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Posts Tagged ‘Something Fresh’

One of the several challenges of advancing age is the kind of vague pessimism which starts creeping upon us. The soul awakens us to some deeper realities of life. The mind takes a jaundiced view of Fate bearing gifts. The body, an old creaky jalopy that it becomes, needs to undergo more frequent bouts of denting and servicing.

Different body parts, of which we were blissfully unaware so far, start giving up their life long silence and start a ‘Me-Too’ kind of a campaign, demanding exclusive attention. The engine starts firing only on four out of its six cylinders. The fuel pump starts developing blockages. The carburettor needs cleaning more often. The radiator starts leaking. The battery charge keeps getting depleted faster.  The nervous circuitry starts letting us down. The lining of the stomach starts registering a protest as and when greed takes over prudence on the dining table; no longer can it match the relative youth of one’s taste buds which keep making one drool over deep fried stuff and gorging upon it with gay abandon.

Every 3 to 5 years, a new pill has to be popped up, adding to the existing array of pills and capsules of different hues to be put down the hatch at regular intervals. 

But howsoever dark the clouds may be, P. G. Wodehouse is there to help us to maintain a chin-up attitude!    

A Cardiac Challenge

Fifteen years after I had undergone a cardiac bye pass surgery, a condition of gradually unstable angina again caught up with me recently. I would spare the hapless reader of this piece from the medical and technical details of what exactly transpired. Suffice it to say that a complex array of cardiac tests were done using menacingly hissing gigantic equipment which made one feel sympathetic towards the character played by Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible series of flicks. After some of these tests, one was put on a drip, wired to a noisily beeping monitor and left to reflect on one’s life. The adventurous trauma finally ended with an angioplasty when a doctor with a stiff upper lip announced having sneaked in two stents inside the heart.

The process left one feeling like a much-punctured and deflated balloon, devoid of all vitality. In any case, at the best of times, one enters a hospital with a sense of deep trepidation. The fear of the unknown gnaws at one’s insides, leaving one wondering if someone sinister like Roderick Spode had eventually succeeded in turning one inside out and had then gleefully jumped upon the innards with hob-nailed boots.

But the adventure was not without its perks. Since one is willy-nilly forced to surrender to higher powers, one tends to become more spiritual. One learns to be more ‘patient’. One also runs into a delightful array of doctors, nurses and patients, almost all of different hues, ranks, sizes, shapes and temperament. 

Some Doctors That I Ran Into

One of the doctors I ran into was built along the lines of Doctor E. Jimpson Murgatroyd of Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen fame. His looks could easily send one’s spirits down in the basement. He had sad and brooding eyes and looked like someone who had been looking on the dark side of life since he was a toddler. Nevertheless, his advice was sane, frank and honest, though brutal.

Yet another I came across sounded more like Doctor George Mulliner. He was a caring and compassionate doctor whose brow was perennially worried about his patients. Whether consulting or doing a procedure, he would intermittently flash a reassuring smile, arresting a sudden spike in the adrenaline coursing through the veins of the hapless patient.  He gave an impression of someone who would be thinking beautiful thoughts while in bed but only after having read aloud a kids’ story from the oeuvre of someone like P. G. Wodehouse to his younger ones.

I also met Doctor Sally Smith who was not a generalist in this case but a junior cardiac specialist. I found her to be calm, empathic and fair. She placed a premium on understanding the psychology of the patient and genuinely tried to understand his/her concerns and address these to the best of her ability. When something critical was pointed out to her, her shapely eyebrows did not flicker even a fraction of an inch, making one remind of Reginald Jeeves. I am reasonably certain that during childhood, her doting mother had fed her with ample supply of salmon. She was a living proof of the fact that a woman cardiac specialist need not of necessity be an ugly duckling with steel-rimmed spectacles and a wash-leather complexion. In fact, she reminded one of Drew Barrymore of Charlie’s Angels fame, radiating charming competence of a high order.  

