The Raj Quartet

[33 years ago on Sunday, December 16, 1984 at 9 pm (ET), PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre aired the first 14 episodes of The Jewel in the Crown. Based on British author Paul Scott’s tetralogy, “The Raj Quartet,” the miniseries was set between 1942 and 1947 and told of the last days of the British “raj” (rule) in India.]

Paul Scott
(b. March 20, 1920 d. March 1, 1978)

I met Paul for the first time in Calcutta in 1964 at a cocktail party in the apartment in Lansdowne Court of my then boss Neil Ghosh, who was the head of Bird & Co’s Coal Department. Neil was the product of a British public-school education, who became the model for Hari Kumar in the Quartet. When Neil retired from India, I took over the department’s reins, but kept in touch with Paul’s career as it went on to gain him worldwide recognition.

Twenty years later in 1984, the Indian  novelist, R.K. Narayan,  was asked by TV Guide to assess the relationship between the two nations since India’s independence. He pulled no punches, and forthrightly deplored the way books and films misrepresented his country. The Guide’s December 15 issue titled his piece “The real India isn’t just cobras, rope tricks and sadhus lying on spikes.”

Be that as it may, Paul certainly deserves more credit for the way he tackled over years to build a tour de force that, as Peter Green wrote in the New Republic on May 17, 2013, is virtually without rivals.  He continues: “The question is, how? How did this middle-class suburbanite—who left school at fourteen, had no experience of diplomacy or the civil service, in India or anywhere else, and never set foot inside a British university in his life—suddenly, after a solid but hitherto no more than middling literary career, acquire the vision that brought the world of the fading Raj to unforgettable life, in a quartet of novels that for range and power have been compared to Tolstoy?”

I last met Paul – as I learnt Mr. Green did 20 years earlier in 1944 – at Firpo’s bar on Chowringhee in Calcutta. That was the watering hole for the ilk of Neil, m’self and others toiling as “boxwallas” in the Dalhousie Square area replete with head offices of British, Scots and other foreign companies anchored in the then commercial capital of India.

References
New Republic, Wikipedia, My Calcutta Diary

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