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Posts Tagged ‘Something Fresh’

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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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.

Related Post:

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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A soothing humorous tale

Wodehouse’s works are always fresh isn’t it. Even though ‘Something Fresh’ isn’t as good as Psmith or Jeeves tale, it still is soothing in feel. I’m not really a fan of humor but the way Wodehouse does humor is so ingenuine, where no one would be hurt. Even in this story, in spite of knowing all the twists and turns, the flow is just lovely. Maybe it’s not Jeeves funny because the protagonist is just a common man unlike a superhero like Jeeves. But overall, it marks for a wonderful read.

Wodehouse’s works feel like Crazy Mohan’s works. There will be lot of characters, comedy at unprecedented times, there will be chaos, there will hell lot of funny dialogues but none would be hurt. And that’s the best part. I read this book around ten years back but didn’t remember a thing. Only when I was…

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Fans of P G Wodehouse (Plum) often wonder 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.  Nothing against the sterling fellow, though.

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 a dictionary? The whole experience becomes very stiff-upper-lip-ish, if you know what I mean. Serious tomes which need super-intelligent persons to pop up in public spaces like libraries where they may enjoy their solitude, dig deeper into the contents and try and fathom the depths of the language are best avoided, I would say. Leaves the nerves a bit overburdened, don’t you think?

On the other hand, gliding through the works of Plum is sheer delight. The contrast is that reading Plum’s books in buses, trains and parks is fraught with risks. These are best devoured in private spaces, so those around, seeing one guffawing and shaking with uncontrollable mirth , do not start searching for the contact details of a loony doctor in the same class as Sir Roderick Glossop.

But what all this comes to is a deeper reality. The tendency of Homo sapiens to value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and fit to be scoffed at. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get appreciated, but a speaker conveying the same message quoted in humour is blamed 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 is greeted by scorn.

A premium on intellect and seriousness

Martin Amis, in his new novel Inside Story, blames our tendency to put serious tomes and tragedies on “the intellectual glamour of gloom… the idea that sullen pessimism is a mark of high seriousness”.

Brainy coves are invariably in awe of intellectual gravitas, even if the narratives are pale, dark and authoritative. What appeals to them better is a stiff upper lip approach. This segment of the population is apt to cast a supercilious glance at lesser mortals who thrive on reading fluffy stuff which makes them keep falling off beds and sofas, making their insurers uneasy.

Award winning works are an output of as much as intelligence as is essential to dishing out juicier works which mask equally serious messages about handling life’s harsh slings and arrows.

If the spectrum of human emotions were to be examined in some detail, seriousness may form one of its ends and humour the other one. This might give an impression that the two are opposites of each other. Not necessarily. My own knowledge of literature is very shallow, but I am sure there are authors out there who strike a balance between the two. Perhaps, therein lies the origin of satire.

In one of her scintillating posts, Honoria Glossop of Plumtopia fame speaks of the book ‘Bestsellers’ by Clive Bloom. To quote her:

‘Bloom tracks the development of ‘the bestseller’ alongside increasing literacy levels in Britain, showing how new literature classifications emerged (high-brow and low-brow) to keep class distinctions alive in literature, once the lower classes were no longer illiterate. He exposes ‘literary fiction’ as little more than snobbery, suggesting that serious literature is made purposefully unfathomable and dire to ensure it remains the province of an expensively-educated elite.’

Plum’s messages couched in delectable humour

When it comes to Plum, a master wordsmith in his own right, we often miss the underlying messages of a spiritual, economic and managerial kind. Simply because these are hidden beneath layers of what sound like inane and repetitive narratives.

Whosoever deals with goofy kids like Thos, Seabury, Edwin the Scout and others experiences a spiritual enlightenment of sorts. When Bertie Wooster tries to solve a problem single handedly, he messes things up and starts practicing detachment. He lets go of his favourite piece of apparel. He abandons his ego and decides to give up his initial resistance to a proposal made by Jeeves to go off on a cruise, thereby escaping the wrath of Aunt Agatha. Many other characters elsewhere tackle their defeats with a healthy attitude of surrender, much like Roderick Spode when confronted with the Eulalie affair.

Take the example of ‘Something Fresh.’  It covers a wide span of issues – health and fitness, perils of ageing, gender parity, economic disparities, class distinctions, the spirit of enterprise, the subtle art of delegation, importance of comforter friends in one’s life, to name just a few.

Consider the character of Reginald Jeeves. Notice the way he manages to keep his career prospects intact by using tact and resource. He maintains that bosses are like horses. They need to be managed. 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.