Initially, I also ran into someone like Emerald Stoker. She was one of those soothing, sympathetic kind of doctors you can take your troubles to, confident of having your hand held and your head patted. She was quite young but there was a sort of motherliness about her which one found comforting and restful. One could ask her any question about the impending procedure and she would answer it with empathy and patience. When one left her cabin, the sagging spirits had soared and the brow was not as burrowed as before; the soul was no longer in as much of a torment as it happened to be in earlier.   

The Nursing Angels

Some of you may remember Amelia Bingham of Bachelors Anonymous fame. She had fussed over Mr. Ivor Llewellyn, head of the Superba-Llewellyn studio of Hollywood, so very well that the latter ended up proposing to her, much against his own resolve to cease and desist from making impulsive marriage proposals.

Luckily, unlike Mr. Ivor Llewellyn, I do not head any Hollywood studio. Nor do I have a track record of having suffered through as many as five divorces. I am merely a widower. So, if any of you suspect my having fallen for one of the many nurses I ran into while in the process of getting an angioplasty done, you could not be more off the mark. One has one’s code, you see: The Code of the Bhatias!

If one of the nursing angels was like a Florence Nightingale who ensured that I kept getting adequate nourishment during my stay at the hospital, another was like Aunt Agatha who took sadistic pleasure in pricking the hands at all the wrong spots, eventually finding an appropriate vein in the forearms where a cannula had to be put. All of them had their own methods of removing the cannula and other sticky plasters. Some preferred to zip up the proceedings by doing it in a flash of a second, leaving one all shaken and stirred, ruing the painful loss of some body hair. Others went about it gradually, in slow motion as it were, making the proceedings somewhat painful, though for a longer duration.

However, in some aspects, their behaviour was pretty consistent. All of them kept treating me like an errant school kid who needs to be cautioned to have all his medications on time. When it came to checking blood sugar levels, all of them insisted upon puncturing one of the tender fingers. My repeated pleas to draw instead a sample from the cannula fell on deaf ears.

Patient care and comfort was, of course, their first priority. This included an ever-smiling visage as and when they entered the enclosure allotted to me. Some of them resorted to small talk, making decent and unobtrusive enquiries about one’s family members. When leaning over across the body to attach some leads, they would often apologize.       

Some were cast in the mould of Mary Anthony of Absent Treatment fame. They were tall, had a ton and a half of red-gold hair, grey/blue eyes, and one of those determined chins. Few showed signs of superior intelligence, capable of such feats as supporting a team in burgling banks, like Jill Willard of Do Butlers Burgle Banks? One, with a lissom and willowy profile, came across as Audrey Blake (The Little Nugget), who could have aroused romantic thoughts in the hearts of some of her patients.

The Common Thread

For all medicos, the patient comes first and foremost. When working in a public hospital, the pressure of revenue generation is singularly absent. Their exposure to a large number of patients with a wide spectrum of ailments makes them hotter at their jobs. Their professionalism only grows and matures over time, benefiting humanity at large. They facilitate the process of longevity and make us happy in the process. Their methods may be rough at times, but, as Jeeves says, one has to break a few eggs to make an omelette.  

It may be noted that there was a specific reason I did not carry any book of P. G. Wodehouse while being in the hospital. With all the tubes and monitors one was often connected to, one did not wish to add to medical complications by bringing about bouts of uncontrollable mirth. Guffawing, laughing out loudly and falling out of beds allotted to one would have raised many an eyebrow. Mere memories of his works and the delightful range of eccentric characters and goofy situations he has unleashed upon us are enough to help one to face the harsh slings and arrows of Fate. 

I confess I underwent the traumatic experience only thanks to the support received from my family and owing to Plum’s works. He has left behind for all of us a world which is so very soothing and comforting that one could undergo any difficult experience in life and yet experience happiness.

After all, in Something Fresh, he has himself said that:

As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.

