Staying on, p.1
To my old colleague and friend
whom I regard and thank
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Bourne Company for permission to quote from the lyrics of “These Foolish Things,” © Copyright 1935 by Boosey and Co. Ltd., Copyright renewed, rights for the United States of America and Canada assigned to Bourne Co. New York, New York 10036; and to Mrs. Sally Simpson for permission to quote from the lyrics of “Chloe,” Copyright-Villa Moret, Inc.
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637
Copyright © 1977 by Paul Scott
All rights reserved. Originally published 1977
University of Chicago Press edition 1998
Printed in the United States of America.
15 14 13 12 11 10 09 7 6 5 4
ISBN-13: 978-0-226-74349-3 (paper)
ISBN-10: 0-226-74349-7 (paper)
ISBN 978-0-226-06817-6 (e-book)
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Scott, Paul, 1920–78
Staying on: a novel / Paul Scott.— University of Chicago Press ed.
ISBN 0226-74349-7 (acid-free paper)
1. British—India—History—20th century—Fiction. 2. India—History—1947– Fiction. I. Title.
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
Praise for STAYING ON
Staying On far transcends the events of its central action. Digging deeply within narrow boundaries, Scott gives us nothing less than a history of the 40-year marriage of an ill-assorted pair, often at odds yet deeply attached. . . . The Smalleys are beautifully realized. . . . [This] should help win for Scott . . . the reputation he deserves—as one of the best novelists to emerge from Britain’s silver age.
—Robert Towers, Newsweek
Paul Scott’s latest novel, Staying On, provides a sort of postscript to his deservedly acclaimed The Raj Quartet, a series of four novels dealing with the closing stages of British rule in India in the 1940s. . . . The quartet has made Scott’s international reputation as the chronicler of the decline and fall of the Raj.
—Malcolm Muggeridge, New York Times Book Review
Staying On offers another look at a locale familiar to readers of The Raj Quartet. This new novel is less a sequel than a graceful comic coda to the earlier song of India. . . . No one now writing can evoke an Anglo-Indian setting better than Scott.
—Paul Gray, Time
Scott’s novels have created the colonial world and its people, both English and Indian, so vividly that retired Memsahibs write to tell him they were in Rawalpindi on the night in ’36 when the dread Violet stole the show from Lucy Smalley, and go on to relate what has since befallen Violet, a character Scott thought he had invented whole. . . . The world of Scott’s Indian novels is so extraordinarily vivid in part because it is constructed out of such accuracies of detail as the proper name or the precise sum that a retired colonel’s widow could expect to receive as a pension. Scott’s vision is both precise and painterly.
—Jean G. Zorn, New York Times Book Review
Six Days in Marapore
The Alien Sky
A Male Child
The Mark of the Warrior
The Love Pavilion
The Birds of Paradise
The Corrida at San Feliu
The Raj Quartet
Staying On was written as a sequel, or coda, to Paul Scott's acclaimed The Raj Quartet. The four novels that comprise The Raj Quartet are available as e-books from The University of Chicago Press:
1. The Jewel in the Crown
2. The Day of the Scorpion
3. The Towers of Silence
4. A Division of the Spoils
WHEN TUSKER SMALLEY died of a massive coronary at approximately 9.30 a.m. on the last Monday in April, 1972, his wife Lucy was out, having her white hair blue-rinsed and set in the Seraglio Room on the ground floor of Pankot’s new five-storey glass and concrete hotel, The Shiraz.
The Shiraz was only a step or two away from the little hill station’s older hotel, Smith’s, whose annexe had been occupied by Tusker and Lucy for ten years. The annexe, known as The Lodge, was a small bungalow in what had once been an adjacent but separate compound, a section of whose dividing wall had been knocked down and a path trodden to create an illusion of connexion between hotel and annexe. The old gateway into The Lodge’s compound, now known as the side-entrance, gave on to a lane. Immediately opposite was The Shiraz.
