Imperial Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse & Swami And Friends by R.K. Narayan

Clouds are piling up outside the window, and though it’s the middle of the week (and I’m supposed to be working) my mind is full of happy, holiday thoughts. All I want to do is go away some place quiet and green; where traffic does not snarl, tempers do not fray, and phone calls do not interrupt reveries. But where, you might ask, will I find such a place, in this day and age. Then again, I don’t have to look very far; right on my bedside table, there are two books that promise a splendid escape — one to a teensy village where a pig is the princess, and another, where a bunch of lads has the run of the land. Imperial Blandings (Blandings omnibus) and Swami And Friends are taking me places. One whisks me off to P.G. Wodehouse’s Market Blandings, “one of those sleepy hamlets which modern progress has failed to touch, except by the addition of a railway station and a room over the grocer’s shop where moving pictures are on view on Tuesdays and Fridays”. R.K. Narayan’s slim volume, on the other hand, transports me to Malgudi, a sleepier little town, except, it bustles with small boys who’re unaffected by the searing summer sun, who skive off school and participate in strikes, and who treat the sandbanks of the Sarayu as their playground.

It works because…

Market Blandings and Malgudi might, in theory, exist only in their authors’ heads, but they have a certain something that has endeared them to generations of readers. Is it because both are inhabited by simple people leading simple lives? In Malgudi, a grandmother sits on a heap of carpets, surrounded by heaps of pillows, and that becomes little Swami’s sanctuary; in Blandings castle, the dotty old peer runs away from his stern sister, drapes himself over the railings of the pigsty, and listens to his pig breathe. Little disturbs the peace and calm of either town, except for silly chaps (in Blandings) bouncing tennis balls off the backs of prize-winning pigs, while bad people conspire to steal it, while in Malgudi, mathematics rears its ugly head, giving the young hero a few sleepless nights. The diversions in both towns are gently absurd and largely rustic; birds sing, the full moon beams down, and people hum happy tunes while working. Now tell me, if that’s not cathartic, what is?

P.S.: Fans of Wodehouse and Narayan have always been keen to find out where the (very English) Market Blandings and the (very South Indian) Malgudi are located, thanks to the authors’ brilliant place and people portraits. But I wouldn’t want to know; and while that might mean I will never be able to walk up to the railway station for a ticket to paradise, surely I will find a slice of it in the bookshop?

And these stay with you…

“Blandings castle slept in the sunshine(…) The air was full of the lulling drone of insects. It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, midway between luncheon and tea, when nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.” “River Sarayu was the pride of Malgudi. It was some ten minutes’ walk from Ellaman Street, the last street of the town, chiefly occupied by oilmongers. Its sandbanks were the evening resort of all the people of the town. The Municipal President took any distinguished visitor to the top of the town hall and proudly pointed to him Sarayu in moonlight, glistening like a silver belt across the north.”

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