Sure enough, he delivers on his promise!

(Allusions to nurses are courtesy Neil Midkiff; Caricature of yours truly is courtesy Suvarna Sanyal)

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ashokbhatia

When the Wooer is a Persistent Superman

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

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

By the…

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ashokbhatia

A Singular Absence of Morality

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

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

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

A Female Who Aims to Break the Glass Ceiling

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

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

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ashokbhatia

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

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

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

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

‘Yes.’

‘Wodehouse as in P.G.?

‘Yes.’

‘The writer or the dietician?’

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

‘And you did them?’

‘No, I just read about them.’

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

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

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

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

Some bedside manner, humph!

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

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

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

‘Damaging?’

A certain amount, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ashokbhatia

Fans of P G Wodehouse (Plum) often wonder as to why their favourite author of sublime humour is often found missing on the high table of English literature.

Comparisons are odious, but let us take the case of The Bard, considered one of the literary geniuses of our times. If he has dished out narratives rooted in such human emotions as greed, revenge, jealousy and love, so has Plum. Many of their characters are as quirky as they come. Both have contributed in so small measure to the enrichment of English. To the current generation, both sound a trifle outdated and, by and large, incomprehensible.

The Incomprehensibility Quotient

Perhaps, the reason I find The Bard’s works relatively unfit for human consumption can be traced back to their high level of Incomprehensibility Quotient.

Is there really any fun in picking up a book where, after each sentence, one has to consult…

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When the Delicately Nurtured Get Ahead

He admired Joan’s courage, he was relieved that her venture had ended without disaster, and he knew that she deserved whatever anyone could find to say in praise of her enterprise: but, at first, though he tried to crush it down, he could not help feeling a certain amount of chagrin that a girl should have succeeded where he, though having the advantage of first chance, had failed. The terms of his partnership with Joan had jarred on him from the beginning.

A man may be in sympathy with the modern movement for the emancipation of woman and yet feel aggrieved when a mere girl proves herself a more efficient thief than himself. Woman is invading man’s sphere more successfully every day; but there are still certain fields in which man may consider that he is rightfully entitled to a monopoly–and the purloining of scarabs in the watches of the night is surely one of them.

Obesity

On the theory, given to the world by William Shakespeare, that it is the lean and hungry-looking men who are dangerous, and that the “fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights,” are harmless, R. Jones should have been above suspicion.

The Gravity of Challenges

Trouble, after all, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

The Perks of an Advanced Age

Among the compensations of advancing age is a wholesome pessimism, which, though it takes the fine edge off of whatever triumphs may come to us, has the admirable effect of preventing Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks, coins with strings attached, and unhatched chickens, at which ardent youth snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent disappointment. As we emerge from the twenties we grow into a habit of mind that looks askance at Fate bearing gifts. We miss, perhaps, the occasional prize, but we also avoid leaping light-heartedly into traps.

As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.

When the Heart Stands Still

To say that Baxter’s heart stood still would be physiologically inexact. The heart does not stand still. Whatever the emotions of its owner, it goes on beating. It would be more accurate to say that Baxter felt like a man taking his first ride in an express elevator, who has outstripped his vital organs by several floors and sees no immediate prospect of their ever catching up with him again. There was a great cold void where the more intimate parts of his body should have been.

The Perils of Handling a Millionaire

Success had made Mr. Peters, in certain aspects of his character, a spoiled child.

At the moment when Ashe broke the news he (Mr. Peters) would have parted with half his fortune to recover the scarab. Its recovery had become a point of honor. He saw it as the prize of a contest between his will and that of whatever malignant powers there might be ranged against him in the effort to show him that there were limits to what he could achieve. He felt as he had felt in the old days when people sneaked up on him in Wall Street and tried to loosen his grip on a railroad or a pet stock. He was suffering from that form of paranoia which makes men multimillionaires. Nobody would be foolish enough to become a multimillionaire if it were not for the desire to prove himself irresistible.

