The quiet evening saw the silver rays of moonshine descending upon Blandings Castle. The soft and silvery glow dimly lit up its ivied walls, its rolling parks, its gardens and its outhouses. The frenzied revelries of Christmas were another month away. Peace prevailed. Tranquillity ruled.
In the cozy smoking room of Blandings Castle, two persons could be sighted. In the big chair nearest to the door, one could see the Earl of Emsworth, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Plumsville. He had a cigar in his mouth and a weak highball at his side. His fuzzy brain was softly whispering in his ears that life could not get any better. His son, Hon. Freddie, was happily busy in America, executing his marketing plans for Donaldson’s Dog-Joy Biscuits. Lady Constance Keeble was off to some South American countries on a charity drive for a few more weeks. He was his own boss.
Since he had assumed charge as a titular head of Plumsville, the only interruptions to his leisurely strolls through the gardens came in the form of visiting dignitaries. Earlier in the day, a Japanese delegation had called upon him. They had come to invite him to visit their country. He vaguely remembered that they had hoped that a technical collaboration could come about between the two nations – something to do with the need for their citizens to learn to laugh more and worry less.
Next to him sat a young man whose eyes, glittering through rimless spectacles, were concentrated on the dimly lit screen of a tablet PC. Rupert Baxter, the President’s invaluable secretary, was in the habit of relaxing his busy brain by answering some inane mails received from the President’s fans all over the world. More often than not, these pertained to either requests for an appointment for taking a selfie with the Empress, or enquiries regarding some children wanting to attend the upcoming Carnival.
The President sat and smoked, and sipped and smoked again, at peace with all the world. His mind was as nearly blank as that of a child who, while being forced to sit in the classroom, finds the idle swaying of plants just outside the window more alluring. The hand that was not holding the cigar was at rest in his trousers pocket. The fingers of it fumbled idly with a fairly large-sized object which appeared to be a folded letter of some kind.
In due course of time, it dawned upon the President’s mind that this large-sized letter was not familiar. A part of his mind mildly protested. What was the use of having a so-called efficient secretary if a letter were to be found in his trouser pockets? He yielded to a growing curiosity and drew it out. He examined it. It appeared to be an official invitation of some kind. A detailed letter, with an insignia depicting three lions embossed on the top. It touched no chord in him. He looked at it with amiable distaste.
“Now how in the world did that get there?” he said.
Rupert Baxter looked up from his tablet PC.
“I have found this curious looking letter in my pocket, Baxter. I was wondering how it got there.”
He handed the thing to his secretary. Rupert Baxter gasped.
“So, here it is!” he cried. “Superb!”
Lord Emsworth looked at him inquiringly.
“It is the invitation from India, sir. Just today morning, I was wondering where it was. Because we have to respond to it quickly. A true honour, and yet another feather in your cap!”
“Is it? But is the event not already over, Baxter?”
“No, Mr President. It is around eight weeks away.”
“Eight weeks away, you say? But she just one the prize once again, right?”
“What are you referring to, Mr President?”
“Well…er…did you not mention an invitation for the Empress to participate in an upcoming international event? She has just been through one and her nerves are just beginning to relax after the ordeal.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr President. Perhaps you refer to our national pride, the Empress. I was instead alluding to the call received by us some time back from the Prime Minister’s Office in India. They had said that they would consider it a great honour for you to be the Chief Guest at their next Republic Day Parade. You had conveyed your positive inclination to do so over telephone, if you would remember. They had then sent this official invitation.”
Lord Emsworth shook his head. “I do not remember this, Baxter. India, you say? Is it not the country of snake charmers and elephants? What will I do there?”
“Mr President, India is a fast upcoming country. You have the world’s greatest fan following there. Many of Plumsville’s products have huge potential there. Our Royal Academy of Goofy Technologies would be delighted to have access to that market. Every year, on January 26, they celebrate their Republic Day. It is their custom to invite a Head of State as a Chief Guest at the Parade. This time, they have invited you. It is a great honour.”
“Baxter, I fail to understand this. Is India not a poor country? Why would they be interested in inviting someone from Plumsville? We are not a super power. Nor do we have oil reserves at our command. I believe all countries deal with each other only so they might enjoy better energy security. From the view-point of religious dogmas, you know that we are neutral. I fail to understand this invitation.”
