, time management and quite a few other areas in management.

Wodehouse and the Evolution of Management Thought

P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), fondly referred to as Plum, dished out his narratives in an era which one could allude to as the sunrise era of the science and art of management. He was a prolific writer. Between 1902 and 1974, he wrote just under 100 books in total, of which about 70 were novels; about 20 were short story collections (with a further 100 short stories not appearing in book form); four were semi-autobiographical works (including Not George Washington); one was a children’s story, one, a book of essays and another a book based on a newspaper column.

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.

The Early Years

When Wodehouse arrived on the literary scene, Max Weber (1864-1920) was speaking of different forms of authority – charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal, while Henri Fayol (1841-1925) was working on his twelve principles of management.  

While Wodehouse was busy honing his unique skills as an author, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) was preoccupied with a new approach to management. In 1909, Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. In the same year, Wodehouse had come up with The Swoop and Mike. Much like a management executive, Mike happens to be a solid, reliable character with a strong sense of fair play; he also has an appetite for excitement.

I believe that Plum’s works effectively capture many of the concepts of management propounded at the beginning of the twentieth century by these thinkers:  Authority, Power, Delegation, Span of Control, Responsibility, Decision Making, Goals, Organizing, Division of Labour, Chain of Command, to name a few.     

Think of rich uncles who exercise authority over the fortunes as well as the matrimonial prospects of their nieces and nephews. Jeeves exerts his soft power over Bertie Wooster and many others by virtue of his superior knowledge and keen intelligence. Roberta Wickham, Stephanie Byng, Rosie M. Banks, and scores of others are equally adept at exercising their soft power to get things done. In The Code of the Woosters, Aunt Dahlia delegates to Bertie the task of going to an antique shop on Brompton Road, sneer at a silver cow creamer and register scorn. The highly regimented life of those below the stairs, as portrayed in Something Fresh, brings home to a lay manager such concepts as organizing, division of labour, and chain of command.

By 1910, Wodehouse had published Psmith in the City, offering us insights into the working of a bank, and hinting as to how one could manage bosses. The Little Nugget came up in 1913, introducing us to Ogden Ford, someone who, like a bright and upright executive, can manipulate his distracters with much aplomb and even stand up to and tick off his stepfather.  During December 1913, Henry Ford had installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of automobiles. His innovation had then reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes.

The Delicately Nurtured

While Wodehouse was busy introducing us to such emancipated females steeped in entrepreneurial enthusiasm as Joan Valentine, Jill Mariner and Sally Nicholas, Mary Parker Follett was having a profound impact on the development of management thought. She was active in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when women occupied few executive positions in business, government, or education. Her audience was small but devoted. Her remarkable work can be found in the volume Mary Parker Follett – Prophet of Management, published in 1995 by Harvard Business School Press.       

During 1940, Wodehouse published Quick Service, outlining the risks involved in stealing portraits, thereby touching upon the realm of decision making under uncertainty. Meanwhile, Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. (1875 – 1966) was busy steering General Motors on a highway of high growth. From the 1920s through the 1950s, he brought in such concepts as an annual model change, brand architecture, industrial engineering, styling and planned obsolescence.

The Post World War Years

Traces of Peter Drucker in Plum’s Works

Most of the modern management post-second World War and great depression has been influenced by the thoughts of Peter Ferdinand Drucker (1909-2005) on management principles and practices. He enlarged our vision of the realm of management. Functions like Marketing, Production, Finance, Supply Chain Management, Systems and Human Resources emerged. Almost all of the works of Wodehouse touch upon some of these areas, as we shall shortly see.    

Some of the basic principles of management according to Drucker are:

•     Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.

•     Because management deals with the integration of people in a common venture, it is deeply embedded in culture.

•     Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values. Without such commitment, there is no enterprise.

Jeeves instead highlights the importance of ‘the psychology of the individual’ to get desired results. Aunt Dahlia demonstrates the criticality of formulating a strategy as well as that of teamwork in The Code of the Woosters. When Roderick Spode keeps threatening Bertie Wooster and Gussie Fink-Nottle repeatedly, she comes up with the strategy of checkmating him by getting Jeeves to dig up any secret of his. With help from the Junior Ganymede club book, Bertie learns the word ‘Eulalie’, and tells Spode that he knows all about it. Spode, who does not want his followers to learn about his career as a designer of ladies’ lingerie, gets effectively persuaded to not to bother Bertie or Gussie any further.

•     Every enterprise is a learning and teaching institution. Training and development must be built into it on all levels— training and development that never stop.

•     Every enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge doing many different kinds of work. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility. The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer.

Consider Something Fresh which brings into sharp focus the life of those below the stairs who keep serving the inhabitants, guests, and impostors at Blandings Castle with alacrity and panache. Under the directions of Mr. Sebastian Beach and Mrs. Twemlow, things are always done properly at the Castle, with the right solemnity. And let us not forget the contribution of kitchen maids, scullery maids, chauffeurs, footmen, under-butlers, pantry boys, hall boys, stillroom maids, housemaids, nursery maids, secretaries, pig-keepers, and head gardeners like Angus McAllister. 

•     In 1966, Drucker brought in the concept of The Effective Executive. In 1964-65, Plum offered us Galahad at Blandings which showcased the unique abilities of Galahad to sort things out satisfactorily at Blandings Castle, which as usual is overrun with overbearing sisters, super-efficient secretaries, and the love struck, threatening to put an end to Lord Emsworth’s peaceful, pig-loving existence. Just like Jeeves resolves complicated issues with ease, Galahad is also a good example of an executive who happens to be effective when it comes to delivering results.  

Philip Kotler and Plum’s Works

Philip Kotler (born 1931) further expanded the Marketing horizon by conceptualizing the 4 Ps – Product, Place, Pricing and Promotion. He published Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning and Control, which forever changed the way we look at marketing.

In Plum’s works, precious lessons can be learnt in marketing and salesmanship from someone like Frederick Threepwood (Freddie) who appears in many of the Blandings stories. He is normally a somewhat simple-minded youth who invites a jaundiced eye of the kind the British aristocracy is apt to cast upon its younger sons. In The Go-Getter, we come to appreciate Freddie’s perseverance in peddling the product he represents for his American father-in-law, the patriarch of the Donaldson’s Dog Biscuits empire. Like a true-blue marketing honcho, Freddie stops at nothing to achieve his objective. Besides extolling the virtues of the product, he even plans to get a cousin of his married to the owner of a chain of stores, so the distribution network expands.  

Thus, of the four Ps mentioned by Philip Kotler, at least three are covered in Plum’s works – Product, Place and Promotion. Understandably, the element of Price is missing from these.  

An Ever-evolving Field of Thought

Much after Wodehouse had kicked the bucket in 1975, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman gave us In Search of Excellence (1982). In 1989, Stephen R. Covey offered his unique managerial insights through 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many other experts have since contributed – and shall continue to do so – newer concepts to the realm of management.  