If Tusker had been found at once, then, and a message sent across, Lucy would have had the news at just the moment any woman would subsequently have to think of as the most inconvenient at which to hear she had become a widow. At 9.30 she was going under the dryer.
But Tusker lay dead for half-an-hour and might have lain longer if Mrs Bhoolabhoy, who owned Smith’s and lived in one of its principal rooms, hadn’t become unnerved by the howling of Colonel and Mrs Smalley’s dog, Bloxsaw. The howling was not very loud because the dog was locked in Colonel Smalley’s garage, but it was persistent so Mr Bhoolabhoy was ordered over to complain on Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s behalf.
Mrs Bhoolabhoy, who had jowls and favoured sarees in pastel colours such as salmon pink which emphasized the fairness of her skin, was a martyr to several things, among them, migraine. On mornings when she kept to her room, work at Smith’s Hotel came virtually to a standstill. The slightest percussive sound was more than she was prepared to bear. The hotel was hers, Mr Bhoolabhoy merely its manager, whom she had married. Mrs Bhoolabhoy weighed sixteen stone. Her husband was constructed on more meagre lines.
Mr Bhoolabhoy had managed Smith’s for years before the woman he married turned up as its new proprietor. He was her third and youngest husband; according to Tusker Smalley probably the lucky one because she was unlikely to enjoy a fourth, being now almost as richly endowed with killing flesh as with life-enhancing rupees. Tusker, who called Mr Bhoolabhoy Billy-Boy, except when they had quarrelled, which sometimes they had to, said Billy-Boy looked like a man who, inured to disappointment, had suddenly glimpsed an immense possibility and begun to organize himself so as not to make the mistake that would block his way to it. Mrs Bhoolabhoy had had no children by any of her husbands. “He stands to gain,” Tusker had often pointed out to Lucy. “And he feeds her up a treat. One day she’ll drop.”
Actually, Mrs Bhoolabhoy fed herself without either Mr Bhoolabhoy’s help or hindrance. His policy was to minimize every risk of incurring her displeasure. These risks were many. On her good days when she waddled about looking into this and that and finding fault he followed in her galleon-wake in his neat well-pressed suit making sure her orders were carried out and the sources of her irritation at once put a stop to. On her bad days he walked on tiptoe and had the entire staff doing the same so that even the guests (when there were any) felt themselves under a cloud and got out of the place as soon as possible after breakfast.
The last Monday morning in this April (April 24) was such a morning; if anything heavier than usual with the pressure of Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s martyrdom which throbbed like a silent fog-warning through the hotel from the shuttered bedroom (the old Number One) where she lay on a massive double bed which she took up most of. Occasionally Mr Bhoolabhoy was detailed to share thi
At 7.30 a.m. he was summoned from No. 2 to No. 1 by his wife’s personal maid, a local Pankot woman whom they called by the name she had been given long ago by the British military family who employed her as a little ayah until they went home in 1947: Minnie. Minnie was now plump, middle-aged and grumpy. Mr Bhoolabhoy got no change out of her. She took orders only from Mrs Bhoolabhoy, and not always from her. Mr Bhoolabhoy maintained a cautious attitude to Minnie. Sometimes Minnie complained about him to Mrs Bhoolabhoy, or about what she called Management which came to the same thing. This led to Mrs Bhoolabhoy shouting at him. At other times when Minnie was being uncooperative even with Mrs Bhoolabhoy he got shouted at again.
“You can’t win, old man,” Tusker had told him. “Not with women. Minnie probably fancies you. It gives her a kick to get you into trouble. Obviously you’ve never made a pass at her. Try it.”
“No, no. It must be menopause.”
“In that case she ought to go into the next Guinness Book of Records. You’ve been saying that for years. Have another peg.”
