14 October 2011

Remembering PG Wodehouse on his 130th birthday

The Code of the Watsas
I was sprawled on my bed, engrossed in the final episode of Sex and the City when Jeevan sidled in to tell me that my flight tomorrow was likely to be late.

“Fogs in Delhi, Batty-baba,” he said. “Thereby all flights in country being delayed.”
This just put the cap on it. Preeti would be livid. I had promised to pick up fresh stocks of Fortnums’ goose liver paté from Patel Stores, our friendly neighbourhood bania, and if I failed to arrive on t. – well, you know, hell hath no fury like a rakhi-sister scorned, what?
“Jeevan,” I said, “there is no time to be lost. “Get Captain Modi on the phone pronto.”
Homi was one of the best. We’d been at Lovedale together – shared our tuck, travelled home by Bombay-batch every hols, and what not. If ever there was a bloke who could get something done in this desperate situation, it was old Hormuze Modi.
“Hey Batty!” Homi’s mellifluous tones attacked me from the speaker phone. “Have you heard the latest on Ma Gupu?” and he proceeded to drone on and on about our old Geography teacher who apparently had been through some rather awful times but was now retired and last sighted vicinity of Coonoor. Now I loved old Nergis Barucha, and the sound of her bossy “Bharat Watsa! you will accompany me to the headmaster’s office!” was still enough to wake me in a cold sweat from deepest slumber, but this was not at all the time for this kind of thing.
“Listen, Homi old chap, will you be quiet for a second and allow me to confide the most awful problem a man ever had to face?”
“Oh no Batty, not the clap again,” Homi said worriedly. He was one of those few chaps who really cared about a chap.
“Worse,” I assured him. “Preeti’s having her annual bash in Goa tomorrow, and the boat pulls out at 7 pm sharp. Jeevan tells me my flight is likely to be late. And you know what Preeti’s like. If I don’t get the paté there on time I’m for it. Do you think you could get the old Lear out?”
“Any time, Batty, you know that, but tomorrow is Binaifer’s annual candle-light vigil, that Save the Dolphins thing she’s been doing ever since she was three – so sorry old boy.”
You know, if anything ever did get me to tie the k. it would only be the hope that a cute thing like little Binaifer Modi might spring from the Watsa loins. I sighed and put the phone down heavily – then picked it up again.
Arvind and I had lunched at the Bombay Gym last week, and he’d let slip his new acquisition – a hovercraft, don’t you know. Surely he would – ?
But Melissa, Arvind’s delicate half, was out of sorts. “Bai trouble,” Arvind confided. “Poor Melissa apparently told her very clearly to cut the kakdi gol-gol but she went and served it cut lamba-lamba. I’d really better go in and check whether she’s regained consciousness, she’s been lying in a faint since lunchtime. Pip-pip, old man.”
Sighing, I now tried calling Rajeev, Preeti’s second husband,
No. 2 (ha ha, nice coincidence there) at one of these enormous oil corporations that have their own helicopters and what not. He was a jolly good chap, though an old Mayo boy, batch of 1968 – to tell you the truth I like him a darn sight better than any other husband Preeti’s had. But the silky voice that answered his direct line said he was busy with Japanese visitors. Out on the golf course I’ll be bound. Never can understand how these oil fellows ever get any work done, honestly.
I had my hand on the phone again when I heard a small cough. I let go of the phone. Jeevan, as you may have long suspected, was the brains of the family. I knew from the expression on his face that my worries would soon be relegated to an earlier period.
“Don’t mind it Baba, but how about we can try the Gidwani-madam?” he asked solemnly.
I looked at him aghast.
“What, that old battleaxe!” I stared at him haughtily, waiting for an explanation. Old Jeevan was clearly losing it. It was all that fish he ate – mercury poisoning, don’t you know. The Gidwani bird, to put it plainly, was the rudest, ugliest old harridan that dined out every night of her life on a bridge story. The one and only time my dear departed mater and pater had her over had been one fateful evening seventeen years ago. I had just learnt to play myself, and they’d called me in to make up the fourth.
“Do you play Stayman?” Mrs Gidwani asked me. I did, of course – I mean to say, what sort of bounder doesn’t play Stayman. But instead of responding with a simple “One no trump” which would have sufficed the likes of you and me, she gave a loud cackle and started telling us about the time she’d sat down to a rubber at the Willingdon and politely asked her partner, “Do you play Stayman?” To which the gentleman had apparently replied: “Madam, I AM Stayman.”
Now I mention this only so that you will have some idea of the vintage of this Gidwani. But while one expects that temperance and wisdom shall follow great age, as the night the day, our Gidwani has only got successively more ghastly. I shudder as I reveal this awful fact but since that evening she has gazed at Jeevan with covetous eyes and I assure you I have lived in utmost dread these seventeen years.
Now Jeevan unfolded his plan, “Baba, you are knowing every time Gidwani-madam is telling to me her desire for man-servant like my good self and her intention of ample reimbursement?”
My eyes narrowed. What on earth was the man trying to get at? Surely, surely Jeevan wasn’t suggesting that he sacrifice himself to the Gidwani just so that Preeti could get the paté on time? Where on earth was his sense of proportion!
“I am talk to Raju, Gidwani-madam’s driver,” Jeevan continued, heedless of the young master’s visible agitation. “They are having first-class new SUV, and Raju is anxious for opportunity to travel on new, improved NH4. I can be telling to her that I will go now itself and tomorrow morning bringing for madam young chap for household work from my native village of Karad. I have speak to my sister and one fellow is there able and willing. From Karad Goa is nearby only. Raju will quickly dropping your good self at Preeti madam’s place late night. Next morning we shall be coming back with servant boy for Gidwani madam.”
By golly, the chap was a genius! “Quick, Jeevan,” I cried, “chuck some things in a bag and let’s push off!”
“I have took liberty of already packing bag, baba,” smiled Jeevan.
So that’s how it happened, and there was great happiness and r. all around. Preeti’s paté got to the party well in time. Mrs Gidwani was delighted with the bloke from Karad. Melissa soon recovered – it had only been one of her regular migraines – has them every now and again don’t you know. Even sweet little Binaifer managed to save the dolphins. I mean to say, I was going to Goa anyway, and a chap’s got to do what a chap’s got to do, what?

02 October 2011

The Songbird on my Shoulder by Saaz Aggarwal

The Songbird on my Shoulder by Saaz Aggarwal
black-and-white fountain has been silent for a few weeks, having been working on producing a book of its own.
The Songbird on my Shoulder is a collection of short pieces, most of which have been in print before in mainstream Indian publications. Put together, they form a worldview – and in particular views of Mumbai and Pune – from the perspective of an upper-middle class woman in India. Aiming to be funny, poignant, and thought provoking, this unorthodox mid-life autobiography has a revealing section towards the end in the simulated voices of characters such as Bridget Jones, Bill Bryson and Dave Barry.
For a preview, click here.
This book has blurbs from some remarkably important people – in a transparent attempt to prove to readers and critics that it aims to fall into the ‘takin-the-piss’ genre rather than the more popular ‘wannabe’ one.
The Songbird on my Shoulder will be launched in Pune on 8 October and available in bookstores and online shortly thereafter.