A unique characteristic of management professionals is that they seem to have a very short attention span for concepts. Their craving for novelty in management concepts is never satiated. Give them Statistical Quality Control and Just-in-time and they lap it up with the kind of enthusiasm a cat shows on being offered a fish slice. Show them the potential of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing and they embrace it with all gusto. They are enamoured by a concept only until a new buzzword comes along. Thus, management thinkers and writers have a unique challenge – that of marketing even old ideas in a flashy new language. In order to maintain their status as a management guru, the hapless guys/gals have to not only keep coming up with newer concepts but also to keep recycling the older wines and offering the same in dazzling new bottles. 

Like all other realms of knowledge, management continues to be an ever-evolving field, in tandem with the evolution of our economies. With rapid advances in technology, all segments of this knowledge are undergoing major changes. There is a dire need for futuristic business leaders in the mould of Rupert Psmith who can achieve goals in a sustainable manner, backed not only by hard core analytical prowess but also by such soft skills as compassion, empathy, and equanimity. A street-smart approach, backed by an ability to think on one’s feet and deploy one’s intuitive faculties to deliver results is the sine qua non for one to keep occupying that much sought after icon of power – the corner office.

Leading business institutes are increasingly depending on literature and fine arts to groom aspiring managers whose heads are screwed on right, thereby giving them a better chance at tackling the rise in the entropy of the business environment.  

Some Common Features

Despite an evolution of managerial thought, over the last century, the fundamentals of organization management and leadership have remained the same, even if the delivery of those concepts has been reshaped to service the needs of a new economy. Rigid hierarchies have slowly given way to flexible organizations. With the advent of a work-from-home mode, many organizations have become dispersed in space and time.

In a similar vein, Plum’s works remain frozen in time, using the eccentricities of the British aristocracy as a fodder. All over the world, his fans keep churning out pastiches, thereby keeping his works alive. The underlying messages in his works continue to be relevant in our contemporary times. However, their timelessness lies in keeping our CEOs and managers away from getting depressed while facing the harsh slings and arrows of fate.

Wodehouse’s Works Under A Contemporary Lens

Having looked at the links between Plum’s novels and stories and the management tenets proposed by reputed experts over the last century, let us now try and put his works under a more contemporary managerial lens. We may consider focusing on such functional areas as Marketing, Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour, Entrepreneurship, Operations (Production of goods and services, Materials/Supply Chains/Logistics) Finance/Banking/Insurance, Systems/Procedures/IT, Administration, and Business Ethics.  Formulating strategies is a macro-level area of importance.

In Plum’s oeuvre, one is apt to find references to almost all the functional areas of management. Whether one goes through the Bertie and Jeeves books, the Blandings Castle’s saga, the Ukridges, the Uncle Freds, or the Mulliner chronicles, one is apt to keep running into one or another facet of management.

The endeavour here is to delve a little deeper into the areas of Marketing and Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour, as also to briefly touch upon the other functions as these can be traced in many of Plum’s narratives.


Let us see how Freddie goes about securing the patronage of his target customers for Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. 

Identifying a Prospect

In The Go-Getter, he is quick to spot Aunt Georgina who owns four Pekingese, two Poms, a Yorkshire terrier, five Sealyhams, a Borzoi, and an Airedale. She is a woman who has a sound reputation in dog-loving circles.

Influencing the Prospect

First, Freddie gives an hour’s talk to Aunt Georgina on such virtues of the product as wholesomeness, richness in essential vitamins, and its bone-forming properties. Then he showers her with product brochures. He shows samples. He even offers a fortnight’s free trial.

If an order does not get placed, he does not lose hope. He perseveres in his efforts. He attempts to give a live demonstration by chewing a dog biscuit himself, thereby trying to establish that it is so superbly wholesome as to be fit even for human consumption.

When he chokes and business does not result, he borrows Bottles, Rev. Rupert Bingham’s pet, which has a robust constitution, thanks to its being fed by the product being promoted. Somehow, in an initial brawl with a Pekingese belonging to Aunt Georgina, Bottles fails to establish its superiority.

Down, But Never Out

Donaldson’s Inc. grooms its vice-presidents rather well. They may be down, but they are never out. They are trained to think like lightning. It is seldom that they are baffled for more than about a minute and a quarter. Freddie then thinks of demonstrating Bottles’ superior skills at handling rats. However, this proposal is vetoed by the audience.  

Eventually, Bottles ends up proving his mettle in a fight with Aunt Georgina’s Airedale. A timely intervention by Bingham saves the day, prompting Gertrude, Aunt Georgina’s daughter, to fall back into his arms, thereby pleasing Aunt Georgina. She places an initial trial order of two tons!

Boosting Distribution by Facilitating Matrimonial Alliances

In Full Moon, Freddie is keen on a matrimonial alliance fructifying between his cousin Veronica and the man who owns the controlling interest in Tipton’s Stores. Veronica would obviously influence her would-be husband to promote the interests of Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits. If Freddie can swing the deal and secure for Donaldson’s an exclusive dog-biscuit concession throughout Tipton’s chain of stores, he believes it would be the biggest thing he would have ever pulled off.

When approached, Tipton Plimsoll gleefully accepts the suggestion. The merger and acquisition takes place, as envisaged. Expansion of the distribution network of Donaldson’s Dog-Joy biscuits is assured.  

Berating the Competition

Freddie does not shy away from berating the competition. In Full Moon, Peterson’s Pup Food, a competing brand, is held to be a product lacking in vitamins, causing the hounds to get rickets, rheumatism, sciatica, anaemia, and stomach trouble, whereas:

‘…dogs raised on Donaldson’s Dog-Joy become fine, strong, upstanding dogs who go about with their chins up and both feet on the ground and look the world in the eye. Get your dog thinking the Donaldson way! Let Donaldson make your spaniel a super-spaniel! Place your Irish setter’s paws on the broad Donaldson highroad and watch him scamper away to health, happiness, the clear eye, the cold nose, and the ever-wagging tail!

Even Small Orders Count

In the same narrative, we meet Lady Dora Garland who happens to command two spaniels and an Irish setter. Her being a small prospect does not deter our go-getter. He believes that every little bit added to what one has makes just a little more. 

Allowing, say, twenty biscuits per day per spaniel and the same or possibly more per day per Irish setter, her custom per year per complete menagerie would be quite well worth securing.

Networking as a Tool

In Full Moon, Freddie also keeps in touch with Sir Rupert Brackenbury, the Master of Fox Hounds. His subtle sales talks have already won him over as a customer. He believes that those who join a satisfied customer like him for a hunt from nearby counties are likely to be told that the pack keeps ‘tucking into Donaldson’s Dog-Joy all the time, a bone-forming product peculiarly rich in Vitamins A, B, and C.’

Marketing professionals of all hues, sizes, and shapes would surely approve of the strategy and tactics used by Freddie to market his company’s product.


Wilfred Mulliner is also our go-to guy when promoting newly invented products.

Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo speaks of Buck-U-Uppo which acts directly on the red corpuscles. If type A is required for human invalids, type B is purely for circulation in the animal kingdom and was invented to fill a long-felt want throughout India. Maharajas could use it to cause even a timid elephant to trumpet loudly and charge the fiercest tiger without a qualm.

A Slice of Life promotes the case of Mulliner’s Raven Gypsy Face Cream which is to be applied nightly with a small sponge before retiring to rest, leading to satisfactory results from numerous members of the aristocracy. 

