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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 To the current generation, both sound a trifle outdated and, by and large, incomprehensible.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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