Friday, April 25, 2014

26. The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

The Jewel in the Crown is the first book in the much acclaimed The Raj Quartet. Set during the British Raj of India, the first book in the series tracks the events that unfolded in the town of Mayapore. The story revolves around young Kumar, an Indian brought up in Britain, but who returns to India under after his father's death, friendless, penniless, in a country he has nothing in common with, other than the colour of his skin - the identity crisis he faces as neither the British in India, nor the Indians recognise him as one of their own - and Daphne Manners, a young British girl who finds herself caught under extraordinary circumstances, culminating in her tragic rape, even if her story doesn't end there - indeed, the strength of her character shines through after the aforementioned tragedy. The book has various other remarkable characters, be it the Rajput born princess, Lili Chatterjee, the British officers (both pro and anti Indian), a couple of remarkable ladies, who serve India and Indians in their own ways, one through education, the other by providing healthcare to those for whom no one, not even their fellow countrymen care.

I started this book, with a very skeptic frame of mind, like I usually do whenever reading books based on India, by either Indian authors (for playing to the stereotypes) or foreign ones (for just not getting it right). The premise of the book was specially an explosive one, even if the current generation of Indians blame the politics and policies of the last 60 years of Indian governance rather than the 150 years of British dominion (including 90 years of the British Raj). The author, however, managed to avoid taking sides by presenting the story from the point of view of the amazingly well conceived characters. Through the eyes of those characters, the author also managed to represent the conditions, relationships, political tendencies, etc. of both the communities - whom time had done more to separate than integrate, into an atypical master-servant relationship.

The author also, doesn't excuse the snobbery, high handedness and divisive politics of the British, while also highlighting the anti-social elements of the native population - the kind for whom events of instability, riots, are opportunities for rapine, loot and plunder, indiscriminately, if I may add. The fact that such elements are part of the Indian society, even in today's time and age, makes their existence in those times all the more believable.

The author only makes passing references to the Indian freedom struggle and the main characters of the same, which probably wasn't a bad idea. All considered, a well written account, rich in the depth of the characters as well as the plot of the story in all its complexity.


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