The same story advises nobility to use Mulliner’s Reduc-O, thereby eliminating the need for one to stew in Turkish Baths:

Mulliner’s Reduc-o, which contains no injurious chemicals, but is compounded purely of health-giving herbs, is guaranteed to remove excess weight, steadily and without weakening after-effects, at the rate of two pounds a week.

Human Resources/Organizational Behaviour

I think the richest harvest a CEO could reap from Plum’s works is in the realm of managing Human Resources. Many of his propositions are universal in nature and could be used by managers in any kind of organizational setting.

Psychology of the Individual

A critical input from Plum is in the form of the emphasis that Jeeves lays on the ‘psychology of the individual’.

Consider the way Jeeves manages to keep his career prospects intact by using tact and resource. His methods may be rough at times, but the neat results obtained do provide satisfaction to all concerned. He believes that one needs to break a few eggs to make an omelette. He registers dissent in a diplomatic manner. He is a respectful and dignified listener, speaking only when necessary. He leads others while appearing to be a devout follower.

The effectiveness of positive interpersonal relationships at work can never be over-emphasized. The efficiency as well as the effectiveness of CEOs and managers depends on the same. Whether managing bosses of different kinds or motivating colleagues and team members, an understanding of what makes each one tick surely helps.

The Art of Managing Bosses

Plum presents us with a wide spectrum of bosses. From the rather stiff-necked Mr. Peters of Something Fresh to a pliable one like Bertie Wooster, he offers us bosses with temperaments as varied as the colours in a rainbow.

Plum makes us appreciate the starkly different ways by which bosses get ‘managed’ by their respective juniors. Of all the alternative choices available, there are at least three which deserve a deeper consideration. I allude to Reginald Jeeves, Ashe Marson, and Rupert Psmith.

Jeeves is the inimitable valet of Bertie Wooster. Ashe Marson is the hero of Something Fresh. Psmith is the suave monocle-sporting Etonian. Each one has his own style of managing a boss. 

Managing the Boss: The Jeeves Style

It is difficult to sum up in a few words the kind of tactics Jeeves uses to manage the affairs of Bertie Wooster and many others in the canon. Sending Bertie off on a midnight cycle ride through a forest, making him take the rap for setting a boat adrift resulting in an angry swan attacking the Right Honourable A. B. Filmer, and allowing some cats to be present just when Sir Roderick is coming for lunch are but some of his ways to make Bertie’s life smoother.

  • Tact and Resource

In ‘Bertie Changes His Mind’ (Carry On, Jeeves), Jeeves sees a crisis which requires adroit handling. Simply by managing Bertie to deliver a talk to some giggling and staring schoolgirls, he manages to change Bertie’s mind when it comes to having the prattle of kids’ feet around him. He concludes thus:

Employers are like horses. They want managing. Some of us have the knack of managing them, some haven’t. I, I am happy to say, have no cause for complaint.

  • Decision Making Under Uncertainty

Mr. Wooster is a young gentleman with practically every desirable quality except one. I do not mean brains, for in an employer brains are not desirable. The quality to which I allude is hard to define, but perhaps I might call it the gift of dealing with the Unusual Situation.

What Jeeves prescribed almost a century back continues to be valid even today, especially in the mundane life of a CEO; even more so in the post Covid-phase of our operations. Those who have this unique gift of dealing with an unusual situation fare much better!

Managing the Boss: The Ashe Marson Style

In Something Fresh, Ashe Marson loves confronting his boss and challenges him to give up his sedentary habits. Looking the boss in the eye and giving it back to him occasionally ends up helping the boss. The diet-exercise regime unleashed upon the boss to cure his dyspepsia gradually starts showing results. The employer-employee relationship here has a dash of disobedience on part of the latter, but it does get results.

‘You’re a wonder,’ said Mr. Peters. ‘You’re sassy and you have no respect for your elders and betters, but you deliver the goods. That’s the point. Why, I am beginning to feel great.’

After the scarab is restored and the assignment at hand is over, Mr. Peter is impressed enough to offer him a career in watching over his health. He graciously accepts the offer to shift base to America, along with Joan Valentine, the love of his life. We are already aware that Ashe is conscious that a future in which Joan did not figure would not be such as to bear considering.

Alas, much like Psmith and Eve of the Leave it to Psmith fame, both are never heard of again anywhere else in the canon. 

The Rupert Psmith Style

In Leave it to Psmith, when Rupert Baxter, the secretary of Lord Emsworth, is given his marching orders, Psmith skilfully manages to charm Lord Emsworth into hiring him instead.

In Psmith in the City, we meet a tough cookie named John Bickersdyke, manager of the London branch of the New Asiatic Bank. Psmith provides us with quite a few invaluable insights into the art of boss management.

  • The Induction Process

For a new entrant, the induction phase in an organization plays a crucial role. Psmith offers some tips on the process of settling down in a company. 

  • The Friendly Native

Networking and social skills play an important role here. One needs to secure the cooperation of a friendly native. He is the one who knows the ropes and is aware of the personality traits and personal hobbies of the superiors who matter. Comrade Bannister is identified as the friendly native. In a casual chat, Bannister informs Psmith and Mike about Rossiter’s interest in football.

  • Winning Over Superiors

Armed with this intelligence, Psmith’s task of endearing himself to Rossiter, his immediate superior and the head of the Postal Department, becomes easy.

If the way to an immediate superior’s mind is good performance on the job, then the way to his heart is through either a hobby of his or an area of mutual interest.  

  • Entente Cordiale

Psmith advocates the use of patience – the chief quality of a successful general. The haunting of the hapless target of one’s attention – the boss – is a gradual process. It works better if one’s performance on the core job remains without a blemish.

Background information about an area of interest, when imparted to and discussed with the superior over a period of time, speeds up the progress of entente cordiale.

Once goodwill of the immediate boss has been earned, feedback reaching the top boss regarding a new recruit’s capabilities and potential is invariably positive.

Managing the Top Boss

However, Psmith’s approach to managing the top boss is different. Here, he achieves success by taking a confrontational approach. But he does so only after having proven his performance and having achieved success in his efforts to ingratiate himself with the immediate boss. Once he has found his feet, he is ready to take a leap of faith.

He achieves his objective in two phases.

  • The Reform Phase

The first one involves reforming the top boss by opening a dialogue with him at his club and then going on to challenge him openly, whether at a public meeting or at a spa.

When the bank manager Mr. Bickersdyke addresses a meeting at the Kenningford Town Hall to fulfil his political ambitions, the audience listens intently. Having said some nasty things about Free Trade and the Alien Immigrant, he turns to the Needs of the Navy and the necessity of increasing the fleet at all costs.

‘This is no time for half-measures,’ he said. ’We must do our utmost. We must burn our boats—’

‘Excuse me,’ said a gentle voice.

Mr Bickersdyke broke off. In the centre of the hall a tall figure had risen. Mr. Bickersdyke found himself looking at a gleaming eye-glass which the speaker had just polished and inserted in his eye.

‘How,’ asked Psmith, ’do you propose to strengthen the Navy by burning boats?’

The inanity of the question enraged even the pleasure-seekers at the back.

‘Order! Order!’ cried the earnest contingent.