The Honourable Freddie hated piercing stares. One of the reasons why he objected to being left alone with his future father-in-law, Mr. J. Preston Peters, was that Nature had given the millionaire a penetrating pair of eyes, and the stress of business life in New York had developed in him a habit of boring holes in people with them. A young man had to have a stronger nerve and a clearer conscience than the Honourable Freddie to enjoy a tete-a-tete with Mr. Peters.

Of Cat Fights

The unpleasantness opened with a low gurgling sound, answered by another a shade louder and possibly more querulous. A momentary silence was followed by a long-drawn note, like rising wind, cut off abruptly and succeeded by a grumbling mutter. The response to this was a couple of sharp howls. Both parties to the contest then indulged in a discontented whining, growing louder and louder until the air was full of electric menace. And then, after another sharp silence, came war, noisy and overwhelming.

Standing at Master Waffles’ side, you could follow almost every movement of that intricate fray, and mark how now one and now the other of the battlers gained a short-lived advantage. It was a great fight. Shrewd blows were taken and given, and in the eye of the imagination you could see the air thick with flying fur.

Louder and louder grew the din; and then, at its height, it ceased in one crescendo of tumult, and all was still, save for a faint, angry moaning.

Pleasures of the Table

Occasions of feasting and revelry like the present were for him so many battlefields, on which Greed fought with Prudence.

(Related Post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/04/30/some-evergreen-life-lessons-from-something-fresh-part-1)

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When the Wooer is a Persistent Superman

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

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

By the end of the narrative, we conclude that perseverance is an essential part of the wooing process. Concern for the well being of the party of the other part, aided by a dash of chivalry and humility, also helps. His parting words to Aline are soaked in humility.

‘Why I should have imagined that there was a sort of irresistible fascination in me, which was bound to make you break off your engagement and upset the whole universe simply to win the wonderful reward of marrying me, is more than I can understand.’

Eventually, he wins her over; both the wooer and the wooed elope together. 

It is another matter that it was subsequently held by Mr Beach and Mrs Twemlow that the social fabric of the Castle never fully recovered from an upheaval of this magnitude.

Delegation, not Abdication

Like many other whodunits of his, Plum brings in R Jones as a villain who, having already pocketed a sum of five hundred pounds, plans to lay his hands on the scarab by wrongfully asserting that his letters to Joan are yet to be destroyed. An imaginative intervention by Ashe Marson saves the day.

Herein lie many lessons for all those young men of the upper classes with large purses and small foreheads. One is to refrain from putting their sentiments on record. Another is to delegate a task to an intermediary but not allow it to become a case of abdication owing to blind trust. Keep a check over the ambitions of an intermediary who poses as a friend, philosopher and guide but has eyes only on the green stuff.     

A Dash of Spirituality

Spirituality is often misconstrued to cover visions of ghosts of those who kicked the bucket quite some time back, or a magic wand of some kind, or the odd allusions to exotic and unintelligible mantras which seers recite while seated in a circle around a raging fire somewhere deep within a far off forest in an Eastern country.

My humble proposition is that it is nothing of this kind. It is the presence of an exotic combination of diverse qualities in a human being: Sincerity, Humility, Gratitude, Perseverance, Aspiration, Receptivity, Progress, Courage, Goodness, Generosity, Equality and Peace.

It involves nerves of chilled steel; a capacity to rise after each fall in life; not getting unduly uplifted by successes or depressed by failures; milk of human kindness; empathy; comprehending the psychology of another and offering comfort accordingly; remaining focused on one’s duty; an ability to encourage dissent amongst team members; being detached with what does not really matter; following good values and ethics in whatever one does, controlling our desires and fragile egos, and the like.