Dishing out comical stuff

Above all, one is left awestruck with the kind of complicated plots Plum comes up with. He handles tiffs between many couples at the same time, while bringing in obdurate aunts, sulking uncles, temperamental chefs, American millionaires and their sisters and daughters, moody creatures of a canine and feline kind, and even horses and pigs. Painting a narrative on such a wide canvas obviously needs hard work – a fertile imagination, lateral thinking, a thorough knowledge of such diverse subjects as scarabs, scriptures, literature, psychology, French resorts, movie making, et al, besides and what not. Characters often get swept in a swirl of madness and mayhem, forcing a lay reader to at least chuckle and suppress a smile. When it comes to either pulling off a gag or unleashing a comical situation, the author is always a step ahead of the reader.

In other words, humour, even though appearing to be farcical and classified as escapist, is serious business indeed!

We would do well to consciously cultivate our capacity to take a lighter view of things and learn to laugh at ourselves. Many more awards along the lines of Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize deserve to be instituted.

 

(Related post:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/wodehouse-misremembered

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/the-perils-of-not-suffering-from-shakespearitis)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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While taking a leisurely stroll through the sunlit streets of Plumsville, lined on both sides with trees offering low-hanging ripe mangoes of unalloyed mirth, we come across quite a few authors, editors and publishers.

We get to meet Florence Craye, the famous author of ‘Spindrift’. We run into Oliver Randolph ‘Sippy’ Sipperley, the aspiring author. Gwendolen Moon, the poetess, crosses the street in front of us. George Webster ‘Boko’ Fittleworth bumps into us at the next corner. Smooth Lizzie, a poetess in whom critics might be disappointed, flashes past us in her two-seater. Even Bertie Wooster, our favourite hero, can be seen rushing to the offices of Milady’s Boudoir, possibly to submit his piece on ‘What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing’.

Daphne Dolores Morehead can be seen headed somewhere in a hurry. Rosie M. Banks can be seen rushing to her humble abode, just to check if Bingo Junior’s bank…

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It is fashionable these days to speak of our beloved city metamorphosing into what is euphemistically referred to as a Smart City. Here is a contrary view which may find resonance with some of its residents.

These nameless denizens may instead like to lead a leisurely life in a city where:

  1. The need to jump out-of-the-way of a speeding vehicle gets minimized – in other words, hapless pedestrians and bicycle riders have the right of way; the use of horns and loudspeakers attract a hefty fine, leaving the offender crying all the way to his bank.
  2. Warehouses and hotels are not permitted within the boulevard limits, leaving the narrow streets peaceful and resident-friendly. Elderly and ailing residents need no longer complain of being startled at times – either by the incessant growling of commercial vehicles during days or by the sound pollution generated by tourist vehicles during nights.
  3. More parks, where citizens could stretch their limbs and try to fight off such lifestyle diseases as diabetes and hypertension, thereby warding off cardiac blues. Likewise, a denser coverage of main streets by trees with thick foliage, with water dispensing kiosks, toilets and garbage bins dotting the landscape liberally. What Pondicherry needs are more Ashe Marsons (of ‘Something Fresh’ fame) who are fond of brisk walks and Larsen Exercises in open spaces.
  4. All crossings within the boulevard area have convex mirrors at corners, thereby avoiding speeding-bike-enthusiasts routinely crashing into other vehicles, thereby putting life and limb to grave risks.
  5. All crossings across the canal are made obstruction free, avoiding blind spots and congestion on Gingee Salai and Ambour Salai. (As of now, the Vysial Street crossing is the only good example of a blind-spot free crossing across the canal.) Mandatory mini parks could be planned at all these corners. Shops peddling terracotta articles near the Ashram can be relocated to other suitable places, so the road on that stretch becomes clearer for traffic.
  6. The dependence on tourism alone to prop up the local economy is given a lower priority; where the powers that are exercise their grey cells better, hold consultations with business leaders so innovative ways to augment the territory’s revenues get planned and implemented. A concerted drive towards industrialization by using SEZ-earmarked and other parcels of land available could help. So could a hefty increase in registration charges for petroleum-driven vehicles, with substantial rebates for those who go in for greener vehicles.
  7. A multi-modal public transport system gets implemented in a mission mode, with battery operated vehicles alone being permitted within the boulevard area.
  8. Water channels and aquifers get revitalized, with the single aim of making Pondicherry a model in reversing the trend of increasing ground water salinity. A long-term plan to ward off the ill effects of rising sea levels and to tackle incessant rains also needs to be put in place.
  9. Strict ban on plastic bags of all kinds; a scientifically designed garbage collection and disposal system, duly backed by latest technology.
  10. Cooperation and collaboration at the top, leading to a visionary development of Pondicherry.

