‘Staying On’ is the story of an Englishman who has served the British army in India and has decided to stay on in India post Independence along with his wife. Colonel Tusker Smalley and Lucy put up at Smith’s hotel in a small hill – Pankot. Smith’s is owned by a notoriously self occupied, cold hearted and boisterous lady Mrs Bhoolabhoy. Her meek and God fearing husband Mr. Bhoolabhoy is an old buddy of Tusker as well as the manager of Smith’s. Miles away from their native land, in the midst of a different race, ageing Tusker and Lucy find themselves lonely and insecure. The couple is assisted in their daily lives by a doting servant Ibrahim. Ibrahim is in awe of the British way of life and tries to emulate their ways, thus becoming a source of much subtle humor in the book. As the story unfolds, we understand the various undercurrents of tension between all the main characters in the novel.
The novel is set in India in the post Independence era. The Indo-Pak riots have happened. There is a sharp Hindu Muslim divide. The society is divided by caste and religion. The British ways of social conduct are being fiercely emulated by Indians as a sign of higher gentility. And yet, Lucy wants to escape from this very imitation of the Raj. The Raj, she mentions ‘brought out all my very worst qualities’. ‘British India, which kept me in my place, bottled up and bottled in.’
'Staying On' narrates the staying on of Tusker in India after his own people have left. Lucy is forced to stay on with Tusker away from friends and family. ‘Staying On’ is also what Lucy is forced to do after Tusker’s death- alone in an alien world waiting to go to her ultimate home.
The story does not progress as a series of events on a timescale. It rather reads like jumbled up set of excerpts from a story. The reader is left to flow with the novel and place these pieces together in his mind.
The language is colloquial. Scott is able to meticulously bring out the different nuances of self expression in each character with the help of language. Ibrahim’s comic imitation of the British style in his lingo, Tusker’s ‘deliberate obfuscation’, Lucy’s well mannered loquacity and Mrs. Bhoolabhoy’s uncouth bawdiness- Scott gives each character a voice so real that each personality is firmly etched in the reader’s mind.
I was lucky to get the editorial edition of a Longman Publication of this book. This had a detailed guide on what to expect in the book, a brief background to the plot, a cross study of Paul Scott’s other pieces in the light of the present plot and a possible approach to the reading. Needless to say, this extra material provided by Longman was quite helpful in my appreciation of the book.
Personally, I liked the treatment of characters by the author. Scott possesses a deep understanding of Indian sensibilities and history, which, coupled with the subtlety of his humour help him create very lovable characters indeed. Ibrahim, for one, is my favorite. So is Joseph the maali. Mrs. Smalley, delicate and genteel, is another example of effective characterization. Scott successfully creates in Mr. and Mrs. Smalley a set of idiosyncratic individuals who elicit our sympathy and yet make us grin.
Book Reviewed By Ashmita Saha
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