If Joan is a role model when it comes to failing and rising up to one’s higher self and being empathic, Ashe shows us how to have a chin up attitude and develop a sense of equanimity. Both aspire for progress and are receptive to feedback. The nonchalant manner in which Freddie reacts to the news that his fiancée has eloped with her lover is yet another example of equanimity. In the relationship between Aline and Joan, if the former has a sense of gratitude, the latter is a hallmark of sincerity.

Baxter is a great example of being committed to his duties and controlling his ego to lump public rebukes from Lord Emsworth. The latter presents to us a fine example of being at peace with his inner self. He may detest Freddie but is generous enough to offer him a trip to London so as to help him recover from the apparent trauma of having lost his fiancée to someone else.

The self control and discipline displayed by Mr Peters tells us how to control one’s desires. For him, improving his health is as important a task to be accomplished as a business goal to be achieved.   

A unique trait provided by nature to Homo sapiens is their ability to play a dual role at the same time – that of the ‘viewer’ and the ‘viewed’. Not many of us recognize and consciously develop this rare quality. An absence of introspection means the bliss of solitude is never enjoyed and an inner compass never used. One ends us missing the trees for the woods of life by not taking a strategic view of things.

Something Fresh also tells us that giving pleasure to others is a goal worthy of pursuing.

As we grow older and realize more clearly the limitations of human happiness, we come to see that the only real and abiding pleasure in life is to give pleasure to other people.

Fans of Plum all over the world would heartily acknowledge that he has always delivered satisfaction on this count.

Developing Spiritual Traits

How can one develop such qualities? Both nature and nurture play a role, I believe. Our inner software enables it. Also, the more challenges we face in life, the faster we run on the track of our evolution.

Take the case of Joan Valentine. Her life has been like a dusty road, filled with potholes of weekly bills to be settled. Her father is said to have been quite rich; he had died a pauper, sans any insurance.  After coming to London, she has done pretty nearly everything to keep the wolves away. She has worked in a shop, gone on to stage, and a myriad other things. She is sick of fighting. She wants money and ease. She is no longer interested in a life full of jerks. She is looking for a phase which is solid and continuous.

Because of the kind of setbacks she has had in life, she has developed a sense of compassion and empathy. She turns out to be a great comforter friend for Aline.

Shaken by the sudden elopement of Aline with George, she shares her innermost thoughts and vulnerabilities with Ashe Marson, who loses no time in expressing his feelings towards her and proposing to her. She accepts.

The moral of the story: a better connection with one’s own self, coupled with a higher level of consciousness, can facilitate spiritual growth. A tendency to soliloquize could initially help. Hamlet would heartily approve of the sentiment.  

A Balm for the Wounded Soul

Wodehouse is not necessarily about escapism in the guise of farcical butlers, spoiled nephews and nosy and overbearing aunts. His works also contain philosophical insights and hidden truths of life.

He paints a vast canvas for us to relish in each of his narratives. Something Fresh is no exception. The storyline may appear thin but there are deeper layers waiting to be discovered in the narrative. There are gems which, if discovered, brooded and acted upon, can lead us to live happier and healthier lives.

The wit, the wisdom and the pristine humour of his canon offer a concoction which is truly a balm for a wounded soul.

(Notes:

  1. For some other perspectives on Something Fresh, please check out: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/blandings-centenary-something-fresh-by-p-g-wodehouse, and https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2021/03/05/book-review-something-fresh
  2. In case a similar analysis of The Code of the Woosters would interest you, please check out the series of posts beginning from the following one: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/bertie-wooster-and-the-art-of-breaking-bad-news-gently.)

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A Singular Absence of Morality

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

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

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

A Female Who Aims to Break the Glass Ceiling

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

Her eyes were eyes that looked straight and challenged. They could thaw to the satin blue of the Mediterranean Sea, where it purrs about the little villages of Southern France; but they did not thaw for everybody. She looked what she was–a girl of action; a girl whom life had made both reckless and wary–wary of friendly advances, reckless when there was a venture afoot.