So they had had another peg. That was a week ago. Monday evenings were evenings Mr Bhoolabhoy usually looked forward to. However badly Monday started, however badly indisposed Mrs Bhoolabhoy was at breakfast-time, by lunch she had usually recovered sufficiently to take some nourishment and so fortify herself to spend the rest of the gruelling day playing bridge at the Pankot Gymkhana Club. Mondays were not her only bridge days: there could be sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; but never Sunday because Sunday was Mr Bhoolabhoy’s day off and her day for checking his records of the hotel’s income and expenditure which often contributed to the fact that there could easily be a difference of opinion between them on Sunday evening, a celibate night for Mr Bhoolabhoy and a Monday morning migraine for his wife.
What gave Monday evenings their attraction was not just that Mrs Bhoolabhoy could be counted on to stay late at the club but also that on these evenings Mrs Smalley took herself to the pictures at the New Electric. Once Mr Bhoolabhoy had seen the last evening guest out of Smith’s dining-room and ensured that the servants were beginning to clear up and the kitchen-staff to wash up, that cook had remembered to prepare Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s midnight snack, that Minnie had properly arranged her mistress’s bed and was somewhere within her mistress’s immediate call, then he and Tusker could meet over a bottle either at The Lodge or on the verandah of the hotel (where the sound of Mrs Bhoolabhoy returning could be better heard).
Neither man got drunk. Tusker drank more than Mr Bhoolabhoy, but then Tusker was a member–the last surviving member in Pankot, with his wife–of the old school of British and needed his liquor. Mr Bhoolabhoy drank less not only because he had principles (frail at times) but because he loved listening to Tusker who seemed to know so much about such a lot (old scandal, new scandal, local scandal, international scandal; the Profumo affair, the Kennedy assassination, why President Johnson pulled dogs by their ears, why Prime Minister Heath was married to a boat, why it was that the British were pro-Pakistan in the first Indo–Pak war and pro-India in the one just finished, and what Henry Kissinger had said to the dumbest blonde in Connecticut who only wanted to send a message to her momma in Warsaw).
Over the years of their convivial Mondays Mr Bhoolabhoy had gathered a great deal of esoteric information about Presidents, Palaces and Peoples’ Democracies. The range of Tusker’s knowledge of the world had astonished him, fascinated him. He often wished he could remember one-tenth of what he had learned, been told; and sometimes thought he might have done so if he had got as well-oiled as Tusker. But apart from his principles, his preference for hearing clearly what Tusker was saying, his relative abstemiousness was imposed upon him by awareness of the necessity to aim off for the wind of Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s unpredictable Monday night desire.
This tended to depend on how much she had won. More often than not she came home up on the evening in which case Mr Bhoolabhoy had to be prepared to be up to things too. He had to be similarly prepared if she had lost so much in the day-long bridge session that she was feeling unloved and unwanted in an unkind and swindling world. He found this rather touching and on such occasions, after their combined and gigantic climax, they often had a little weep together and exchanged protestations of their beholdeness one to the other and of their resolve to be beholden forever. (Her break-even nights could be very dull.) Too often, though, the combination of money lost, midnight snack, violent intercourse and tears of relief and love, led next day to Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s further prostration.
. . .
But this Monday was unlikely to draw to a close for Mr Bhoolabhoy with a convivial meeting with Colonel Smalley (Indian Army, Rtd). Today, unless he could wriggle out of it again he was going to have to write the Letter. Obeying the summons delivered by Minnie he entered Room No. 1 and stood nervously at the foot of his wife’s bed. The summons had not surprised him because a quarter of an hour before he had heard Mrs Bhoolabhoy moan. He had already warned the servants not to clatter.
“Shall I send for Dr Rajendra, Lila?” he asked in a whisper, and in the English they spoke to one another in because he could not understand her when she rattled away in her native Punjabi.
She mouthed the word no. Her mouth and her moustache were all he could see of her face. She was on her back, both hands pressed to her head.
“Dr Taporewala, perhaps?” Then he moistened his lips in anticipation. “What about Dr Battacharya?”
Dr Rajendra practised western medicine; Taporewala, the ayurvedic. Dr Battacharya went in for acupuncture, and had once cured Mrs Bhoolabhoy of migraine for a whole week by sticking her ample body all over with little pins; which had been a sight to see.
