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Affection for P.G. Wodehouse Alive in India


India has always been known for its love of literature and for its pantheon of great writers, but an unexpected literary phenomenon is now sweeping the nation: a fascination with the 20th-century British humorist P.G. Wodehouse, the man who gave the world the quirky gentleman Bertie Wooster and his faithful manservant Jeeves. From New Delhi, Mandy Cunningham has this report.


It's a warm musty evening in south India. In a downtown restaurant, a small group has gathered around a table, drawn together by a common passion. By day, these are lawyers, account executives, software engineers, white-collar workers from a modern metropolis. For the next few hours, though, they'll transport themselves into another society and another age.

Unidentified Man #1: ...and the book. So I go over the name J. Hamilton Beamish. That's a character from one of my favorite books called "The Small Bachelor."

CUNNINGHAM: This is the last place in the world you'd expect to find a gathering like this; Bangalore, India's high-tech capital, a bustling city on the country's cutting edge and a far cry from the strange world in which this group will tonight immerse itself.

Unidentified Man #2: 1958 past edition of some book. I had bought it secondhand. It was presented by some...

CUNNINGHAM: These people have gathered to share their love of the works of the comic novelist and satirist P.G. Wodehouse. Each person have adopted the name of their favorite Wodehouse character.

RAHM(ph): My name is Rahm, and I go by the name of Smith, Rupert Smith. Smith preferred to use big, long words. You know, he would use 20 words in a sentence when five would suffice. It's an eccentricity of sorts, but I felt that it's something that I would like to talk myself.

CUNNINGHAM: The group, like many others around India, knows everything there is to know about Wodehouse. They know that he was born in England, that he spent most of his years in the United States, becoming an American citizen, and that he wrote short stories, lyrics for musicals and almost a hundred novels. The reason they're so well informed is that most of them, like Narupa(ph), was introduced to Wodehouse at a very tender age.

NARUPA: When I was about nine or 10, there was this Indi series on TV, and I remember my father was so disgusted with the adaptation that from his office library, he handed out a copy of "Leave it to Smith" and made my sister and me read it.

CUNNINGHAM: Most of the group cut their teeth on stories about Wodehouse's most-famous characters, the erudite gentlemen's gentleman Jeeves and his affable but buffoonish aristocratic boss Bertie Wooster, depicted here in a BBC adaptation.

(Soundbite of BBC program)

"Mr. BERTIE WOOSTER": Ah, Jeeves, I've just been having a chat with young Tappy. Did you happen to notice he wasn't looking very roguish this morning?

"JEEVES": Yes, sir. It seemed to me that Mr. Dossup's(ph) face was sickly, though, with a pale cast of thought.

"Mr. WOOSTER": Quite. He met my cousin Angelo in the lager last night and a rather painful interview ensued.

"JEEVES": I am sorry, sir.

CUNNINGHAM: Members of this group keep in touch daily on the Internet. And from time to time, when they want to forget the hot and muggy Bangalore nights, the group comes together. They hold quizzes, they mull over their favorite episodes.

Unidentified Man #3: But you know, the classic one, where those two are talking on the weather.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, yeah. We didn't think that...

Unidentified Man #4: Oh, yeah. What a book...

CUNNINGHAM: They read extracts.

Unidentified Woman: It was painful for one of the headmasters through rectitude and honesty...

CUNNINGHAM: And there is, says Rahm--Or should that be Smith?--a running competition for the largest collection of Wodehouse books.

RAHM: It's pretty much become a passion inside the group to, you know, be the first one to get to 100 percent. Some of us are having a close--Ghali's close, Clare is very close, I am pretty close. But there are people, you know, who have all the books. That's an achievement.

CUNNINGHAM: `It is, indeed, sir,' as Jeeves would say.

For NPR News, I'm Mandy Cunningham in New Delhi.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mandy Cunningham