While ticking off Ashe Marson on the subject of who steals the scarab, this is how she retorts:

‘That’s simply your old-fashioned masculine attitude toward the female, Mr. Marson. You look on woman as a weak creature, to be shielded and petted. We aren’t anything of the sort. We’re terrors! We’re as hard as nails. We’re awful creatures. You mustn’t let my sex interfere with your trying to get this reward. Think of me as though I were another man. We’re up against each other in a fair fight, and I don’t want any special privileges. If you don’t do your best from now onward I shall never forgive you.’

Gone are the days when the parents would urge upon their daughters to leave for their husband’s home and hearth with a submissive attitude, meekly submitting to the demands of her newly acquired family. It was like a one-way ticket, the only escape route being death.

Armed with a decent education, a higher level of literacy and renewed self-confidence, females no longer submit to bullying by the party of the other part. They demand a life of self-respect and dignity. They aim to break as many glass ceilings as they possibly can.  

Like many of his other heroines, Plum has been prescient in modeling Joan as an emancipated individual in a misogynistic society. He modeled her close to a century back, when Rosa Parks was an unknown name and the feminist movement was beyond anyone’s imagination in the Western world.      

The Perks of Being Woolly Headed

Many of us take a liking to Lord Emsworth, simply owing to his woolly headedness. His memory span is rather short, thereby leaving his mind uncluttered and relatively free to potter about in his gardens, taking care of the Empress of Blandings and, occasionally, an odd pumpkin or two. One suspects that his worries, if any, are limited only to what he is passionate about.     

Except for a few of life’s fundamental facts, like the drawer in which his cheque book is and that he has a young idiot like Freddie on his hands as a son, he does not remember anything for more than a few minutes. He could always rely on Rupert Baxter, his indefatigable secretary, to supply any other information that may become necessary.

Thus, he may be accused of lacking in subtler emotions of life, but he leads an extremely happy life. A success does not unduly uplift his spirits, nor does a failure dampen his spirits too much. In other words, he is already living a life based on the principle of detachment and equipoise recommended by Bhagavad Gita, the 5,500 years old scripture of Indian origin.

The secret of his state of happiness is that he does not worry too much about things which are beyond either his areas of interest or control. Whereas lesser mortals like us are often twiddling our thumbs trying to figure out the ways and means of controlling a surging pandemic, the future of humanity in the face of rapid advances in technology, global warming and even the political aspirations of a wannabe super power on the global front, he, blessed with a deep sense of contentment, keeps attending to the the Achillea, the Bignonia Radicans, the Ampanula, the Digitalis, the Euphorbia, the Funkia, the Gypsophila, the Helianthus, the Iris, the Liatris, the Monarda, the Phlox Drummondi, the Salvia, the Thalictrum, the Vinca and the Yucca in his extensive gardens.  

He shows us that the key to leading a happy life lies not in worrying but being contented with what life has already offered one.    

Securing an Opening and Being Disobedient  

When Ashe Marson walks into Mr Peter’s den for securing an assignment, he is full of gall. Looking the boss in the eye and giving it back to him occasionally earns him not only the assignment but also a long term career offer. The diet-exercise regime unleashed upon him 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 be so unsupportable as not 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.  

Thinking on One’s Feet

In the servant’s hall, when the true identity of Joan Valentine comes under focus, Ashe is quick to divert the group’s attention by imitating a fight between cats. This amuses the group no end and his popularity index goes up quite a notch.

Of Literature and Mental Prowess

In his earlier days, Freddie Threepwood had been persuaded to experiment with high brow literature in Greek, Latin and English. But he had shown a sheep-like stolidity in declining the rich fare. However, the Adventures of Gridley Quayle brought romance and excitement into his otherwise dull life. He had finally found the kind of literature that suited his mental prowess.