Psmith claims that all his efforts are directed towards making a decent man of his boss; to establish that he is his truest friend.

  • The Blackmail Phase

The second phase is to ignore the boss’ threats to dismiss him for insolence and get him to do his bidding by even resorting to blackmail, if necessary.

When Mike’s career in the bank is in jeopardy, Psmith resorts to it. He leverages the political ambitions of the top boss to pull Mike out of the soup. He digs up some old speeches made by Comrade Bickersdyke when he was a bulwark of the Tulse Hill Parliament. If published, these would adversely affect Bickersdyke’s chances of getting in as the Unionist candidate at Kenningford.

This is what Psmith tells Mike:

‘I have some little influence with Comrade Bickersdyke. Wrongly, perhaps,’ added Psmith modestly, ’he thinks somewhat highly of my judgement. If he sees that I am opposed to this step, he may possibly reconsider it. What Psmith thinks today, is his motto, I shall think tomorrow. However, we shall see.’

The top boss weighs his options and eventually relents. While Mike gets off the hook, Comrade Bickersdyke goes on to become a Member of Parliament.

Management is all about getting results. Psmith shows us how to get a superior to do his bidding. 

The Perils of Having Yes-persons Around

The Nodder introduces us to Mr. Schnellenhamer, the head of the Perfecto-Zizzbaum Corporation, a film studio in Hollywood. He is not a person who brooks dissent. When he expresses his opinion on any subject, a respectful silence prevails. He looks about him expectantly. This is a cue for the senior Yes-Sheep to say yes. He is followed by the middle-rung Yes-Sheep and then the junior Yes-Sheep. Then the turn of all the Nodder-Dormices comes. They simply nod, one after the other. A dash of sycophancy keeps their employment prospects bright. 

This may work for owners of small and modest sized businesses. However, management professionals in senior positions seldom realize that having a bevy of Yes-persons around could be harmful to their long-term career prospects. Encouraging dissenters is a sine qua non for a leader’s success in any field of human endeavour. 

In Money in the Bank, Jeff describes Mrs. Cork, a brutal taskmaster, being in the same league as that of Simon Legree.

Building Bridges with Colleagues

Most organization charts hide more than they reveal. An organization really runs in an informal fashion where official proclamations are never as effective as informal ones. Goals get achieved faster and better by resorting to one’s interpersonal relationships. Building bridges with colleagues is the way to go.

One of the traits of an effective executive is the ability to get along with people of all temperaments and also looking at things from their view points.

By way of an example, consider Mike. He is not a snob. But he simply does not have the ability to be at his ease with people in another class from his own. He did not know what to talk to them about, unless they were cricket professionals. With them he was never at a loss.

However, Psmith is different. He could get on with anyone. He seems to have the gift of entering into their minds and seeing things from their point of view. Building bridges with others does help him in delivering results.

Being a Student of Human Nature Helps

While trying to console Mike, Rupert Psmith points out to him that a man of Comrade Bickersdyke’s warm-hearted type is apt to say in the heat of the moment a great deal more than he really means.

Men of his impulsive character cannot help expressing themselves in times of stress with a certain generous strength which those who do not understand them are inclined to take a little too seriously.

Chasing one’s Passion

Mike experiences the exhilaration of bursting the bonds with the New Asiatic Bank when he decides to return to cricket. Psmith, on the other hand, deserts his responsibilities to pursue a career in law.

‘This can’t go on,’ he said to himself. ’This life of commerce is too great a strain. One is practically a hunted hare.’

It needs wisdom to understand one’s strengths and weaknesses. If a leap of faith gets made to pursue one’s passion in life, happiness cannot be far behind.

The Art of Becoming Indispensable

Proficiency in On-the-job Skills

In The Custody of the Pumpkin, Lord Emsworth has to eat humble pie and beg Angus McAllister to rejoin his services. He approaches McAllister humbly and offers to double his salary if he returns to the castle. This alone ensures that his precious pumpkin ‘The Hope of Blandings’ ends up winning the coveted first prize at the Shrewsbury Show.  

Rendering Perfect Services

In The Inimitable Jeeves, we are treated to a scenario where Bertie has made up his mind to sack Jeeves.  To quote a delectable passage from the memoirs:

‘I buzzed into the flat like an east wind…and there was the box of cigarettes on the small table and the illustrated weekly papers on the big table and my slippers on the floor, and every dashed thing so bally right, if you know what I mean, that I started to calm down in the first two seconds. …. Softened, I mean to say. That is the word I want. I was softened.’

Needless to say, Jeeves stays put!

God’s Gift to Our Gastric Juices

Anatole, the supremely skilled French chef of Aunt Dahlia at her country house Brinkley Court, is much sought after by other employers. Those who try and lure him away from the Travers household include Mr. Anstruther in The Love that Purifies Sir Watkyn Bassett in The Code of the Woosters and Mrs. Trotter in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. He keeps Tom Travers’ lining of the stomach in the pink of health.

His is a fine example of such highly skilled professionals whose reputation travels far and wide, making potential employers keep a tab on their career moves with keen interest.

In The Story of Cedric, we meet Miss Myrtle Watling who assists Cedric Mulliner so very proficiently that he ends up marrying her. 

All of them achieve a high degree of invincibility in their careers by acquiring relevant knowledge, cultivating appropriate skills which happen to be invaluable to the organization. Also, by having a positive attitude and a value system which matches with that of their employers.  

Business Administration

Some Traits of a Bureaucratic Organization

The organizational behaviour of large bureaucracies is unique in many ways. Plum does not disappoint us in capturing this facet of management.

In Frozen Assets, Jerry, while reporting a missing wallet to a sergeant in a police station in Paris, realizes that he is up against French red tape, compared to which that of Great Britain and America is only pinkish.

In Psmith in the City, Plum gives us a sneak peek into the way a large bureaucratic organization works.

A Healthier Work–Life Balance

Then there was no doubt that it was an interesting little community, that of the New Asiatic Bank. The curiously amateurish nature of the institution lent a certain air of light-heartedness to the place. It was not like one of those banks whose London office is their main office, where stern business is everything and a man becomes a mere machine for getting through a certain amount of routine work. The employees of the New Asiatic Bank, having plenty of time on their hands, were able to retain their individuality. They had leisure to think of other things besides their work. Indeed, they had so much leisure that it is a wonder they thought of their work at all.

The Boredom Quotient of a Routine Job

Upon joining the bank, Mike realizes that except for Saturdays and Sundays, and the ten days’ holiday each year, he would have to face the drudgery of daily coming in at ten and leaving at five o’clock. The monotony of the prospect appalled him.

It is this monotony which makes the daily lunch a highlight of the day.

Few workers in the City do regard lunch as a trivial affair. It is the keynote of their day. It is an oasis in a desert of ink and ledgers. Conversation in city office deals, in the morning, with what one is going to have for lunch, and in the afternoon with what one has had for lunch.

For employees who believe in being proactive, it is difficult to shake off the caged feeling, often making them feel restless. Sooner or later, they start looking out for more exciting pastures.

The Concept of a Mistake-Clerk

How do we handle a disgruntled customer’s complaint? How do we assuage the feelings of a customer who is seething with fury?

