Sue Gee on Paul Scott, Slightly Foxed Issue 32

Some Kind of Edwardian Sunlight

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When I was old enough to understand, my father used to show me snaps and photographs and tell me what I thought were wonderful tales of ‘the land where I was born’, so that when I first came back out here I was always looking for the India I thought I knew because I had seen it in my imagination, like a kind of mirage, shimmering on the horizon, with hot scented breezes blowing in from far hills . . .

This is Daphne Manners, the young woman who comes out to India in 1942 as a VAD nurse and falls in love with Hari Kumar, an Indian journalist educated at an English public school, brought up from babyhood to be entirely English, and finding himself, on his enforced return, belonging nowhere. Their doomed and tragic love affair, to which all else returns, over and over again, is at the heart of Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet, though its drama is played out only in Volume One, The Jewel in the Crown (1966).

I was not born in India, but I was conceived there, the daughter of an Indian Army officer and a member of the WAAF, who went out in 1946 ‘to cheer up the troops’, as my mother always put it. She and my father fell in love at first sight, were married within three weeks, and sailed home to England, expecting their first baby, in January 1947. On 15 August of that year, India, through Partition, became two countries. The British flag came down over Viceroy Mountbatten’s Residency in New Delhi, and the long struggle for independence from colonial rule – the overarching theme of The Raj Quartet – was finally over. I was born two weeks later and, like Daphne Manners, grew up with the background of a shimmering India, a country which had clearly given my parents the defining experience of their lives.

My father had lived there since 1934, going out to work on a sugar plantation in northern Bihar, moving around the country as his responsibilities grew and serving

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About the contributor

Sue Gee’s new novel about the return home of an Indian Army officer will be published in 2012. No one can agree on a title.

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