The Wodehousean Influence: An Essay by ASHWIN RAMESH

At the very outset, my lads and I are - as I would say- a peculiar lot in terms of the taste of books. No offence to those who devour classical works beyond boundaries, but our senses find classical works not quite the cut to satisfy that urge to read felt before taking up the book, though not all of them. However, as a matter of fact, we are also admirers of great classical works and got nothing against the writers, their techniques or those who love them. In fact, I find myself an ardent admirer of the nuances of Shakespearean comedies, as well as the compelling narrative of Melville's "Moby Dick", if that settles the argument. We still can't recollect the events that spiralled us into the labyrinth of a particular genre, or perhaps a particular author, which we discovered as the absolute concotion for our thirst of remarkable words, without a jolly little laugh. Among my guys, I am that one person who is not attached to political outfits, but has a deeper urge to observe the state affairs and make comments about governance, quite often, which eventually made me the uncle, or what Keralites call "Ammavan", of our group. Now, in this age of "political correctness", I'm quite aware that the frequent mentioning of "guys" and "lads" only, instead of "gals" or other inclusive collective nouns can land me in the category of slimy misogynists. Well, in that case, I feel the need to defend my words before furthering this jolly little article. My lads and I passed through a period where geeks like us were almost always ignored by the wider section of the college, unless there comes the season of college level competitions or the exams, so to say. Whereas, good old ladies of the college were all about rambunctious, ribaldrous chaps who usually make a fuss in the campus, brawling over silly things and what not. Eventually we came up with the pun of the famous quote of Rene Descartes, "I think therefore I am", that is "they don't think about us therefore we are not". Therefore, girls usually don't socialise with us unless it is subject-related doubts. Again, don't construe us for geeky introverts, for we were quite the debaters in the class, as well as in the college. I think I may have gone too far with the pompous escapades my lads and I dared. What I tried to say was that I, at that time, became more attracted to speeches of brilliant politicians like Dr. Shashi Tharoor and Dr. S. Jaishankar. Gradually, the youtube algorithm had its trick, filling my suggestions with a gazillion stunning videos, which incidentally forced me to watch numerous interviews of Dr. Tharoor, Dr. Jaishankar and many others, if you know what I mean. While the usual chaps of the college delved into conversations about squad, weapons, Pochinki, drop and other PUBG jargons, which I'm not quite familiar with, our conversations were dominated by books, the proximity of quality bookstores, and above all the weekly budget for purchasing books. Soon, our proclivity in haggling was honed to a lethal tone once we found out a second-hand bookseller. I still remember the time I bagged the entire "Shiva Trilogy" of Amish Tripathi for roughly about 500 bucks (INR).
As soon as our Mr. Goyal ji (Piyush Goyal, then Union Finance Minister) presented the interim budget of the first term Modi government at the parliament, the country entered into the fervour of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which at the same time aroused the 'Ammavan' in me. Our conversations soon shifted to a new direction, dominated by the future of the Indian Politics, although it is more accurate to say that it was the 'Ammavan' who dragged the group into the topic always. Lads wanted to stab me like the Roman Senators, for ruining the mood of our discussions, if you know. Well, as much as you readers start to hate me now, which I think is perfectly natural, my lads later realized that the whole premise of politics in our conversations amounted to the introduction of a much sophisticated set of books as well as authors. Mostly, from the interviews of previously mentioned Dr. Tharoor and Dr. Jaishankar. It was from one of Dr. Tharoor's interview that I found out about his book, "The Five Dollar Smile and Other Stories", a collection of his short stories and a one act play. Among them, one particular story blew my mind, that I still meander through the pages for the sake of fun. "How Bobby Chatterjee Turned to Drink" is the name of that short-story. I used to remember the name 'P. G. Wodehouse' from Dr. Tharoor's interviews way before I read the introduction of this book. And in the introduction of this particular short-story, he says in detail how Wodehouse influenced his college days, his "untimely death at the age of 93" and what not. Dr. Tharoor wrote that story in a flawless Wodehousean style, which kept me wondering what a genius Wodehouse could be. And thus entered the man, the myth, the legend, Pelham Grenville Wodehouse into my life. "The Inimitable Jeeves" was the first Wodehousean classic I read, and for a bloke who usually completes a book in a week, Wodehouse's out-of-the-world style made me complete the entire book in a single day. Quite unbelievable, even for me. As a guy from the lower middle-class of ordinary Indian society, purchasing books and managing the fund for it was quite the task I had to deal with. And most of the time I, with guys in my village, managed to get local works on holidays like shovelling, hollowing out bulk amounts of coconuts and very rarely the catering works. Not much money was earned, but it was adequate enough for petty expenses. Not being misogynistic, but I was glad that no girl stole my heart, because the notion of romance could've sky-rocketed my expenditure beyond the roof. Even though few of my lads indulged in smoking and alcoholism, I was selfishly glad that such temptations couldn't infiltrate my moral sense, as it could've too ruined my budget. From what I hear, it is quite expensive to indulge in booze and cigarette than being in a romantic relationship with a girl (I may be wrong as I have zero experience in both). The point I set out to make was that, this newfound addiction to Wodehousean genius made me to rethink about my savings and quite incidentally, I diverted all my savings - except the emergency savings - for buying a bunch of Wodehouse's books. I bought six books together from online, as the availability of Wodehousean classics were very rare in our locality. The books I bought are as follows: 'My Man Jeeves', 'Carry On, Jeeves', 'Very Good, Jeeves', 'Thank You, Jeeves', 'Right Ho, Jeeves' and 'The Code of the Woosters'. As I delved deep into the world of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, my lads had no idea what I was reading. Soon, I disclosed the Wodehousean secret and their reply quite frankly offended me. The actual verbatim was "Who the hell is Wodehouse?" Soon, I made them buy their own copies. I, usually share books with them, and I could've done the same. But I swore to not share my Wodehousean collection to anyone, even if they meant the world to me. The boys were growing a deep connection with Wodehouse, and I could see that. The verbatim changed to "Man, what kept us from finding Grandpa Wodehouse?" The discovery of Wodehouse was definitely a breakthrough for us. And if it wasn't for Dr. Tharoor, we wouldn't have possibly found out about this Prince of Humour. There are lot of other writers, whom we found out through the interviews of these brilliant politicians, like Jonas Jonasson and many more. I also would like to point out Dr. Jaishankar's 'The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World', which is a brilliant book (non-fiction) we found in our way. Since I want this article to taste like a Wodehousean treat, I no more would like to mention other books. 