Call it a ‘smart’ one or a ‘dumb’ one, but the above features, if worked upon by those in charge of making things happen, would surely make the denizens of Pondicherry a healthier and a happier lot in the long term.

These would retain the essential character of the territory. What the planners would do well to avoid would be adopting a soulless materialistic ‘smart’ plan which would leave the residents gasping for clean air, yearning for sparkling water and ardently wishing for a sound of silence which would enable a person standing on Ambour Salai to hear the unmistakable melody of ocean waves on the main beach road.

(Notes:

  1. A version of this article can also be found at https://www.pondylive.com/2018/08/smart-city-pondicherry-why-some-of-us-prefer-a-dumb-city;
  2. Pondicherry montage courtesy www;
  3. Pondicherry street scene illustration by Emanuel Scanziani for Le Club, Pondicherry)

 

(Related posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/reinventing-pondicherry

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/the-soul-of-mairie-speaks

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/puducherry-2025-a-traveller%E2%80%99s-memoirs)

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While taking a leisurely stroll through the sunlit streets of Plumsville, lined on both sides with trees offering low-hanging ripe mangoes of unalloyed mirth, we come across quite a few authors, editors and publishers.

We get to meet Florence Craye, the famous author of ‘Spindrift’. We run into Oliver Randolph ‘Sippy’ Sipperley, the aspiring author. Gwendolen Moon, the poetess, crosses the street in front of us. George Webster ‘Boko’ Fittleworth bumps into us at the next corner. Smooth Lizzie, a poetess in whom critics might be disappointed, flashes past us in her two-seater. Even Bertie Wooster, our favourite hero, can be seen rushing to the offices of Milady’s Boudoir, possibly to submit his piece on ‘What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing’.

Daphne Dolores Morehead can be seen headed somewhere in a hurry. Rosie M. Banks can be seen rushing to her humble abode, just to check if Bingo Junior’s bank passbook has finally got updated with the tenner handed over to her loving husband some time back. Bingo Little, himself an editor of Wee Tots, can be seen trying to touch Oofy Prosser for a tenner, so the loss may be made up before her loving wife discovers it. Lord Tilbury, the famous publisher, may get noticed rushing off in a disguise, ostensibly to avoid any manuscripts being hurled at him by aspiring authors from the windows of a passing bus.

A transient state of mental menopausewriters' block image

Though we happen to know most of the authors, writers, poets and poetesses mentioned above, we have no clue as to how they keep whipping up juicy as well as not-so-juicy stuff for their public. We empathize with their feelings of despondency and gloom if they pass a single day without writing at least five hundred odd words. But we continue to be clueless if they ever encounter the dreadful condition described by those in the writing trade as a Writer’s Block. Given the challenges they face in their mundane lives, they would surely be facing a transient state of mental menopause, as it were, at some point in time or the other. But they hide such perils of their profession well.

With one exception – that of Ashe Marson, the hero of Something Fresh. In his case, we get a sneak peek into the kind of conditions which can leave a writer’s sensitive soul all of a twitter, facing a condition which stupefies the brain. The flow of ideas gets blocked. The words no longer pour out, much like a public water tap which goes dry without a warning in a city in one of the emerging economies of the world.

Ashe Marson and the Wand of Death

Residents of Plumsville are aware that Ashe keeps the wolves at bay by dishing out the adventures of Gridley Quayle, Investigator, which are so popular with a certain section of the reading public. He is also known to be a regular when it comes to performing Larsen Exercises in public spaces, having become immune to the no-longer-curious glances of the proprietors of Hotels Mathis and Previtali, few cabmen, some chambermaids and even a cat. Physical fitness is his gospel.1915 Something Fresh collage

But one morning, he gets laughed at by a girl on a first floor balcony. Ashe gets beaten. On this particular day, this one scoffer, alone and unaided, is sufficient for his undoing. The depression, which his exercise regimen had begun to dispel, surges back on him. He has no heart to continue. Sadly gathering up his belongings, he returns to his room, and finds even a cold bath tame and uninspiring.

The breakfast, comprising a disheveled fried egg, some charred bacon and a cup of chicory which is euphemistically called coffee, aggravates the grip of misery. And when he forces himself to his writing-table, and begins to try to concoct the latest of the adventures of Gridley Quayle, Investigator, his spirit groans within him. He rumples his hair and gnaws his pen. He looks blankly for half an hour in front of a sheet of paper bearing the words: “The Adventure of the Wand of Death,” and tries to decide what a wand of death might be.

