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Are you a Wodehouse fan?
Arati Menon Caroll |
January 31, 2006
I met Chandrima 'Eulalie' Bhattacharya over a cup of dreadful lemon tea to discuss a common friend. "You know what Eulalie refers to, don't you?" she asks.
"I do," I say, thankful for my reasonable grasp of Wodehousian detail, for fear of otherwise being chastised by the impassioned Plummie in company. Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was nicknamed Plum and Wodehouse loyalists proudly call themselves Plummies.
Wodehouse fan clubs abound in every corner of the globe, so there was little reason why they shouldn't in India. It wasn't hard to find them.
Bhattacharya started the Mumbai chapter of Blithe Spirits to extend the tradition she pioneered in Kolkataa in 1999. It's hard for a Plum club to match the dedication to humour of the St Stephen's College Wodehouse Society of the 60s and 70s, with their Lord Ickenham impersonation competition, and the practical joke weeks, but Blithe Spirits does try with its quizzes and book readings. On the last Sunday of every month, the groupies meet over coffee to swap Wodehouse lore.
P G Murthy (the P G is a mere coincidence) is the know-it-all of the group and is lovingly referred to as 'Oldest Member' (the unnamed raconteur, as Wodehousians will know). A conversation with him leaves you enriched with literary insight and begging for a few more laughs.
"Do you know technology in Wodehouse stories stopped with the radio, the telephone and the steam engine?" he asks, and "Did you know that although Plum filled his stories with sociable people and gatherings, he himself was always spotted napping at parties."
Conversation never runs dry on WodehouseIndia (a Yahoo group that puts net-friendly Plummies, largely from India, in contact with each other). They are a self-confessed "garrulous bunch of loonies" who bandy over mostly Wodehouse, and occasionally cricket! They go on holiday conventions and, dash it, each member even adopts a name from the canon -- a nom de Plum!
"The noms are suggested by the moderators (generally under threat of a darning needle attached to a stick) and members accept," jokes Ravindra 'Gally' Vasisht, who feels some degree of kinship with Sir Galahad Threepwood (previously man about town, now greying and monocled), except on his fondness for drink! Moderators are flexible on noms chosen; so there's a Crumpet, a Twenty-minute Egg, and a Cakebread. "Cross-gendering is permitted," says Sushmita 'Bobbie Wickham' Sen Gupta.
On joining, there's a list of instructions from the moderators. One reads, 'Try to avoid abbreviations. Since we are celebrating the works of a Master of the English language, it is only fitting that we make the effort to write clear, grammatical English.' Right ho!
There's a questionnaire administered to keep out the unworthy. It's hard to see, though, why a non-Plummie would want to be part of the cryptic references, obfuscating alter-egos and comical Wodehouse-ese.
The group strangely has generous representation from Bangalore's techie community. Says Sen Gupta, "I think it is just the higher levels of education, and that they're net-savvy."
Jairam Menon, a Larsen & Toubro employee, and 'Constable Oates' to some, believes there are several readers who stay away from fan clubs because they are terrified by the prospect of finding themselves in the midst of a heated literary analysis. "But it's just people with complimentary interests having a chat," he says.
Unfortunately, it seems like young people are not being weaned off television long enough to get them hooked to Wodehouse. Blithe Spirits has no teenage members. WodehouseIndia had two.
But young readers or not, popularity hasn't dimmed. Says WodehouseIndia moderator 'Sally' Sonali, "Just go to the annual Strand (Book Stall, a hugely popular book store in Mumbai) sale in Bombay and see the speed at which Plums are snapped up. The local British Council library rarely has Plum titles on the shelf."
The normally unflappable Jeeves would be dashed pleased. "Either the readers in the older generation are still large enough in numbers, or some young people are reading Plum," adds Sen Gupta.
"The beauty of Wodehouse," says Murthy, "will always be its clean fun; there might be a gun, but there's never a murder, mayhem is always around the corner but never materialises, and lovers are brought together but we aren't privy to their sexual relations."
R Sriram, CEO of Crossword Bookstore, covets the luxury of leisure that Wodehouse's characters enjoy. "One can only dream of a Wooster-like existence -- money without work, days starting as late as you want, having a valet fix your hangover for you, afternoons at the golf club and sundowners with the boys at Drones," sighs Sriram.
It's hard to tear oneself away from the lives of Wodehouse's characters systematically frozen in the tinkling 20s, but it's time to get on. "Pip, pip," Bhattacharya signs off. "Tinkerty tonk," I say to myself, and laugh.