According to Psmith in the City, there happens to be a regular post in American companies, called a mistake-clerk. His Key Responsibility Area is to receive all the flak when customers complain. He is hauled into the presence of the foaming customer, cursed, and sacked. The customer goes away appeased. The mistake-clerk, if the cursing has been unusually energetic, applies for a rise of salary.

Being the ‘fall guy/gal’ is no one’s idea of fun. However, there are indeed situations which need managers to willingly face the firing squad, howsoever despicable the prospect may be!

The Enthusiasm of Being a Cog in the Wheel

When Psmith joins the New Asiatic Bank, he believes that he, as an individual, ceases to exist. Instead, he becomes a cog in the wheel and a link in the bank’s chain. He makes his superiors believe that he, the Worker, shall not spare himself; that he shall toil with all the accumulated energy at his disposal.

Whose is that form sitting on the steps of the bank in the morning, waiting eagerly for the place to open? It is the form of Psmith, the Worker. Whose is that haggard, drawn face which bends over a ledger long after the other toilers have sped blithely westwards to dine at Lyons’ Popular Cafe? It is the face of Psmith, the Worker.

Discipline is the key to smoother operations. Painful duties cannot be shirked. In any case, Peter F. Drucker recommends focusing on one’s performance, rather than being concerned about one’s happiness.


Once upon a time, behind every successful senior manager or CEO, there used to be a secretary. Without a secretary fussing over them, the best of bosses would collapse. Their performance ratings would drop. Meetings, appointments, conference calls, travel plans, grapevine management, appointments, appraisals, promotions – there was virtually no activity in a company which fell outside the circle of influence of this omniscient and omnipotent tribe. Lesser mortals would invariably strive to always remain in the good books of the members of this species.

Over time, this species appears to have joined the ranks of such endangered ones as those of tigers, rhinos, and panthers. The smart ones have managed to get kicked upwards and have assumed operational roles. The not-so-smart ones have gravitated towards the unalloyed bliss of handling some mundane chores. The dull ones have simply been asked to pack their bags and seek greener pastures elsewhere.

In Plumsville too, secretaries keep the affairs in the lives of their bosses going on smoothly.

Lord Emsworth has employed a series of secretaries, most notable among them the ever-suspicious Rupert Baxter, the highly efficient young man who never seems to be able to keep away from Blandings, despite his boss’ increasingly low opinion of his sanity. He is succeeded in the post by Reginald Psmith, and later by the likes of Hugo Carmody and Monty Bodkin. The castle’s splendid library was catalogued, for the first time since 1885, by Eve Halliday.

When in the company of Lord Marshmoreton, we meet Alice Faraday. Julia Ukridge has a secretary by the name of Dora Mason. Aunt Agatha’s plans to get Bertie Wooster to take up the role of a secretary to the Cabinet Minister, A. B. Filmer, get thwarted by the acts of an angry swan.

Of course, the most outstanding secretary was Miss Myrtle Watling who made herself so very indispensable to Cedric Mulliner that he ended up marrying her!


A Risk-Taking Ability

When it comes to stoking entrepreneurial ambitions and improving one’s propensity to take risks, Joan Valentine, the heroine of Something Fresh, exhorts us as follows:

Don’t get into a groove. Be an adventurer. Snatch at the next chance, whatever it is.

She makes us appreciate that the ideal adventurer needs a certain lively inquisitiveness. She has a sense of enterprise which keeps her moving on in life.

A Dash of Optimism

Elsewhere in the canon, we meet Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, a charismatic opportunist who will do anything to increase his capital – except, of course, work. He believes in the adage that unless one speculates, one does not accumulate. He keeps coming up with get-rich-quick schemes and failing in his ventures with a remarkable degree of consistency. But his buoyant optimism never deserts him.

We find him setting up a Dog College where dogs can get trained to perform at a music hall. We also find him setting up an Accident Syndicate so insurance claims could be split up. He also supports sailors in the boxing ring. Elsewhere, we find that he is not averse to splitting a real estate commission earned during the sale of an English country house. In Love Among the Chickens, we find him setting up a chicken farm which also fails. But his buoyant optimism never deserts him. He starts visualizing starting up a duck farm!

Ukridge makes for an interesting case study on how not to set up and run a business. Lofty sales projections, an over-dependence on credit from suppliers, and lack of risk planning to overcome unforeseen setbacks ensure a failure of his ventures. Moreover, most of his ideas are of an immoral kind and are not sustainable.

Luck By Chance

The role that a chance occurrence plays in the life of an entrepreneur is brought out in Uncle Fred in the Springtime. Lord Ickenham tells Pongo of the policeman who accosted his aunt Brenda and said that her dog ought to be wearing a muzzle. When the aunt whipped her lorgnette from its holster and looked sternly at the man, he was never the same again. He left the Force, and eventually drifted into the grocery business.

And that is how Sir Thomas Lipton got his start.


In Plumsville, we do not run into any operations of a manufacturing kind. But rendering a service is what keeps many of the characters busy.

In Plumsville, besides Anatole, we also run into other cooks who are adored by their respective employers. In Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum, we come across the example of Miss Watson whom Mr. Mortimer Little, uncle of Bingo Little, intends to marry.  

Discipline for Rendering Impeccable Services

Something Fresh touches upon the kind of discipline required to render impeccable services at Blandings Castle. It takes a bevy of servants to keep things running in an orderly fashion at the Castle.

Besides the ever-present butler Beach, with eighteen years’ service at the castle under his ample belt, it employs a number of footmen, such as Charles, Thomas, Stokes, James and Alfred. The chauffeurs Slingsby and Alfred Voules drive the castle’s stately Hispano-Suiza. Scottish head gardeners Thorne and Angus McAllister tend the grounds while George Cyril Wellbeloved, James Pirbright and the Amazonian Monica Simmons take turns to look after the needs of Empress of Blandings.

There is a rigid hierarchy here, backed by customs and rituals which need to be scrupulously observed. There are strict rules of precedence among the servants. A public rebuke from the butler is the worst fate that can befall a defaulting member of this tribe.

Kitchen maids and scullery maids eat in the kitchen. Chauffeurs, footmen, under-butlers, pantry boys, hall boy, odd man and steward’s-room footman take their meals in the servants’ hall, waited on by the hall boy. The stillroom maids have breakfast and tea in the stillroom, and dinner and supper in the hall. The housemaids and nursery maids have breakfast and tea in the housemaid’s sitting-room, and dinner and supper in the hall. The head housemaid ranks next to the head stillroom maid. The laundry maids have a place of their own near the laundry, and the head laundry maid ranks above the head housemaid. The chef has his meals in a room of his own near the kitchen.

All this may sound similar to running a five-star property in the hospitality segment. Also, behaviourally speaking, there is not much difference between our corporate citizens and those who work below the stairs. Both love discussing the idiosyncrasies of those above them.

Materials/Supply Chain/Logistics

When the dove of matrimonial peace keeps flapping its wings over the abode of a happily married couple – like that of Rosie M. Banks and Bingo Little – it is apparent that the household and the kitchen never run short of any critical item. Since Rosie keeps travelling often, one may safely assume that the credit of managing the supply chain management on the household front would mainly go to Bingo Little.

