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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

15 February, 2005

"Across the pale parabola of Joy..."

14 February 1975. A poky, disreputable room in a thoroughly seedy ‘hotel’ (the only one in the place) in a small district town in the badlands of Orissa. Time: sometime late evening, and cold.

Valentine’s Day then wasn’t what it is now. For one, the morals and social mores of India were still at the stage where unwed boys and girls couldn’t afford to be seen together without the fear of public opprobrium, or worse; any ‘liberation’, such as it was, was confined to the large cities and the manifestly westernised, elitist college campuses. And even in the latter, intimacies between the sexes were limited to handholding – which itself was considered terribly ‘forward’ or ‘fast.’

As a result, V-Day hardly had an impact on anybody (very few if any were even aware of it); least of all a half-starved bachelor holed up miserably in the middle of nowhere, in something reminiscent of Hogarth at his most lurid, with three crates of books and a Philips transistor radio for company.

I had just returned from work and summoned the hotel boy for my tea – or rather, the thick oily concoction that passed for it. Lighting a cigarette, I settled down on the bed (the only furniture in that hellish establishment) and switched on my radio – the tuning dial permanently locked on to the BBC.

And as the boy came in with my restorer, I caught the measured tones of the newsreader announcing the death of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

I made a long arm for The Mating Season (those aforementioned crates were well-stocked in Wodehousiana), and as I laughed at the midnight duets of Bertie Wooster and Esmond Haddock on the dining table of Deverill Hall, Kings Deverill, Hants. I couldn’t stop my tears either – no, not of sadness, but joy, and the immense affection for a soul who had sustained my spirits (and those of countless others the world over) through every vicissitude; for a soul who had enriched not just the English language, but one’s own idiom as well. For, truth to tell, in those rather carefree days one’s own aspect was Woosterian to a degree, with the cultivated Elizabethan stateliness of Psmith; and I’m not sure that the passage of years has entirely robbed one of it.

I couldn’t help but marvel at the timing of Plum’s exit. The man who wrote so eloquently and uproariously about the newt-loving Fink-Nottle’s wooing of the droopy Bassett, and Bingo Little’s perpetual susceptibility to Cupid; of Bobby Wickhams and knitting needles, of Angelas and sharks – he couldn’t have chosen a better day to hand in his pail.

Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of Plum’s death. But he must have been beaming benignly from up there over all the lovers of the world.


Blogger zigzackly said...

The words out of my mouth, old boy. Or rather, out of an unfinished essay that's been sitting in some forgotten crevice of my hard disk. Yes, he couldn't have chosen a better day to make his exit.

15 February, 2005 14:19  
Blogger Pincushion said...

Thank you for sharing this ! I for one, wasn't aware of this bit of information and like most people have been an avid follower of the Woosterian exploits :)

16 February, 2005 00:28  
Blogger Pragya said...

Yes James, echoing Pincushion in thanking you for sharing this in such brilliantly worded prose!


16 February, 2005 03:47  
Blogger Suniti said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

22 February, 2005 08:18  
Blogger Suniti said...

Wonderful tribute to Plum! Wodehouse is a buddy I grew up with. For years I have looked for Psmith, even gone thru a phase of signing my name with a silent P. One friend even took to wearing a monocle.
To what extent our language was influenced by Plum was apparent only when we met a non-fan, who generally looks very confused around us.To date our leave taking is - Toodle-oo and Pip pip.
Thanks for writing this one.For a few momentsI became a child again .

22 February, 2005 08:28  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

an obituary befitting PGW's status...

24 February, 2005 08:05  

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