“Mr. President, Plumsville is unique in the sense that it is undeniably rich in good, clean, non-vindictive humour. Its denizens are experts at solving complex problems using some simple but out-of-the-box schemes which might sound somewhat goofy to lesser mortals of the world. We have erudite butlers, absent-minded earls and youngsters who spend their time pleasing the delicately nurtured in their lives by pinching policemen’s helmets, stealing cats and performing convoluted acts of petty larceny. When it comes to chivalry, they set a gold standard. Even married members of the males of the species go to extra lengths to ensure that the dove of peace keeps hovering above their home and hearth. They could be faulted for risking three months’ allowance on a sporting adventure, but they make prompt amends. They ensure that their wives never fail to get their afternoon cup of tea. Our divorce rates are insignificant. Our kids are a happy lot, pampered as they are by their doting parents.”
A vague memory stirred the fuzzy brain of Lord Emsworth.
“Baxter, you forget that we recently heard some reports about kids burning down cottages and misbehaving with guest speakers by simply giggling and staring at the poor souls. Er…, I forget the names, but you would surely remember the delegation of school principals which made a presentation on the Goofiness Rankings of their wards recently?”
“Sir, kids will be kids. Some allowance will need to be made for their rogue behaviour. Our own family is no exception to this.”
Lord Emsworth shuddered. He frowned. He looked sharply at his secretary.
“Baxter, I thought you were recounting to me the unique things that Plumsville offers to humanity in general?”
“My apologies for the digression, Mr. President. Our citizens are indeed unique. Their codes of conduct are centred round helping their pals, come what may. They bow to the merest whims and fancies of their tyrannical aunts. Compared to the better known countries, we have abundant supplies of the milk of human kindness. Our crime rate is zero and is a matter of envy amongst the so-called super powers. Our denizens are free from an affliction known as depression. No one commits a suicide. Many research institutes the world over are keen to get to the depth of these unique traits of our supremely contented and joyful citizens. Even our relatively poorer citizens go about their lives smilingly. It is widely known that if not actually disgruntled, they are far from being gruntled. We are the only country on our planet which has no boundaries. People need no passports and visas to visit us. All they need is a sense of humour.”
“That does make some sense. Yet, what leaves me baffled is the keen attention the Indians shower on us. Does this not sound a bit puzzling to you, Baxter?”
“In a way, it is. Only around ten percent of their population is familiar with the Queen’s language. But they have a large population, next only to that of China. You may know that for a better part of two centuries, Indians were ruled by the dispensable siblings of the British nobility. Perhaps they still carry a feeling of awe and respect for us. Perhaps the idea of acquiring a linguistic skill and being on an equal footing with their erstwhile ruler appeals to them. I believe that by keeping a keen eye on the escapades of our citizenry, at a conscious level, they are temporarily relieved of the pain of their poverty, misery and lack of quality infrastructure and civic services. At a subconscious level, I suspect this is their style of fighting the ghosts of imperialism while fuelling their own sense of nationalism. Whatever the reason, they appear to be dead serious about deepening their engagement with our unique Republic.”
“Bless my soul!” Lord Emsworth beamed. “Your analysis is extremely interesting, Baxter. I recall having heard that they had unrest in India because its inhabitants used to eat only an occasional handful of rice.”
“But they had a great leader who put them on the path of civil disobedience.”
A distant memory came back to Lord Emsworth’s foggy brain.
“Yes, was Mahatma Gandhi not his name? I am told he was a person of strict dietary habits and never sat down to a good juicy steak. Had he done so, and then followed it up with roly-poly pudding and a spot of Stilton, world history would perhaps have been different.”
“I am not qualified enough to comment upon this, Mr President.”
“Baxter, one has heard so much of the princely states of India. I wonder if I could get to meet any of the princes or kings, if I do decide to make the trip.”
“The princes and kings are long since gone. They do have rich businessmen, politicians and landowners who rule the roost. You will surely get to meet quite a few of them. In fact, you would be enjoying the hospitality of the President of India. His palace is said to be having 340 rooms. It also has an excellent garden boasting of many exotic flowers. You would surely relish a saunter down the famous Mughal Gardens.”
Lord Emsworth blossomed like a watered flower.
“Flowers?! That does sound very interesting. Wonder if they would have Damasks and Agryshires there?”