Another example of an efficient ‘no-stock-out’ system would surely be that of Jeeves, the resourceful valet of Bertie Wooster. He never runs out of critical items at his master’s lair, even managing the needs of surprise visitors who descended on the Mayflair flat at a short notice. A ready supply of tissue restoratives and pick-me-ups is always available.

In Episode of the Dog McIntosh, the successful and timely restoration of the custody of the dog McIntosh to Aunt Agatha demonstrates the importance of following the Just-in-Time dictum.

This is how Bertie says he procured aniseed powder, widely used in the dog-stealing industry:

I don’t know what the record is for popping out and buying aniseed, but I should think I hold it. The thought of Aunt Agatha getting nearer and nearer to the Metropolis every minute induced a rare burst of speed. I was back at the flat so quick that I nearly met myself coming out.


Ukridge is of the view that ‘If you do not speculate, you do not accumulate.’ Those who dabble in the stock market would heartily approve of this sentiment.

Plum’s works do not offer any solace to those burning the proverbial midnight oil preparing cash flow and funds flow statements, though balancing of ledgers does figure sporadically in Psmith in the City. But he offers unique insights into the realm of finance, banking and insurance.

Of Insolvent Banks and Non-Performing Assets

In Do Butlers Burgle Banks? we meet Horace Appleby who looks and acts like a butler but is, in reality, part of a gang which is after jewels and precious objects. In nearby Mallow Hall lives Mike Bond, who has recently succeeded his late uncle as owner of the house and Bond’s Bank. He employs secretary Ada Cootes, and lives with his aunt Isobel Bond, who is confined to her room with a broken leg and has a nurse, Jill Willard.

Jill eavesdrops on a conversation between Mike and the bank trustees, General Sir Frederick Featherstone and Augustus “Gussie” Mortlake. The bank is insolvent by a hundred thousand pounds. Originally the amount was even greater, but Mike gambled with the depositors’ money to bring the amount down; he will go to prison if this is discovered.

Mike wishes someone would rob the bank to hide the truth. Jill suggests to Ada, who knows the combination to the bank’s large safe, that they rob the bank. They do so and after many twists and turns in the story, the police are on to Mike who fears he will go to prison if he keeps the suitcase, but the bank will fail if he returns it. Horace and the gang use their savings to finance the bank, saving Mike.

Making Insurance Companies Spiritual and Avoiding Stop Payment of Cheques

In Anselm Gets A Chance, we run into Myrtle Jellaby, niece of Sir Leopold Jellaby, the local squire, who happens to be a millionaire philatelist. Some of us would fondly recall the managerial abilities of Myrtle, who is in love with Anselm, the curate of the parish of Rising Mattock in Hampshire. Anselm cannot inform her uncle of the position of affairs because all he has to marry on is his meagre stipend.

Anselm benefits by an unexpected legacy – a stamp album which is insured for a sum of no less than five thousand pounds. Sir Jellaby pulls a fast one and declares the collection to be virtually worthless.

Myrtle brings in Joe Beamish who has served about sixteen prison sentences and has a sound reputation amongst burglars. Her idea is to get Joe to ‘steal’ the album so Anselm may claim the insurance money. But Anselm gets cold feet when it comes to lodging a claim.

Myrtle has definite views about insurance companies. Backed by her woman’s intuition, she goes to the root of the matter and touches a spot.

“What do you mean, you wonder? Of course we collect. Shoot the claim in to the insurance people without a moment’s delay.”

“But have you reflected, dearest?

“It doesn’t matter whether a thing’s valuable or not. The point is what you insure it for. And it isn’t as if it’s going to hurt these Mutual Aid and Benefit birds to brass up. It’s sinful the amount of money those insurance companies have. Must be jolly bad for them, if you ask me.”

Myrtle believes that insurance companies have too much money and would be better, finer, more spiritual insurance companies if they were made to cough up high value claims. Persuaded by her, Anselm realizes that it was not only a pleasure, but a duty, to nick the London and Midland Counties Mutual Aid and Benefit Association for five thousand pounds. It might prove the turning-point in the lives of its Board of Directors.

The fact that Myrtle herself has engineered the theft leaves Anselm shaken to the core. Of course, love prevails over ethical considerations.

But the situation undergoes a sea change when Anselm delivers a moving Sermon on Brotherly Love. Joe Beamish hands back the inherited stamp collection to him, thereby rendering a claim null and void. Sir Leopald Jellaby is found sobbing and expresses himself thus:

“Mulliner,” said Sir Leopold Jellaby, “you find me in tears. And why am I in tears? Because, my dear Mulliner, I am still overwhelmed by that wonderful sermon of yours on Brotherly Love and our duty to our neighbours.

“I wish to write you a cheque for ten thousand pounds for that stamp collection of yours.

“But your sermon to-night has made me see that there is something higher and nobler than a code of business ethics. Shall I cross the cheque?”

Having received a cheque, Myrtle does not waste time. She persuades Anselm to endorse it and give it to her, so she may motor to London that very night in her two-seater. This way, she would be at the bank the moment it opens and deposit it.

“You see, I know Uncle Leopold. He might take it into his head, after he had slept on it and that sermon had worn off a bit, to ‘phone and stop payment. You know how he feels about business precautions. This way we shall avoid all rannygazoo.”

There is nothing that so heartens a man in a crisis as the feeling that he has a woman of strong executive qualities at his side. Anselm kisses her fondly.

“You think of everything, dearest,” he said. “How right you are. One does so wish, does one not, to avoid rannygazoo.”

Systems and procedures

Regrettably, Wodehouse did not live long enough to witness the era of Information Technology. Around the time he handed in his dinner pail in 1975, this field was in its embryonic stage. Hence, this facet of management missed out on his humorous take on the digital world.

However, in the age of snail mail, telegrams, cyclostyle machines, telexes, fax machines, and large organizations with rigid hierarchies, Standard Operating Procedures drafted by glum looking internal auditors ruled. In Plumsville, one is apt to find rozzers and detectives who had their own set of procedures to be followed rigorously.

The Conscientious Rozzers

Take the case of rozzers who are over-zealous about protecting the property of the Crown. Use of their bicycles to impart riding lessons to young lasses gets resented. While tracking down criminals, they spare no effort. It is their upright and proper conduct which upholds the might of the Law. They are invariably meticulous in their approach. They show due respect to the gentler sex, unless they have direct evidence to the contrary. Even defaulters of the canine kind do not escape their fury.

Constable Ernest Dobbs (The Mating Season), Colonel Aubrey Wyvern (Ring for Jeeves), Eustace Oates (The Code of the Woosters) and Stilton Cheesewright (Joy in the Morning) are a few of the characters which pop up in one’s mind. 


Detectives of the benign kind solve many a problem for themselves and for their clients. In our challenging times, they no longer wear disguises. These days, besides tracking unfaithful spouses, they assist their companies in protecting their data against unethical hackers. Scotland Yard may still not be looking for their services, but many others are slowly recognizing the value of hiring digital detectives. 

The Perks of Having a Sinister Smile

In The Smile That Wins, Adrian Mulliner, a private detective, falls in love with Lady Millicent Shipton-Bellinger, the daughter of the fifth Earl of Brangbolton who dislikes detectives. The father insists that Millicent must marry Sir Jasper Addleton, the financier.

