Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXII No. 1, April 16-30, 2022

BOOK-ED!

-- by Ranjitha Ashok

At first, you think you’ve got the WhatsApp forward wrong.

After all, squinting at your cell phone first thing in the morning without your glasses is never a good idea.

‘Prisoner denied P.G. Wodehouse book. Considered a security risk’.

Come on.

Surely, that can’t be true.

Smirking indulgently at how easy it is to make mistakes, you slip your glasses on, and look again…

…and then again.

No – that’s exactly what it says.

Turns out a certain incarcerated gentleman decided that he would handle the dreadful tedium of his prison sentence in the best way possible – read Wodehouse.

His sympathetic family immediately sent him one of his favourite books of the aforementioned author, when – Bam!

The prison authorities decided that this particular author presented ‘a security risk’ and promptly denied the prisoner access to the book.

This has sent a ripple of ‘Eh, what?’ throughout the Wodehouse-reading world, (a large chunk of which is right here on the sub-continent). Eyebrows have now assumed the V-shaped formation, indicative of minds in a feverish state of perplexed-in-the-extreme.

And this particular extreme is really very…er…perplexing.

Where was the danger exactly?

In sentences suspected of having the power to instigate laughter-inspired violence?

Or perhaps of mayhem being unleashed by some of the most magnificent metaphors ever written?

Or maybe of dark prison plottings being incited by zany storylines of younger sons selling dog biscuits, Peers of the Realm being bullied by their sisters, and members of the glitterati spending far too much time in aptly named clubs?

Amid all this tumult and shouting, you can’t help but wonder – have any of those officious chappies who made that decision read Wodehouse?

Now you don’t want to come across as one more of the English-speaking, English-book-reading, long-word-using bunch of entitled exclusives about whom certain far-from-being-gruntled writers have been dashing off such bitterly bitter articles in recent times.

Dreadful lot, this elitist tribe, and even a national menace at times, apparently, though why this particular group should inspire such vituperation is a little hard to understand.

Surely there are far more pressing issues that deserve attention, especially from such earnest conscience-keepers and guiding lights of the people.

And the best way to cut anyone down to size is to simply ignore them, right?

Oh well – to get back to the ‘point at tissue’.

(A Wodehousean would get that reference – Ha!)

But seriously, it’s a genuine question – have any of those powers-that-be read Wodehouse?

Which brings you to why books frighten people, especially those in power.

Perhaps because books equal knowledge equal thinking – and thinking is always dangerous. As Wodehouse himself said: “What good are brains to a man? They only unsettle him.”

‘Unsettled’ apparently makes Authority ‘Uncomfortable’.

And the idea of laughter is probably particularly unsettling.

Anyone who is still capable of smiling is living proof of an unbroken spirit.

Also, in this vast galaxy of goofiness, as Uncle Fred would say, there often occurs that moment when even a dark, dire situation sometimes stumbles, then tips over into sheer absurdity – and that’s something the authorities dread – the thought of looking foolish.

So imagine – those who not merely think, but are also capable of laughing…probably up their sleeves.

No wonder bullies, despots and such-like Roderick Spodes are at a loss, and either slink away, muttering darkly to themselves, or resort to fists and general violence, those being far easier options to open debate.

Today – Wodehouse.

Tomorrow?

Asterix perhaps? All that subversive thumbing noses at Caesar, and bashing up of legionaries, who aren’t guilty of anything other than merely following orders, poor fellows.

Word on the street is that kindergarten schools are being watched.

Apparently, there’s been a lot of talk of ‘black sheep’ and ‘three bags full’.

Could be a sign of deals going down.

Or maybe bags of Wodehouse books are being moved from spot to spot, while a new whispered code emerges.

“When I signal ‘Aunt Agatha’, it means ‘Move’. ‘Aunt Dahlia’ means ‘Stay put’. Pass it on and don’t get the aunts mixed up.”

Somewhere out there in the Universe, where such things exist, is an ‘…English author and one of the most widely read humourists of the 20th century’ plunged in gloom, turning his face to the wall, with lower lip in full pout.

For years, he fought off all that Berlin Broadcasts backlash that transformed him into a hissing and a byword in circles determined to malign him.

And now this.

Can’t help feeling a bit sorry for old Plum.

Here’s a thought – in this age of rules and diktats, maybe reading ‘humourists’ should be made compulsory. From anywhere in the world, in any language of your choice. (See? Who says it must only be in foo-foo English, you old wannabe colonialist, you?!)

Now there’s a law that would in fact make the world a better, kinder place.

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