I could have been more well-read! There are two reasons I am not. Firstly, I have this weakness where if I don’t like the first few pages of a book, I find it tiresome to go through with it. The second reason is Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.
At the age of fourteen, having read through most of what boys usually read then, I was at a loose end. My sister gave me a copy of ‘Leave it to Psmith’. “It’s not my scene”, she told me, “there’s too much conversation. But you might like it.”
I did. And how! I was entranced. I’d never read anything like it. It was like entering a whole new world; delightful, enchanting, magical. Trapped, I spent the next few years getting my hands on as many of his books as I could; reading them, re-reading them, thinking about them and wishing that Wodehouse were still around to keep up the supply of what he himself had described as ‘a sort of musical comedy without music’.
At college, most of my pocket money went into buying his books. Even if I, occasionally, read something else, the last half hour before bedtime would be devoted to something from my Wodehousean collection. A few years later, while doing up my first apartment, there was only one thing I was very clear about. I wanted a glass covered bookshelf that would stock my prized Wodehouse collection. I soon had every book of his that was available. Then I went in search of the ones that were relatively rare. Soon, they all were lined up; even as Bertie dug Jeeves in the ribs, Psmith, Galahad, Constance and Emsworth jostled each other for space.
Recently, I joined a Wodehouse Facebook group. We gush over and quote the master. We exchange notes, dwell on his literature and refer to him by his nickname ‘Plum’, a status we’ve given ourselves — his ardent admirers. The madness continues.
Authors are as hard working as those in any other profession. But often, the finish and the gloss of the final product belies the effort, possibly even the struggle that has likely gone into it. But such is the lazy elegance and fluid grace that underline Wodehouse’s output that it is difficult to believe that something as mundane as ‘work’ could be associated with it. Sometimes, when I read books, I must confess that I feel I can do almost as well as the author. When I read Wodehouse, however, I feel no such thing; such is the perfection of his prose. One simply reads, smiles, sighs happily and puts the book safely away to be read again after a few months.
What do fans of Wodehouse have in common? A quest for an ideal world? A cosmos made up of wonderful, perfectly timed words? A community where nothing can go wrong for long? The Wodehousean world is inherently fair and provides every character with what is needed or deserved. One that is comfortable, funny and generous; one that surprises, but never shocks. One where there are villains but no evil. Where time stands still, where flowers are always blooming and where sunshine is perennially peeping in through the curtains to shed cheer and brightness.
Wodehouse’s characters are numerous and diverse, from earls to con men, from tycoons of the publishing world to purveyors of onion soup. In his books, strong, forceful speakers rub shoulders with timid, nervous men. Powerful, popular poets and novelists feature as often as meek, aspiring ones.
Wodehouse rarely took the trouble of describing any of his characters at length. They are so full of life and personality that he has never needed to. His characters are simple. His plots, however, are not. Elaborate, even far-fetched, they often form a complex web. Yet, when the time is right, Wodehouse will make every note fall perfectly in place with the seemingly effortless ease of a maestro of music. When push comes to shove, nothing will be left hanging. Every loose end will be tied up and justice will prevail even if in a rather unexpected way. The planet will be at peace and all nature will, to borrow from the genius himself, ‘unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up on the table.’
P G Bhaskar is the author of ‘Corporate Carnival’ (Harper Collins) and ‘Jack Patel’s Dubai Dreams’ (Penguin, India)