Heartbroken, Adrian has a bad attack of dyspepsia and a doctor advises him that the best cure for it is to smile. Adrian has a sinister-looking smile that seems to say ‘I know all’ and causes a great deal of nervousness amongst people with something to hide. When invited to a Baronet’s country home he unleashes his smile on Sir Jasper Addleton who, guilty like all financiers, hands him a cheque for a hundred thousand pounds.

With the hundred thousand pounds in hand, and the unfortunate effect of the smile on the Earl just as the Earl was cheating at cards, Adrian gets the Earl’s blessing to marry Millicent.

Joining the Beloved’s Profession

In Bill the Bloodhound, we run into Henry Pitfield Rice, a young man employed in a detective bureau who has fallen in love with chorus girl Alice Weston. He proposes to her, but she refuses. She is fond of him but wants to marry someone in her profession. Henry tries to get a job on the stage but fails since he cannot sing or dance. Henry is sent by his employer to follow the touring company performing The Girl from Brighton, which Alice is part of, since a woman wants her husband shadowed and he is an actor in the show. Henry follows the company from town to town, using different disguises.

The touring company realizes that Henry is a detective. People there call him Bill the Bloodhound. They are holding a sweepstake on who he is investigating. The show has been successful, so he gets asked to join them as a mascot. Henry agrees, but refuses to reveal who he is following. During the next show, Henry proposes to Alice just before she goes on stage. Eventually, Henry joins the company, and becomes a part of the same profession as that of Alice.


Investigators also include R. Jones of Something Fresh fame and Miss Putnam of Hot Water fame who plays a detective disguised as a secretary.    

Many companies do not encourage romantic relationships between their employees. However, hormones often overpower hierarchies.


We run into many ethical dilemmas faced by some of the characters in Plum’s narratives. Admittedly, there are no easy solutions to these.

In Clustering Round Young Bingo, Aunt Dahlia commissions the famous valet to somehow persuade the temperamental French cook Anatole to join her staff, so that Uncle Tom’s lining of the stomach remains in the pink of health. Bingo, Anatole’s current employer, is aghast to hear this.

‘What! Is that – that buzzard trying to pinch our cook?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘After eating our bread and salt, dammit?’

‘I fear, sir,’ sighed Jeeves, ‘that when it comes to a matter of cooks, ladies have but a rudimentary sense of morality.’

Many a times, Bertie Wooster is blackmailed by Aunt Dahlia who is bent upon getting her work done. The threat she holds out is that of banishing him from Brinkley Manor, her lair, where Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices, serves his delectable spreads.

In Something Fresh, the absent-minded Lord Emsworth ends up pocketing a prized scarab from the collection of American millionaire J. Preston Peters. Even though Peters suspects Lord Emsworth, he hesitates from directly confronting him on the issue, since his daughter Aline Peters is engaged to be married to Lord Emsworth’s son. He gets Ashe Marson to recover the scarab.

All managers face ethical and moral dilemmas in their career. Some are upright and uncompromising; many others allow practical considerations to prevail over principles.

Lessons of a General Kind

When the volume of the milk of human kindness coursing through an executive’s veins exceeds a certain critical level, peril lurks.

Voluntarily Seeking a Cut in the Paycheck

To Avoid a Saunter Down the Aisle

In The Episode of the Landlady’s Daughter, we run into Roland Bleke, an ordinary young man. He is a clerk in a seed-merchant’s office. Roland inadvertently gets engaged to his landlady’s daughter, Muriel Coppin, and does not want to marry her. He is supposed to marry her when his salary is large enough, so he asks his boss Mr. Fineberg to reduce his salary, which surprises Mr. Fineberg.

“Please, sir, it’s about my salary.”

“Salary?” he cried. “What about it? What’s the matter with it? You get it, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir, but it’s too much.”

Mr. Fineberg’s brain reeled.

“Say that again,” he said.

“If you could see your way to reduce it, sir——”

It occurred to Mr. Fineberg for one instant that his subordinate was endeavoring to be humorous, but a glance at Roland’s face dispelled that idea.

“Why do you want it reduced?”

“Please, sir, I am to be married when my salary reaches a hundred and fifty, sir. And it’s a hundred and forty now, so if you could see your way to knocking off ten pounds——”

For the Good of the Organization

In The Nodder, Mr. Mulliner tries to explain the role of a Nodder in a Hollywood motion picture organization thus:

‘Putting it as briefly as possible, a Nodder is something like a Yes-Man, only lower in the social scale. A Yes-Man’s duty is to attend conferences and say ‘Yes.” A Nodder’s, as the name implies, is to nod. The chief executive throws out some statement of opinion, and looks about him expectantly. This is the cue for the senior Yes-Man to say yes. He is followed, in order of precedence, by the second Yes-Man – or Vice-Yesser, as he is sometimes called – and the junior Yes-Man. Only when all the Yes-Men have yessed, do the Nodders begin to function. They nod.’

Wilmot Mulliner is one such. He is quiet, respectful, deferential, and obsequious.

Once he gets promoted to the rank of executive, starts getting his love reciprocated and is in receipt of a most satisfactory salary, he feels that the happy ending has arrived. He gets filled with the utmost benevolence and goodwill towards all humanity.

When the boss, Mr. Schnellenhamer, points out to him that the company is facing difficulties and needs to cut expenses, he proposes his own salary to be sliced by as much as eighty percent!

‘About how much were you thinking of?’

‘Well, you’re getting fifteen hundred a week.’

‘I know, I know,’ said Wilmot. ‘It’s a lot of money.’

‘I thought if we said seven hundred and fifty from now on …’

‘It’s an awkward sort of sum,’ said Wilmot dubiously. ‘Not round, if you follow me. I would suggest five hundred.’

‘Or four?’

‘Four, if you prefer it.’

‘Very well,’ said Mr. Schnellenhamer. ‘Then from now on we’ll put you on the books as three. It’s a more convenient sum than four,’ he explained.

‘Makes less book-keeping.’

‘Of course,’ said Wilmot. ‘Of course. What a perfectly lovely day it is, is it not? I was thinking as I came along here that I had never seen the sun shining more brightly. One just wanted to be out and about, doing lots of good on every side. Well, I’m delighted if I have been able to do anything in my humble way to make things easier for you, Chief. It has been a real pleasure.’

Employers simply love employees with this kind of a feudal and benevolent approach towards the organization!

Developing the Executive Abilities of Lady Macbeth

Dolly is the brassy, golden-haired shoplifting wife of Soapy, the brains of the couple. Unlike her husband, she is a firm believer in direct action. in Money in the Bank, Jeff Miller considers her to have the executive abilities of Lady Macbeth.

Justifying Being Late

Many of us have invented several excuses for landing up late in the office. In Quick Service, Joss Weatherby gives us a unique perspective.

When he walks into the offices of Duff and Trotter several hours later than expected, the following exchange takes place between him and Mr. Duff:

“You’re late!” he boomed.

“Not really,” said Joss.

“What the devil do you mean, not really?”

