Oh the games people play now, every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say, yeah never saying what they mean
Joe South, 1969
Former NDTV news anchor Nidhi Razdan is in the news. Again. Let me rephrase that. Nidhi Razdan is the news. Till a couple of years ago, the personable face of the well-known English news channel had been, not just bringing us the news, but keeping her guest participants from all sides of the political, social and cultural divide honest and on their toes. Her deceptively easy manner often put her invited panelists off guard, while she seamlessly went for the kill. Always thorough with her homework, she came well prepared and for the most part, had even obstreperous politicians eating out of her hand. Else she was quick to shoot from the hip, Left, Right and Centre to refer eponymously to the name of the programme she anchored. Left of Centre was more her channel’s stated position, and Nidhi was unwavering in holding on to that stance. She was sharp, shrewd, articulate and always one step ahead of her often-troublesome invitees. In short, Nidhi Razdan is not, or was not, one of those anchors whose eyes you could pull the wool over.
Which is why her much-touted embarrassment over being taken for a huge, academic ride comes as an unexpected surprise. The details of the case will be well known to all those who have been following the Nidhi Razdan story. Having announced that she is quitting her high-pressure, high-profile job at NDTV and moving on to the rarefied world of academia, she was the talk and toast of academic and intellectual circles in India. After all, it’s not every day that one receives an invitation to take up a teaching assignment at the redoubtable Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the toast before she became toast. An unfortunate victim of online chicanery from a bunch of spiteful, cybercrime nerds whose only objective was to embarrass her, the offer from Harvard proving to be a royal hoax. Poor Nidhi Razdan, red-faced, is nursing her wounds. As she herself put it, ‘How could I be so stupid?’ Indeed Nidhi, how could you? Had she been aware of the works of the late P.G. Wodehouse, she might have agreed with his description of a lost soul, ‘He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom.’
Apparently, she is not the only one to be victimized by such phishing attacks, there have been other bright ladies who fell headlong for this kind of trickery. Speculation is now rife as to who might be behind all this, and the Razdan sympathizers are making no bones about their suspicions. Those who wish to know more on the subject can read all about it in the International New York Times, which decided to dredge up and regurgitate the story last week. The NYT has been a relentless baiter of the Government of India, or at least of the present dispensation, and their needle of suspicion with regard to l’affaire Razdan is barely disguised.
All this, naturally, got me in a right, royal tizzy. If the likes of Nidhi Razdan can be so easily led up the garden path, what possible chance could someone of my ‘bottom of the barrel’ status possibly have? Being a writer of essentially light-hearted, satirical and possibly, humorous columns, I have for some while now been entertaining grandiose dreams of winning some major literary award dedicated to my genre of writing. Nothing too grand mind you, not a Nobel or a Booker but something more modestly suited to my oeuvre. I’ve heard tell that if you thought long and hard about some fancy wish-fulfilment, it might actually come true. I was literally floating away in a wonderful day-dream.
I settled comfortably in front of my desktop, booted it up and went directly to my mail inbox. Lo and behold, the first item in my unopened mail was from the P.G. Wodehouse Literary Society. Would you believe it! My heart, like the poet Shelley’s, was one with the skylark. Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Before half a blink of an eye, I had opened the mail, and was disbelievingly looking at a letterhead cleverly designed with the logo of the creator of the comic Master’s bust smoking a pipe, and the Society’s full name beautifully calligraphed. The letter was music to my ears.
Dear Mr. Suresh Subrahmanyan,
It gives us, at the P.G. Wodehouse Literary Society, considerable pleasure to inform you that our panel of eminent judges has awarded you the 2021 Wodehouse Humourist of the Year Award. The Award was instituted in 2015 and the recipients have included some of the finest writers the world of satire and humour has known. You are the first writer outside of the United Kingdom to have received this honour. Our warmest congratulations.
Apart from the specially crafted gold commemorative medal and scroll of honour you will also receive a cash prize of £35,000 generously contributed by the family estate of Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. The Awards function will be held at The Dorchester in London on August 15, 2022. We have invited the great comic actor, writer, thinker and avowed Wodehouse admirer, the remarkable Stephen Fry to give away the Award. We are awaiting confirmation from him. While further details will be communicated to you in due course, we would appreciate receiving your acceptance of this Award and confirmation that you will be attending the function. We will be sending you two round-trip first-class air tickets, compliments of British Airways for you and your wife. A suite has already been booked for you at The Dorchester for five nights. You will be received at Heathrow by one of The Dorchester’s fleet of luxury cars.
We look forward to hearing from you at the earliest.
With our very best wishes.
P.G. Wodehouse Literary Society
Well, well! And another ‘well’ for good measure. I mean to say! I sat stock still, as if carved out of stone. I re-read the missive twenty-seven times, and could detect nothing suspicious. In fact, you might say I was too stunned to be able to react intelligently. Questions there were aplenty, of course. How did they get to read my blogs? I did not enter any literary competition. Did someone from the judging committee get hold of one or two of my book compilations? And the August 15th fixture, coinciding with India’s Independence Day, seemed too pat. The whole thing was a dashed mystery, as Bertie Wooster might have put it, and I did not have the services of Jeeves to help me out. 35,000 smackeroos, eh? That’ll come in handy for a rainy day. Keep the wolf from the door and all that.
However, something kept gnawing at me. This can’t be right. Is the Nidhi Razdan fiasco playing out all over again? I did not want to get at the truth. Then again, why should I undersell myself. Surely, I can craft a funny sentence same as anybody else? Dear, oh dear. I was beset with doubts and possibly a smidgen of low self-esteem. Enough of all this nonsense, I said to myself. Let me put a call through to this Gareth Fowler chap from the P.G.W. Society and put an end to my misery, once and for all. I braced myself as I tapped the keys on my mobile.
I got through first crack out of the box. ‘Good morning, am I speaking to Mr. Gareth Fowler?’
‘I am he,’ responded this Fowler in pedantic English.
‘Hello. I am Suresh Subrahmanyan from India, and I have received your mail.’
‘And what mail would that be?’ That was a warning shot across the bow, if ever there was one.
‘The mail informing me of my having bagged the Wodehouse Award.’
The Fowler sounded a tad mystified. ‘I am sorry but what award? And who is this?’
‘I just told you who I was. You are Gareth Fowler, Trustee for the Wodehouse Literary Society, are you not?’ My throat was beginning to dry up.
‘My dear Mr. Whatever-your-name-is, somebody has been playing a huge prank on you. I am Gareth Fowler, yes, but I am employed by the British Gas Board in their Public Relations department. Sorry, wrong number.’ And the line went dead.
My legs turned to jelly. My depression was beyond description. The onset of the south-west monsoon could not have exhibited a deeper depression. I referred to Shelley’s joyous skylark earlier, but now I was more in tune with Keats’ nightingale. My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk / Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains / One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.
Nidhi Razdan, if you are looking for a shoulder to cry on, you don’t have far to seek.