I’ve always been fascinated by dedications in books. There’s the intriguing possibility that they are clues to something hidden. Probably private. Possibly intense. Potentially the whole reason for the book. Thrilling or what?
This is the second time I’ve returned to the subject in this blog. First time round I wrote about a range of books, only some of which I knew really well. No, let’s be honest. One of which I detested.
This time I’m writing about one of my great loves. Twice, under pressure of space, I’ve cleared out copies from my bookshelf, believing that I wouldn’t need to read them again. Twice I’ve bought new copies.
This is a dedication which intrigues me enormously. I was reminded of it by the recent sad news that Tim Pigott-Smith has died. He played the ambiguous and haunting villain Merrick in the BBC’s epic series about the end of the Raj, The Jewel In the Crown.
The series was based on Paul Scott’s mighty Raj Quartet.
Dedicated by Whom?
In the 1950s Scott was a literary agent at Pearl, Pollinger and Higham (which became David Higham Associates) and a middling sort of novelist. I fell over him by picking up The Chinese Love Pavilion in the library and finding a story that was equally alienating (I had never even imagined such people — well, men — existed and it took me a while to come to terms with that fact that they did) and compelling. In spite of the alienating gender, the novel held me spellbound in its drama, its feeling for landscape and climate, its sheer conviction.
Something about his style, too, fascinated me and I read more until at last I came to the Jewel in the Crown. No longer alienated, I couldn’t stop reading, until I had finished the last volume.
Origins of the Raj Quartet
In the early 60s, Scott began to plan what became the Raj Quartet. Professor Peter Green recalls in his touching and illuminating consideration of the quartet that it was originally meant to be one book. Then in the middle of The Day of the Scorpion, (book 2, published 1968) it became three, before coming to rest at four with The Towers of Silence (1971) and A Division of the Spoils (1975).
Scott had been an air supply captain in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) in India from 1942. So he had witnessed in situ the crucial period following the fall of Singapore, and the resulting military, social, racial and political crises of the faltering Raj. But — memory is not always reliable and, anyway, a junior rank soldier’s experience was not sufficient for his grand purpose in planning his epic on personal relationships, moral conflicts and identity crises of his huge cast.
Dedicated to Whom?
His publishers, Heinemann, arranged for him to go back to India for 6 weeks’ research in 1964. (Those were the days!) Dorothy Ganapathy, “the best of hostesses” , looked after him in Bombay. Scott dedicated Book 1, The Jewel in the Crown (1966) to her. No explanation, no specific thanks, just the name.
Preliminary digging is tantalising. According to Zareer Masani in Indian Tales of the Raj, her father was Sir Hari Singh Gaur, Leader of the Opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly. In the 1930s she herself earned a degree from Durham University. She married a colonel in the Indian Medical Service. But neither of them was permitted to go into the Europeans-only Adyar Club in Madras, to her justified contempt. And she bitterly despised the under-educated memsahibs for patronising her own use of English, which was far superior to their own.
A Falling Out
Most intriguing of all, though, is that, while Scott and Mrs Ganapathy clearly developed a close friendship during his time in India, they also had a mega falling out, as revealed in his own letters, edited in 2 volumes by Janis Haswell.
He reports that she suddenly gave him a “terrible slap in the face”. The cause? Scott had been considerate to her estranged sister. Mrs Ganapathy expected him to be 100% on her side in the dispute. In her view, he had let her down. She accused him of disloyalty, and labelled it typically British.
So maybe he dedicated the book to her for more than her great kindness to him in Bombay. Maybe it was a way of making amends, too.
There is clearly a good deal of further research to do here. I have not read Hilary Spurling’s biography, for instance, which I really want to do. Although first I want to re-read the whole Raj Quartet. Maybe this time I might even re-read the coda, which won the Booker Prize and I never really enjoyed: Staying On.
But at this stage I am telling myself a story about the dedication. It’s not even a working hypothesis of a decent bit of research. It’s pure fictional What If. And I’m enjoying, so I will share.
For I, too, am writing a book which turned from one to two, maybe three, who knows … And in that process, people have touched my imagination in ways I never foresaw. And they send me off down new roads into the past.
They show me unsuspected aspects of my characters and even wholly new players in the story.
One Possible Story
So what if Mrs Ganapathy was one of those? She sounds as if she had the fire to do it. She and Scott were in India at the same time, moving in very different circles, but looking out from their circle to all those others. What if six weeks of her conversation drew the curtain on those other dimensions he had seen but not understood?
I see her as inspiring the beautiful English of Hari Kumar, which delivers one of the saddest and most profound moments of the books. I see her and her sister with their pre-war memories, giving him Lady Chatterjee. She is opinionated, wise, and morally certain. She is equally sympathetic and terrifying. Yet even she is not wholly comfortable in her changing world.
Except for the innocents, like missionary teacher Barbie Batchelor, identity is a matter of constant compromise and negotiation.
Oh, and a bonus — the late and wondrous Zohra Segal who played Lady Chatterjee on television, had a life to rival anyone in Scott’s epic saga.