‘Oh, I say, did you say Wodehouse helped you lose weight?’
‘Wodehouse as in P.G.?
‘The writer or the dietician?’
‘The writer, you ass! He invented the Swedish Exercises, you know. And the Larsen E.’
‘And you did them?’
‘No, I just read about them.’
A couple of years back, I went to a new doctor with my annual health check-up reports. Again, all the results seemed fine. I was eating healthy, staying active, walking twice a day. Balancing the halo on my head, I flashed a smile at him.
“You need to lose about 15 kg,” he said. “Put in more exercise.”
“But Doctor, I doubt I can do more than this. I’ve had multiple fractures on both my legs some years back.”
Like most normal people, this is when he should have said, ‘What!’ and I would have told him about my near-fatal road accident in an unquivering voice. But he did not raise an eyebrow. “Too long ago. You better get serious about exercise and consult a nutritionist if you want to stay fit.”
Some bedside manner, humph!
But not one to bear grudges, I moved on. I would look up some Swedish Exercises, I thought, having caught a page of Something New while sitting in the waiting room earlier. But, of course, I’m always equipped with a Wodehouse—one never knows when one may need a smile.
In this first Blandings Castle book, the hero Ashe Marson is a strapping young man who does the Larsen Exercises in the open, unmindful of the audience, till one day, just as he ‘unscrambled himself and resumed a normal posture’, the heroine of the book bursts into musical laughter. Like the rest of ‘Plum’ Wodehouse’s work, this has been a balm to my throbbing head and broken bones. Wodehouse is mild sunshine on a cold day, cool breeze on a hot day, and a gentle sprinkling of life lessons every day. More importantly, however, it proved to be an inspiration.
Many of Wodehouse's novels mention the Swedish Exercises. But somehow, till that minute in the doctor's waiting room, I hadn't thought of them as an exercise that I could do. Or should do. Yes, imagining his characters twisting and turning always makes me smile. This bit from Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit has me in splits every time I read it. Bertie Wooster, against whose name there are 11 pages of incriminating matter in the Junior Ganymede Club register, asks Jeeves if there is anything there about fellow Drones Club member Stilton Cheesewright.
'A certain amount, sir.'
'Not in the real sense of the word, sir. His personal attendant merely reports that he has a habit when moved of saying "Ho!" and does Swedish exercises in the nude each morning before breakfast.'
In his book Over Seventy (1957), Wodehouse reveals that he did his "getting-up exercises before breakfast, as I have been doing since 1919 without missing a day." He published over ninety books, hundreds of short stories, wrote or collaborated on at least 14 Broadway musicals, and died at the age of 93 while sitting in his armchair, going through a three-fourths-complete typescript of his last book, Sunset at Blandings.
Apart from the fact that he had immense talent and wrote at least 1000 words every day, I've often wondered what could account for such prolific work. He and his wife always had dogs and cats and even guinea hens around them that served as stress-busters? That, like Bertie Wooster, he never harboured any ill will towards anyone? By his own admission, that he had a case of infantilism and never developed mentally at all beyond his last year in school? That he exercised every day?
Bingo! E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y! His fictional exercises are believed to have been inspired by the regime invented by the Swede Pehr Henrik Ling or by that of Lieutenant Muller of the Danish Army. But in real life, Wodehouse followed a set of light exercises called the Daily Dozen, which Walter Camp invented and published in Collier's magazine. He did it every day.
My visit to the nutritionist confirmed that every day was the magic word. She reviewed my diet and lifestyle and said only a few tweaks were needed to make them work for me. Instead of doing a bit of yoga in fits and starts, I started going up to the terrace to do yoga – not Swedish exercises – for half an hour every day at sunrise. Like magic, I lost over 12 kg in seven months. When I diluted the 'everyday' regime earlier this year, the needle started swaying the other way. I think I'll need to begin reading Wodehouse every day again – no, not to follow his Swedish Exercises, but to exercise – any kind of physical exercise – every single day!
Mala Kumar is a writer and editor who keeps her insanity intact by talking to kids, dogs, cats and plants.