While devouring one of the escapades of the famed detective, he prefers to be left all alone. He objects to his reveries broken in upon not only by officious relatives but even by Aline, his fiancée. His inclination to relish his solitude makes her scratch the fixture and return him to store.

The Art and Science of Investigation

Courtesy Ashe Marson, we also get an inkling of the kind of tactics detectives apply to crack a case. They have their own methods. Inductive reasoning is one. A dash of intuition is another. Being a pitiless observer while remaining invisible is yet another. Waiting for coincidences is another important ingredient in cracking a case.

Sleuths at Scotland Yard and at similar other outfits might find these inputs of some use.    

Suspecting Everything

The Efficient Baxter earns his living by suspecting everything around him. His chief characteristic is a vague suspicion of his fellow human beings. He does not suspect them of any definite crime; he simply suspects them. Miss Willoughby describes him as a Nosy Parker.

His sense of duty deserves to be emulated. He takes a proprietary interest in all things at the Castle. His whole being revolts at the thought of allowing the sanctity of the museum to be violated. He performs his duties even by enduring considerable discomforts, physical as well as mental.

Nature has not intended him to be a night-bird. But he spends nine consecutive nights keeping a strict vigil on the proceedings on the ground floor hall from a discreetly placed chair in the gallery which runs above it. Alas, the suspect does not walk into the trap.

In the call of duty, he even undergoes mental anguish and withstands a public rebuke from Lord Emsworth. After an unpleasant encounter on the staircase, he manages to survive as many as six bullets fired in dark from the latter’s pistol. When the lights get switched on, he is found on the floor, duly accompanied by a cold tongue, a knife, a fork, some bread, a corkscrew and a bottle of white wine.    

The monstrous accusation he earns by way for a reward of his efforts is narrated thus:

‘My dear Baxter, if your hunger is so great that you are unable to wait for breakfast and have to raid my larder in the middle of the night, I wish to goodness you would contrive to make less noise about it. I do not grudge you the food — help yourself when you please — but do remember that people who have not such keen appetites as yourself like to sleep during the night. A far better plan, my dear fellow, would be to have sandwiches or buns — or whatever you consider most sustaining — sent up to your bedroom.’

Besides being a ceaseless vigilante, he also uses tact. Nipping Mr Pater’s do-it-yourself approach towards recovering the scarab in the bud, he does not embarrass his guest. Rather, he speaks of Mut and Bubastis, of Ammon and the Book of the Dead.

Those who wish to shine in their careers could draw a lot of inspiration from Rupert Baxter.

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Some Evergreen Life Lessons from ‘Something Fresh’ (Part 1)

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

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

Allow me, therefore, to capture here some of the life-enriching lessons which dot the vide canvas of one of his works, Something Fresh – tips on well being, riding the socio-economic divide, the spirit of enterprise, the art and craft of delegating tasks, communication, exploring career options, the art of badmouthing seniors, becoming indispensable, suspecting everything, the true meaning of chivalry, being a superman, expressing one’s love, behaving like a millionaire, avoiding nervous breakdowns, being spiritual and the like.

By no means are these exhaustive. Many of you may have a different view of this work of Plum’s. Well, here is my humble take.

Health is Wealth

Following the prescription dished out by Ashe Marson – Larsen Exercises (all twenty nine of these), scientific deep breathing, cold baths and brisk walks –  helps one to remain as fit as a fiddle. Plenty of fresh air and no cigars are highly recommended. Cities may resent exercising in the open. But perseverance pays, and a sense of indifference sets in soon enough. Owners of nearby hotels, if any, regard one without a smile. The hotel employees continue to perform their duties impassively. The children are no longer interested in looking at one. Even the cat keeps rubbing its backbone against the railings unheeding.    

A frugal diet based on nuts and grasses helps. Understandably, this needs nerves of chilled steel, denying the sumptuous feast which would invariably be on offer. Prudence needs to prevail over greed. Pleasures of the table are best forsaken. Of course, it helps to have loving daughters like Aline Peters around who will do likewise and set a fine example for their fathers to behave. They themselves may suffer pangs of hunger at night. Their turning pale and thin may get commented upon by aspiring lovers. But the feudal spirit must prevail.  