This is how Wodehouse describes the inner thoughts of his hero:

It was with the sullen repulsion of a vegetarian who finds a caterpillar in his salad that he now sat glaring at them.

The title had seemed so promising overnight–so full of strenuous possibilities. It was still speciously attractive; but now that the moment had arrived for writing the story its flaws became manifest.

What was a wand of death? It sounded good; but, coming down to hard facts, what was it? You cannot write a story about a wand of death without knowing what a wand of death is; and, conversely, if you have thought of such a splendid title you cannot jettison it offhand.

An interruption makes him feel all the more disoriented. However, the intruder happens to be the heroine, Joan Valentine. She de-mystifies the Wand of Death for him thus:

“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?”

Ashe gets back on track!

This is how poor Betty suffers one

So widespread is the silent epidemic of Writer’s Block that even such popular series as Archie Comics has been forced to accord recognition to it once in a while.

Take the case of poor Betty. She has unique qualities of head and heart. However, given her unselfish and helpful nature, she ends up hitting a Writer’s Block. The milk of human kindness sloshing about within her proves to be her undoing. In one episode of these popular comics, she runs quite a few errands. By the time she can please everyone else and hit her typewriter to start pouring out her ideas onto some sheets of paper, the brain refuses to fire even on a single cylinder.

Betty 1 01 (43)betty 2 01 (42)Betty 3 01 (41)Betty 4 01 (40)Betty 5 01 (39)

Even the high and mighty suffer

Present day authors and bloggers can derive some solace from the fact that some of the greatest writers in literature — Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway — were tormented by momentary lapses in their ability to dish out some juicy text or the other.

The sensitive souls that authors are, they are apt to be influenced and distracted by external occurrences. But come to think of it, it is their jaundiced view of such occurrences alone that provides them the fodder for their literary produce.

Imagine an author like P G Wodehouse sitting lonely in a dense forest, trying to come up with some escapades of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. With only a couple of birds and monkeys for company, he is likely to return home in the evening with some blank sheets.

He undoubtedly needs his quiet space. But he also gets in the bargain several distractions. Ethel pottering about in the kitchen. Pets who relish the joys of walking the ramp over some typewritten sheets lying on the floor. A maid who will come in just as he is brooding on his next Hollywood script. A surprise visit by a government official. A postman who brings in some fan mail.

Distractions all, yes. Leading to a Writer’s Block once in a while, yes. But each one is perhaps also an opportunity for him to view a mundane occurrence afresh, with a new perspective. Traits of each real-life person providing him the finer details of some fictional characters he is writing about.

Keeping the milk of human kindness from spilling over

Authors need an eco-system which enables them to strike a judicious balance between their off-society times of solitude and their open-for-interaction times. Successful ones perhaps perfect the art of walking this tight-rope. They make sure they do not exercise in public spaces. They get fed well. They do not get interrupted when they are in their quiet corner, dishing out the adventures of an investigator liked by their publishers and readers. Unlike Betty, they keep their milk of human kindness from spilling over to their grey cells. Their passion for writing keeps them more focused on their journey of creative expression.

Suffering from a Writer’s Block these days? Fret not. Some unique insight is bound to pop up in your mind soon enough. Perhaps, a Joan Valentine is about to walk in and talk about the Indian connection of the mysterious Wand of Death, thereby spurring you on to dizzying heights of creativity!

(Notes:

  1. Images of Writer’s Block and Something Fresh courtesy www.
  2. Archie source: Issue No. 221, Episode titled ‘Betty in the Write Mood‘)

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Here is yet another interesting post from Plumtopia.

The freshness of ‘Something Fresh’ is everlasting. To me, there are at least two reasons for it. One, the manner in which it showcases physical fitness. Two, the independent minded Joan Valentine who speaks thus:
‘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.’
Enjoy!

Plumtopia

1915 Something Fresh collage

It’s a pretty special week for P.G. Wodehouse fans. June 26th will mark 100 years since the first Blandings story, Something Fresh, was serialised in the ‘Saturday Evening Post’. It was published in book form later that year (in the U.S. as Something New).

If Wodehouse had not gone on to write more Blandings stories, Something Fresh would be highly-regarded as a fine comic novel. Aside from the memorable central romance between detective fiction writer Ashe Marson and the enterprising Joan Valentine, Wodehouse gives us all the subplots and subterfuge we expect from a Blandings adventure.

And as the work that introduced characters like Lord Emsworth, Freddie Threepwood, Rupert Baxter, and Beach, Something Fresh holds a special place in many Wodehouse lovers’ hearts. It’s one of the books I often return to. The title Something Fresh seems particularly apt because the story leaps from the page, as fresh…

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