“A man like me always seems to be later than he is. That is because people sit yearning for him. They get all tense, listening for his footstep, and every minute seems an hour…”

Grooming Future-ready CEOs and Managers

By no stretch of imagination can this essay be taken to be an exhaustive one. It is merely a very thin slice of the delectable cake that Plum has left behind for managers to savour. The realm of management is a very wide one; so is the sheer range of Plum’s works. The attempt here is to not only connect some of the dots between the realms of management to some of his works but also to check if his oeuvre is relevant to navigate the choppy waters that our managers face in a high-entropy business environment.  

His works continue to be an effective balm for many 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.

Plum’s works not only entertain us. These also carry invaluable lessons for mankind in general and for CEOs and managers in particular. 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 is the basic reason his works have a very long shelf life.

I am not a management academician, but I do believe that his works, if converted into case studies and brought into the regular syllabi of management institutes, can surely help us in grooming future-ready CEOs and managers.

Enlightened owners and CEOs, while rewarding good work, can consider presenting a set of Plum’s books to their star performers, so as to entertain, enthuse and educate their managers better.

Harvard Business School (HBS) was set up in 1908, when Plum was barely 27 years of age and was just warming up to his future career as an illustrious humourist. But if he had ever attended a management course at HBS, his characters might have been etched out differently.

Roberta Wickham would have been a marketing head at a FMCG conglomerate, coming up with such goofy schemes as getting management trainees to puncture the hot-water bottles of competing companies’ CEOs. Bingo Little would have been deploying his sporting spirits to educate people on investing in equities. Madeline Bassett would have been the dreamy Creative Head of an advertising agency. Roderick Spode would have been the Chairman and Design Head of Eulalie Secrets Ltd.

Florence Craye would have been dishing out such best-selling tomes as ‘A Managerial Spin to Our Drifting Times’. Pauline Stoker would have been the head of an event management company of repute. Jeeves would have been running an academy offering specialized courses in managing bosses. Bertie Wooster would have been delivering talks to a bunch of giggling management students on ‘Decision Making: Lessons from The Cat Chap’ and perhaps even working on a series of articles entitled ‘What the Well-Dressed CEO is Wearing’ for the Harvard Business Review.

Galahad and Psmith would have been found managing large multinational businesses, steering those strategically and handling their operations with quiet efficiency and effectiveness.  

The possibilities are endless. The mind boggles.

Had this been the case, management academicians would have readily incorporated his works in textbooks and even whipped up relevant case studies, thereby benefitting wannabe managers.           

Management by Milk of Human Kindness

In an interesting article (https://hbr.org/2014/07/managements-three-eras-a-brief-history), Rita Gunther McGrath identifies three eras of the process of evolution of management thought. According to her, if the first era pertained to execution – with an emphasis on creating scale – the second one focused on expertise. During the second era, professionals were focused on providing advanced services. Now, many are looking to organizations to create conscious and meaningful experiences. Though she argues that management has entered a new era of empathy, I would rather say that we have entered an era of consciousness, wherein managements are being increasingly called upon to act responsibly towards the planet which supports their sustenance.

Subconsciously, we have already entered an era of management thought wherein the basic credo is the Milk of Human Kindness, a term borrowed by Plum from Macbeth more than a century back. Empathy has indeed become important, making businesses aware of larger issues besides shareholder returns. Triple-line bottom accounting is gaining traction. ESG (Environment, Society, and Governance) norms are being applied by investors before they decide to loosen their purse strings. Blockchain is being deployed to offer a transparent deal to the customer, who continues to rule the roost. Employees are increasingly showing a preference for employers whose transactions are equitable, fair, and transparent. 

As we march into the future, a Wodehousean approach to Management could help organizations in more ways than one.


  1. Illustration on Secretaries by Mario Miranda; Caricature of P G Wodehouse courtesy Suvarna Sanyal.
  2. Inputs from Anustup Datta, Chakravarti Madhusudana, Elin Woodger, Prof Satish Kapoor, and Tomas Prenkert are gratefully acknowledged.

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When Jeeves Takes Charge: 2.0

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The spirit of the Italian monk Bernard of Menthon would be delighted to know of the innumerable references by Plum to this sterling species which is famous for its rescue missions in the Alps.

Here are some such references which fans of P G Wodehouse would enjoy.

“You wouldn’t blame a snowbound traveller in the Alps for accepting a drop of brandy at the hands of a St. Bernard dog.”

(The Mating Season)

“One should always carry a flask about in case of emergencies. Saint Bernard dogs do it in the Alps. Fifty million Saint Bernard dogs can’t be wrong.”

(Joy in the Morning)

“We are elderly internees, most of us with corns and swollen joints, not Alpine climbers. If we are supposed to be youths who bear ’mid snow and ice a banner with the strange device ‘Excelsior’, there ought to be Saint Bernard dogs stationed here and there, dispensing free brandy.”

(Performing Flea: “Huy Day by Day”)

“…that brandy came in handy. By the way, you were the dickens of a while bringing it. A St Bernard dog would have been there and back in half the time.”

(The Code of the Woosters)

“I was badly in need of alcoholic refreshment, and just as my tongue was beginning to stick out and blacken at the roots, shiver my timbers if Jeeves didn’t enter left centre with a tray containing all the makings. St Bernard dogs, you probably know, behave in a similar way in the Alps and are well thought of in consequence.”

(Much Obliged, Jeeves)

Bill Shannon to Phipps:

“You really ought to go around with a keg of brandy attached to your neck, like Saint Bernard dogs in the Alps. No delay that way. No time lag.”

(The Old Reliable)

And indeed the years had dealt lightly with the erstwhile Maudie Montrose. A little more matronly, perhaps, than the girl with the hourglass figure who had played the Saint Bernard dog to the thirsty wayfarers at the old Criterion, she still made a distinct impression on the eye…

(Pigs Have Wings)

“She stood behind the counter, waiting, like some St Bernard dog on an Alpine pass, to give aid and comfort to the thirsty.”

(Big Money)

“Another of the same, please, Mr. M,” he said, and Rupert Morrison once more became the human St. Bernard dog.

(Cocktail Time)

“They sent out the St. Bernard dogs, and found him lying in the snow, lifeless and beautiful.”

(Money in the Bank)

He remembered the creamy stuff as particularly palatable, and it seemed to him incredible that Ivor Llewellyn had not jumped at it like a snowbound wayfarer in the Alps reaching for the St. Bernard dog’s keg of brandy.

(Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin)

It astounded him to think that he could ever have disliked this St. Bernard dog among butlers.

(Spring Fever)

He directed his steps to the public bar and was glad to find it unoccupied except for the blonde young lady who stood behind the counter and played the role of St. Bernard dog to the thirsty wayfarers of Walsingford Parva.

(Summer Moonshine)

St. Bernard dogs doing the square thing by Alpine travellers could not have bustled about more assiduously.

(Right Ho, Jeeves)

“…I’m to buy a pack of St. Bernards, am I, and train them to go out and drag them in?”

(The Luck of the Bodkins)

It was Adams’ mission in life to flit to and fro, hauling would-be lunchers to their destinations, as a St. Bernard dog hauls travelers out of Alpine snowdrifts.

(Something New)

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