The English wordsmith Evelyn Waugh placed it all in the right perspective, “(P.G.) Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.” Perfect words; also, more than just a classy, perfect eulogy.
P.G. (October 15, 1881—February 14, 1975) is never dated—never antiquated. He’s temporally new, and as fresh as the early morning dew each time you read him. As I retraced his genius, this was what I felt in my mind and my funny bone, if I have one:
It goes without saying that the evergreen P.G. is perhaps the most loved English-language writer this side of the Suez, albeit he might not be as widely read or popular, today, in the West and/or the English-speaking world, per se.
P.G. not only beats Noble laureates, and Booker Prize-winners (hollow, out here), but also a host of great writers in any genre. As a matter of fact, no Indian home, for instance—from Shimla to Kanyakumari, even if it boasts of a smattering of its much-loved, unread, or well-preserved, titles—could be without its Wodehousian presence. P.G. is a sine qua non, in his original garb, or translation, and as venerable as the family deity, so to speak.
Notwithstanding New-Age (r)evolution, the ascent of TV, or the E-medium, Wodehouse’s wonderful niche, in India, has been unaffected. He’s in the public eye always, what with his titles being read, or re-read, by old timers, or commuters in the train, or avid readers, or students. Besides, his titles are as much displayed and sold, re-sold, or re-issued/re-published by Penguin et al, at the finest of bookstores, or the ‘make-shift’ pavement bookstall, or your circulating library, as much as a one-off, or serialized, program on a TV channel, or the local radio station.
You might, however, not have a vintage Wodehouse Study Circle, or road named after him in Mumbai, like you did before, but it doesn’t matter. Because, Wodehouse is imperishable? Yes. Besides, he’s omnipresent; also, omniscient.
An icon among writers, in the Indian psyche, P.G. has always been in vogue. Never out of fashion. Like the eternal sari, or the traditional dhoti. And, what’s more, he’s also got into the grey matter, or the humor bone, or, maybe, the genes, of an entirely new generation, brought up on the mandatory TV diet, Coke, or Mac-burgers. Also, the Wodehouse craze, so to say, is not a question of numbers, really, but a habitat as germane as the immortal songs of The Beatles with every generation.
Surprising, yes. But, the factuality of it all isn’t. The Wodehouse appeal is continuous, because it is clearly devoid of the Raj monolith, or ambiance. P.G. is unlike Rudyard Kipling, and others; all essentially English-language-Raj writers. Writers, who might no be longer popular in post-post-Independent India, thanks to their ‘Imperialistic’ fervor, notwithstanding The Jungle Book, which is depressing.
P.G., on the contrary, was quintessentially an English writer, with a sense of uncomplicated humor: humor that appeals to us. What’s more, he does not invite his readers to agree with him. His vocation was to elicit laughter without taking sides. Something that all of us could empathize with, sans political leanings. More so, because Wodehouse had no room for politics in his writings. He’s eminently free of political thought.
Further, he was a prescriber par excellence of a magical tonic called laughter, or, laughter as a new-old line of therapeutics, to which modern science is now kindly disposed to; the best medicine for all ailments. And, he is at it, with no respite, giving us tons and tons of it with every reading.
The best part is: nobody, most importantly, his legion of fans, thinks of P.G. as being a foreign writer. He is considered almost a native writer, one who wrote engagingly about English/Western characters, because he found them amusing, while giving us the opportunity to chuckle at their idiosyncrasies. Not ourselves. Right, Jeeves and Wooster? Yes.
If this isn’t P.G.-sculpted or ordained genius, and also classy ingenuity, what is?
Image 1: Wikimedia–Public Domain.