A desi ode to Wodehouse | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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A desi ode to Wodehouse

You can’t be a successful Dictator and design women’s underclothing. One or the other. Not both. —The Code of the Woosters (1938). “What are you writing, saabji?” the maid enquired. She likes to pry into my affairs — when the memsaab is away. Writes Vikramdeep Johal.

chandigarh Updated: Apr 06, 2015 13:03 IST
Vikramdeep Johal

You can’t be a successful Dictator and design women’s underclothing. One or the other. Not both.
—The Code of the Woosters (1938)

“What are you writing, saabji?” the maid enquired. She likes to pry into my affairs — when the memsaab is away.

“It’s a piece about PG Wodehouse,” I replied curtly, expecting a super-blank look.

Instead, she gushed: “OMG! How interesting! I also work in a PG house. Many girls stay there. Most of them have boyfriends.”

“Cut out the neighbourhood gossip,” I shot back. “I’m talking about the iconic comic writer who has de-stressed generations of readers. He gave up the ghost exactly 40 years ago – on Valentine’s Day.”

“Isn’t that the day when boys and girls coochie-coo round the clock? And fall in and out of love?” she asked, being much better informed than I’d expected.

“Yes, yes,” I said. “V-Day is about romantic hits and misses, a theme Wodehouse tapped in many of his laugh-out-loud novels and stories.”

Pat came another question: “Who’s the hero of his books?”

“It’s Jeeves who takes the cake. He’s the dependable manservant who keeps coming to the rescue of his mishap-prone master, Bertie Wooster. There’s a lot that you, my woman servant, can learn from him.”

Since she was all ears and no tongue for a change, I carried on: “Jeeves is the perfect friend, philosopher and guide.

No problem is big enough to ruffle him. Here’s the blurb from a novel to show you what he’s worth: ‘Bertie Wooster faced a many-headed crisis. He was in the grip of a blackmailer, threatened with grievous bodily harm by the dreaded Spode, and accused of theft. To top it all, he was staying with Aunt Dahlia, whose house party included two former fiancees with designs upon his future. It was a calamitous situation which could be saved by no ordinary gentleman’s gentleman – only by Jeeves the Magnificent’.”

“How much was he being paid?” asked the maid, inevitably raising the prickly issue of salary. “He couldn’t have done it all for Rs 1,500, the paltry sum you give me every month.”

“I have no clue about Jeeves’ pay packet, but don’t forget that his employer was a stinking-rich, idle English aristocrat, not an underpaid, overworked Indian journalist like me,” I clarified.

“So what? If you expect flawless service, be ready to pay for it,” she retorted.

“Point taken,” I admitted. “The least you can do in Jeeves style, without upsetting my budget, is to make me a hangover cure every Sunday morning and not tell memsaab what I do behind her back.”

“Done,” she winked. “Provided you give me a 10% raise, on the sly.”

I had no option but to accept her demand, which had blackmail written all over it. Now that we had entered the light-and-bright world of Wodehouse, there was no turning back. “Another of his immortal creations is the ‘Empress of Blandings’,” I said. “It’s a female pig, owned by no less than a lord.”

“Oh, really?” she shouted. “There are pigs aplenty in my stinking colony. I’ll adopt one and live life lord-like.”

“A brilliant idea,” I gushed, all praise for her ingenuity in adversity. “But that’s all for today. Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to Psmith, Ukridge and Mr Mulliner. Very soon, you’ll be inducted into the carefree cult of the Wodehousians.”

“Are you trying to convert me, saabji?” she asked fearfully.

“Don’t use that dreaded word for this innocent activity,” I begged of her. “Otherwise, your kin will roast me like a rooster, or should I say, Wooster.” vikramdeep.johal@hindustantimes.com