Humor: Jeeves and the jailers

A few days ago, the swift-thinking officials at Maharashtra’s Taloja jail refused to let inmate Gautam Navlakha get a parcel which also included a book by humorist PG Wodehouse. The book was deemed a security risk by said jail officials, who also denied passage to spectacles and a chair. I suppose a chair could be seen as a blunt weapon, and spectacles as a sharp object, particularly if the glass shards were deployed, and if you read too many thrillers and drank too much coffee and also needed help. That the Wodehouse book was considered equally dangerous of all, though…

Later, after the High Court intervened – and I understand a judge or two was tickled by the case – the books were allowed. The court’s decision was right and just, and must be applauded.

As a writer and book reviewer, though, I’d like to take a 360 degree view, not to excuse the jail officials’ actions but to possibly place them in perspective, though by means of speculation.

Take it as a devil’s advocate kind of mental exercise – that jail authorities are efficient and also act in good faith, and that they made the right call to have intercepted Wodehouse’s book. After all, Wodehouse’s work could be termed escapist, and aren’t escapes the last thing a warder wants? What if the books were used by an inmate to incapacitate warders with belly laughter, while he sauntered out of prison, tally ho, and became radicalized into a reckless vigilante perpetrating acts of serial humor? Surely no warder, if prudent, could let an inmate radicalize himself with such literature, such anarchist literature?

Perhaps Jeeves is an urban naxal

And what anarchism! In these books, every other page lists modus operandi to destabilize sanskaari society. If I had a rupee for every time Wodehouse characters hurled boiled eggs at whirling ceiling fans … I’d buy some petrol. Petrol!

If not boiled eggs, then the books show other snacks featured in ceremonies known as ‘high tea’ being thrown at various persons. Besides ‘high tea’ being pro-narcotics as far as monikers go, there is also the fact such practices are highly infectious. What if this inspired Mr Navlakha to, say, fold a pamphlet on natural justice into a rocket and ping it at a jail guard, and what if the guard read the pamphlet? Pish! Another impressionable mind would succumb to the virus of political literacy. A terminal consequence of a chain of events beginning with a Wodehousian novel admitted into Taloja prison. Forsooth!

Moreover, other ways to damage Indian society appear in Wodehouse’s writings – anti-national cultural practices. For one, his characters drink alarming amounts of tea. Sure, that bit is not by itself anti-national, as tea was invented just a tad north of the Himalayas, so, almost in India. Then that part is alright, but what do you make of the tea under question being weak? Drinking weak tea has made Bertram Wooster weak willed, and now our impressionable youths would be misled into following his path and embracing joy. Shudder. You fear love terrorism? Here’s literature promoting tea terrorism! Would Khan Market literati care to react?

Further, it is my suspicion as a writer and book reviewer that the tea is milkless. I’ll say it again – not a drop of milk. It seems the plot detail is agitprop and our dairy industry is the target. Wodehouse aims to sink our dairy sector totally and udderly by reversing the white revolution spearheaded by hon’ble Verghese Kurian. What grudge has Wodehouse against Mr Kurien, and against the small farmer branching out into animal husbandry? They will go bust with the collapse of the milk market, causing a domino effect that topples the economy. There will be social unrest occasioned by our people mistakenly insisting on being able to afford things and, you know, food.

And this doom would begin with Wodehouse and his insidious books. So our eagle-eyed jail officials also seem ace book reviewers – I’ll call it like I see it, game recognizing game. They laid bare the fact his books strike at the foundations of our republic – these books have plots which are devious ‘plots’. Therefore, in intercepting them, aren’t jail authorities displaying presence of mind in the conduct of their duties? Where, one might ask, are their presidential medals?

By similar logic, it is clear Wodehouse is a colonialist agent with an agenda to take away our freedoms, of which we have a lot. Not convinced? Consider his famous characters, the Wodehousian aunts – what ferocious militants. These aunts have plenty of khandaani money which can keep a separatist movement going for, like, a season of county cricket. An aunt could topple our regime before you could say ‘What ho’ or ‘Pip pip’. Moreover, an aunt could perform acts of espionage within Indian borders. Under the pretence of going to Goa or hammocking it up at Hampi, she could make detours to sensitive installations. Gaining entry with her famous basilisk stare, so closely described by Wodehouse for clear emulation, she could make any mother’s son quail and surrender. Such psychological warfare, if used on our more impressionable civil servants, might yield secrets crucial to state security. Talk of aunty nationals. We need Anglophone Indian literature espousing coming out into our balconies and plinking teacups together to eradicate Wodehouse’s books from our motherland. Go, Spode, go.

PG Wodehouse in 1930 (Wikimedia Commons)
PG Wodehouse in 1930 (Wikimedia Commons)

In Wodehousia subterra, the subtext of subversion, the aunts aren’t operating on their own. Some may have formed sleeper cells lying in wait. But most, I surmise, are but spokes in a wheel. And the wheel’s center, the whirling hub? None other than the butler. The butler.

Jeeves.

He has Wooster, ostensibly his employer, eating out of the palm of his hand. Jeeves is the domestic help who is the brains of the outfit indoctrinated in Maoist thought. He embodies, ruthlessly, the dictatorship of the proletariat, because he exercises veto power even on Wooster’s choice of socks. Jeeves’s drive comes from his will for domination, apart from other psychopathic impulses which he conceals but are laid bare, ever so subtly, in his calmness which is unbreakable and therefore unnatural. Where a lower-level subversive might flare up, Jeeves remains even-keeled – a quiet, plotting genius. Wooster says so in so many words – a genius. What if Jeeves is the ‘foreign hand’ we fear? His setting is urban. Is he an urban Naxal? What sort of literature are we letting our youth consume?

As a conscientious member of the world of letters, who reads between the lines, I have warned the nation of this highly subversive videshi literature.

However, we must produce desi alternatives with a sanskaari bent. Perhaps Bertram could become Bikram? TBD. Yo, publishers, whattup!

Suhit Kelkar’s factual and imaginative writing appears in India and abroad. He tweets @suhitkelkar.

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