It is the need of the article that I mention few things about Wodehouse. Bear with me. P.G. Wodehouse, widely regarded as one of the greatest humorists in English literature, captivated readers for generations with his unique style and unparalleled wit. Through his works, such as the Jeeves and Wooster series and the Blandings Castle saga, Wodehouse created a world filled with eccentric characters, ludicrous situations, and uproarious dialogue. At the heart of Wodehousean humor lies his ability to find the absurd in the mundane. He effortlessly transforms ordinary situations into farcical escapades, providing readers with a delightful escape from reality. His narratives are filled with comical misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and convoluted plots, which he masterfully weaves together to create a seamless tapestry of hilarity. The humor in Wodehouse's works is often light-hearted and innocent, devoid of malice or cynicism, and this affable approach endears readers to his stories. And beneath the surface of Wodehouse's light-hearted comedy, there often lies a subtle layer of satire and social commentary. Wodehouse's portrayal of the English aristocracy and their eccentricities serves as a gentle critique of the upper class. His works expose the absurdity and triviality of the upper echelons of society, highlighting the foibles and vanities of the wealthy. However, Wodehouse's satire is never biting or malicious; rather, it is an affectionate parody that gently pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of the social elite. There are instances in the books, that are outright funny, that I recollect those instances every now and then to laugh myself. The escapades of Bertie Wooster and his impeccable valet Jeeves never failed to entertain my lads and I. The other aspect is Wodehouse's mastery of dialogue. His mastery of dialogue is central to the success of his comedic style. His characters engage in rapid-fire conversations, exchanging witty remarks and indulging in humorous repartee. The dialogue is filled with dry wit, clever comebacks, and well-timed punchlines, creating a rhythmic and sparkling effect. The banter between Jeeves and Wooster, in particular, is a testament to Wodehouse's ability to craft dialogue that crackles with humor and maintains a consistent tone throughout his works. I'm not particularly fond of making remarks about sensitive political events in a public platform, but let me, for the sake of the mellifluousness of this article cite an event or two. We Indians are in one way or the other proud of our nationality. For some, it is through cricket, for others it is diplomacy, firepower, glory of past struggles and so on. Owing to the colonial past, we have this habit of disapproving British/European elitism. Recent turmoils of boycotting of the BBC over the documentary issue and disapproval of the Coronation of Charles III by a wider section of people across the globe are events proving the case. A reader may initially construe the narrative of Wodehouse for glorifying the elite households of England. However, the more we go deeper the more clearly will the underlying satire unravel. The point is, if a lower middle-class Indian chap can find Wodehousean works exceedingly entertaining, then anyone can.
Shortly after my purchase of the books, the world entered to a pandemic pandemonium. We all confined ourselves in our cozy homes, contemplating uncertain future. Many of you might have been traumatized by the loneliness and the impending fear of death. What I was satisfied about in the mean time was my decision of not giving my lads the books I love. They too, were in fact happy about their own copies. Wooster and Jeeves were our companions through the dark days of COVID 19. My lads and I often held conference calls, discussing about the intricacies of Wodehousean humour. Gradually, we all (including you) moved on from the pandemic and the dark days, which certainly left an indelible mark in our minds, and perhaps a few extra pounds of weight in our bodies. Just kidding. Or am I?

This article, or perhaps my personal account, that you just read sums up itself the influence Wodehouse's words had and still have on my guys and I. I know there aren't much incidents related to the Wodehousean humour in my life, and there are two reasons for that: (1) I haven't yet seen much of the life, in order to cite elegant instances, (2) this work falls under the category of non-fiction and I can't cook up some stories to relate humour. As simple as that. And to those people who didn't even hear about Wodehouse, I suggest you to pick one immediately as it can improve your state of mind far better than self help books. You can share your experiences of reading Wodehouse with me via email, beginner or experienced readers of Wodehouse, I don't mind. Let's make the Wodehousean circle a bit large.


Ashwin Ramesh, a Post Graduate student, is a native of Kannur, Kerala. Over the years, he has published few of his short-stories, articles and poems. Always devouring concoctions of other worldly words, he loves to read uncommon literary endeavours. He spends his leisure time on Jazz music and hits of the 80s Western music.
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