“No doctor,” she said. “Have you written the Letter?”
“I am about to.”
“Do it. Then bring it. I will sign it.”
“There is no need for you to be bothered with trivial matters of detail, dear Lila. What am I here for?”
“Sometimes this is a question I ask myself.”
Mr Bhoolabhoy tiptoed out then tiptoed in again.
“Lila, it will have to be typed.”
“The machine will make a noise.”
“One has one’s crosses.”
Mr Bhoolabhoy nodded.
He went back to his own room and then out through the door that gave, as all the bedroom doors gave, on to the dim green windowless dining-room where ragged palms, potted in brass spittoons, stood sentinel among tables shrouded by stained napery. Daylight entered only from the threadbare lounge which had windows on to the verandah. Between dining- and sitting-room Mr Bhoolabhoy had his office, a glassed-in cubby-hole that gave a view of both rooms. This was Mr Bhoolabhoy’s sanctuary. A naked electric bulb provided illumination. The office doorway was narrow enough to make it difficult for Mrs Bhoolabhoy to enter, and inside he kept the office cluttered so that if she entered she could not advance far and, leaving, had to back out. He closed the door, closed the section of window that normally remained open for guests to communicate with him (demands, complaints, settlements), sat in his swivel chair, inserted in the elderly Remington a sheet of hotel notepaper plus carbon and flimsy and began, April 24, 1972, My Dear Colonel Smalley. Then stopped.
From Room 7, the closest to the office, was coming the sound of music. He ran softly out, tapped at the door, opened, and surprised Mr Pandey in the lotus position, eyes closed, transmitting or absorbing prana to the accompaniment of a morning raga by Ravi Shankar or someone on All-India Radio.
Mr Bhoolabhoy had little ear for any music except Christian hymns. He switched the raga off. Mr Pandey opened his eyes. Bhoolabhoy,
Mr Pandey was chief clerk to the lawyers in Ranpur who dealt with Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s intricate business affairs. He came up once or twice a month with papers and documents, stayed a day or so and was boarded free so Mr Bhoolabhoy had no compunction about turning off his transistor. His presence this weekend was especially ominous. Among the papers he expected to take back to Ranpur today was a copy of the Letter. Mr Bhoolabhoy returned to his office, tore the paper out of the machine and set things up again but this time with the two carbons he had forgotten the first time; and began again, “My Dear Colonel Smalley,” and paused, seeking inspiration, reluctantly resumed without it and eventually finished. He ended, “Yours very Sincerely.”
It was now nearly 8 a.m.
In the days before the Shiraz was built this had been the witching hour at Smith’s because it was at 8 o’clock that the night train from Ranpur was scheduled to get in after its long haul up the single track into the Pankot Hills from the plains and, consequently, at that hour that staff and management had been ready for the arrival of guests who had booked and been hopeful of others who hadn’t booked and all of whom began to turn up at about 8.30 in taxis, tongas, avid for breakfast during the serving of which the luggage of departing guests would be piled on the verandah so that it and they could go down to the station to catch the midday departure back to Ranpur. This had been the pattern since the days of the raj. After the raj went there had been bad times, good times, near-disastrous times, times of retrenchment, times of ebullient hope, as Pankot waxed, waned, waxed again in popularity. But for Smith’s now it all seemed to be coming to an end.
The night train from Ranpur still reached Pankot at 8 a.m. From 8.30 or so onward, then, from the front verandah of his hotel, Mr Bhoolabhoy could assess the Shiraz’s morning intake of guests who had come up by rail by counting the number of passengers in the taxis that drove slowly past the entrance to Smith’s compound before making the right-angled turn into the Shiraz’s forecourt. There were seldom many. Most of the Shiraz’s guests arrived later in the day by private car or by the Indian Airways ’bus that picked them up in mid-afternoon at the airfield down in Nansera.