Even the chewing habits assume significance. Lord Emsworth is of the view, as shared by him with Adams, the head steward at the Senior Conservative Club, that partaking large mouthfuls of food amounts to one digging one’s own grave with one’s teeth. Food should never be gobbled, he believes; Americans do this when young and ruin their digestion. Each mouthful needs to be chewed at least 33 times before being allowed to slide down the hatch.

Mr Peters shows to us that it is fatal to get angry at meals. His case proves that temper and indigestion are positively correlated with each other; as one goes a notch higher, so does the other. Thinking beautiful thoughts helps. Earlier, he had been advised by a New York specialist to avoid nervous breakdowns by taking up a hobby. That is how he had become an avid collector of scarabs.  

Even Baxter is aware that insufficient sleep made a man pale and sallow, and he had always aimed at the peach-bloom complexion which comes from a sensible eight hours between the sheets.   

Life Below the Stairs  

Something Fresh presents to us a sneak peek into the life below the stairs in a castle.  

It takes a bevy of servants to keep things running in an orderly fashion at Blandings Castle. There is a rigid hierarchy here, backed by customs and rituals which need to be scrupulously observed. Under the auspices of Mr Beach and Mrs Twemlow, things are always done properly at the Castle, with the right solemnity. 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.

There is not much of a behavioural difference between our corporate citizens and those who work below the stairs. Both love discussing the idiosyncrasies of those above them.

Beach believes that with all the breach of promise cases being foisted on to the rich men, Anarchy is getting the Upper Hand and the Lower Classes are getting above themselves. Rampant Socialism is to be blamed; so are the cheap newspapers, which tempt the Lower Classes to get Above Themselves.       

Compassion for this class of persons is a desirable quality indeed. Towards the very end of the narrative, when Joan feebly objects to Ashe Marson kissing her in the open on the pretext of a scullery-maid looking out of the kitchen window, he responds thus:

‘Scullery-maids have few pleasures. Theirs is a dull life. Let her see us.’

A Contrast in Upbringing

There is a stark difference between the upbringing of Aline Peters and Joan Valentine. This tells us why their attitudes towards life are so very distinct. The contrast between the haves and the have-nots of the society is brought into sharp focus.

One of the compensations Life offers to those whom it has handled roughly is that they can take a jaundiced view of the petty troubles of the sheltered. Just like beauty, trouble is in the eyes of the beholder. Aline may not be able to endure with fortitude the loss of even a brooch whereas Joan has to cope with situations which often mean the difference between having just enough to eat and starving. For the reward of a thousand pounds, she finds it worth her effort to accompany Aline to Blandings Castle as a lady’s maid.

Free Masonry and the Spirit of Enterprise

The narrative also draws our attention to the Free Masonry amongst those live in large cities and on small earnings. Since both Joan and Ashe contribute to two different publications of the Mammoth Publishing Company, an instant bond gets formed between the two. Ashe feels like one who meets a boyhood’s chum on a desert island.

Joan even acts as a muse and helps Ashe overcome his writer’s block, when he is trying to figure out what a wand of death could be.

‘Why, of course it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages. What else could it be?’

When Ashe calls himself a failure, Joan is livid and asks him to start something new. Living in the biggest city in the world, she believes, means chances of adventure are simply shrieking to him on every side. She exhorts him thus:

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

Sane advice for entrepreneurs of all hues, sizes and shapes. The ideal adventurer needs a certain lively inquisitiveness. He is not content to mind his own affairs. Joan’s eloquence has the effect of pulling Ashe out of his laziness. His sense of enterprise gets rekindled, prompting him to assist Mr Peters in recovering his scarab, despite the fact that he is not an easy person to work with.

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