“I doubt if their tropical climate is favourable to such flowers. But I have been told that they have a great variety of flowers there. Especially, roses. Even orchids.”
“One has also heard so much of the hospitality of Indians. How exceedingly kind of them to have thought of us, Baxter. By the way, would you have an idea as to what my engagements there would be like?”
“They have a military parade where you shall be the Chief Guest. Then there would be a couple of meetings. The President of India would host a banquet in the evening. Two days after the main parade, they also have a great ceremony – ‘Beating the Retreat’. I believe you would not be expected to attend the same.”
“Military parade, you say, Baxter?”, Lord Emsworth squirmed in his seat.
“Besides military hardware and soldiers walking in perfect tandem, they also have cultural tableaux, Mr. President. I understand that they are planning an extensive coverage of iconic Plumsville locations and characters this year.”
“I cannot imagine what they would have planned. Would you have a clue, Baxter?”
“Yes, Mr President. The leading one would be that of the Empress of Blandings. Then there would be ones depicting the Senior Conservative Club and the Drones Club. A model of our Prime Minister Mr Rupert Psmith, shown working in a bank, would be there. This would make people appreciate his humble origins and also enthuse them to open bank accounts. This might assist the Government there to fulfil its goals of financial inclusion. Scenes from the life of our Minister of Milk of Human Kindness, Mr Bertie Wooster, would be recreated. These would demonstrate the premium we place on chivalry. These would be designed to promote the cause of gender equity. Some youth might even follow his example and decide to remain bachelors. The Government of India believes this would help them in population control.”
“This does sound ingenious, Baxter. One would feel happy at having helped others to achieve their goals. What else would they be covering?”
“Yes. Our Minister of International Affairs, Mr Reginald Jeeves, would feature in one of the tableaux. The Bingeese – I allude to Mr Bingo Little and his wife Mrs Rosie M Banks – shall be featured to demonstrate our values in matrimonial harmony. One will depict a full-scale model of a silver cow-creamer. Yet another will depict some of the better known animals and pets we have – Potato Chip, McIntosh, Bartholomew, Poppet, Tabby, Augustus and the like. There are quite a few others which, I am sure, you would enjoy.”
“This would certainly be an experience I would treasure. You also mentioned some official talks, Baxter?”
“Yes. There will be a delegation accompanying you to attend to those details. You may get to inaugurate an Indian Institute of Chivalry, so they might address the challenge of mistreatment of the delicately nurtured more effectively. If all goes well, you may also lay the foundation stone of a manufacturing complex, to be set up in technical collaboration with our Royal Academy of Goofy Technologies.”
“Well, quite a busy schedule, as I can see. Hope I shall get enough time for some rest and recuperation. Possibly, some palatable food as well.”
“I shall personally attend to the matter. Indian dishes and curries are now a hot favourite all over the world. Thanks to your active lifestyle, your stomach lining is in good shape, Mr President. I am sure you would relish them.”
From afar came the silver booming of a gong. Lord Emsworth rose.
“Baxter, I daresay you pay too much attention to food. I still remember the occasion when you allowed your passion for midnight snacks to take precedence over your bounden duties. Our museum lost a precious scarab that way.”
Baxter stood up and shuffled his feet.
“Several times have I tried to explain the matter………”
Lord Emsworth drew himself up to his full height.
“No need. I certainly appreciate the invitation received, though I must confess that from a purely practical standpoint it leaves me a little cold. I wonder if the Indians are capable of looking after her dietary needs.”
Baxter looked up in surprise. “The Empress?”
“Of course. Do you think we could be so careless as to leave her here? Especially, when the next Shropshire Agricultural Show is coming up in a few months’ time?”
“But George Cyril Wellbeloved would be back on duty in the first week of January, Mr President. You need not be anxious on that account.”
“Do you think she will be getting fed as per the Wolff-Lehmann feeding standards, Baxter?”
“I am certain, Mr President.”
“If so, shall we go ahead with the trip? Have you consulted Mr. Psmith?”
“Yes, sir. He is positive about it. In fact, he plans to meet you early next week, so as to be able to brief you about the future plans he has for us to deepen our engagement with India.”
Lord Emsworth inched towards the door.
“Right, Baxter, do call him over. Let us go ahead with this.”
“Thank you, Mr President. I shall initiate the official process without further delay.”
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