Many of us may look back at undergraduate life with nostalgia and some regret for things not done. We yearn silently for those bygone days in a foreign country when we had very little social responsibility, no religious obligations and no political affiliation to taint our own pompous opinions. Those were the days of carefree living, when we were far away from parental sanctions, but always respectful towards our teachers who were our potential examiners.
On weekends each one of us had our likes and dislikes. But when we had to deal with the hard professional reality of hospitals life, British author PG Wodehouse fun-filled books helped to relieve despondency, home sickness or loneliness. We would be teleported for a few hours or so into another virtual universe.
Literally, for some of us, they were a sure antidote to the cruel world lurking just outside our room. It provided good relaxation, especially for those of us who could not go home for a short break, spend time with pals, or spin romance with a heartthrob. That was the perfect setting for many of us to get glued to a PG Wodehouse.
How and when we became an avid reader of his works, or which was the first of his books we came up with would be difficult to say. Perusing our novel at 10 or 11 pm, with little chance of a buddy dropping in to chit chat, we got mesmerized by it. One would lie in the room corner bed, with the pillows well stacked for comfort and the bedside lamp focused on the book. The rest of the room would be in complete darkness, and thus engrossed the rest of the world inevitably slid into complete oblivion.
It was the time when there was no spouse or children to throw spanners in our fun, to disturb the well-laid mental plot and vision of Bertie Wooster and his pestering aunts, of Jeeves his fish- fed brainy and snobbish butler, or the eccentric Lords and Ladies of the Threepwood family in Blandings Castle in Shropshire County, England.
And what better author to create that reverie than Wodehouse, as he wielded his pen to paint his characters with exquisite adjectives, similes and comparisons. Sometimes almost every line of his fiction would contain a new prosaic revelation that he only could craft.
Wodehouse had a way with words and picturesque expressions. He only could attempt to conjure up what the son of a b… atchlor could be like, how an overtly obese baronet would be indulging in bigamy when he gets married because of his size. If she was a fatso, then Walter would ‘clasp her in his bosom, using the interlocking grip’, and how ‘poverty is the banana-skin on the doorstep to romance’. How we had giggled, suppressing a guffaw now and then through the moustache; the bed would creak and moan as we were rocked by spasms of suppressed outbursts of laughter.
An onlooker would be wondering whether a loony fellow was on the loose nearby; what could be so titillating in that book, he would have asked himself, to send that chap into bouts of spasmodic, unshared mirth?
As the years rolled by, how many a time we have walked into a bookshop while on vacation and make a beeline for the W section of the fiction shelf, praying secretly that there would be an unknown, unread tome of PGW awaiting us. Sometime we would be very lucky to discover one, to pick it up with much expectation and thrill, as a child would experience in a toyshop at Christmas time.
Soon we would speed back to the hotel, only to realize that the spouse was here to cast a long shadow on our enjoyment of our private world. She would not understand the whys of so much spasmodic, suppressed giggles; she might even question, for a fraction of a second, the sanity of that other half of hers. Worse, she might turn spoilt sport and burst on one’s concentration by airing some unwanted, disrespectful remark against our cherished book and author. It could be a temporary anticlimax to long-sought fun. But we were not deterred by a mere mortal; we mowed ahead and indulge in our favourite fiction, spouse or no spouse!
And the toll of the grey cells
Alas, as we age, our abstract thinking and power of visualization take a toll. We may discover to our dismay that our revisiting PGW fiction no longer brings the same pristine fun and delight.
Though there is that uncanny feeling that we are reading ‘a new’ story, at the back of our mind, we know that it is old wine in new bottle. We get that sense of déjà vu, and there is that uncalled for feeling that we won’t be able to renew that fantastic dream of younger days. Somehow or other we cannot, try as we may, rekindle the old vision of the plot that we had originally ingrained in our memory years ago, nor rack up that old dormant feeling associated with a funny, pleasant, fanciful world.
But try we will – yet again. We once more look for that quiet nook in the home, far from the madding crowd, may be at 11 at night, when silence descends — as night would have on Blandings Castle — and dip into our favourite volume, to rekindle the souvenirs triggered in the good old days of undergraduate life.
Dr Rajagopal Soondron