The Jewel in the Crown
A NovelLarge Print - 1985
From the critics
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Hindi is spare and beautiful. In it we can think thoughts that have the merit of simplicity and truth. And between each other convey these thoughts in correspondingly spare, simple, truthful images. English is not spare. But it is beautiful. It cannot be called truthful because its subtleties are infinite. It is the language of a people who have probably earned their reputation for perfidy and hypocrisy because their language itself is so flexible. … Written, it looks like a way of gaining time and winning confidence. But when it is spoken, English is rarely beautiful. Like Hindi, it is spare then , but crueller. We learned our English from books, and the English, knowing that books are one thing and life another, simply laughed at us. Still laugh at us. They laughed at me …. (p. 227)
The Kumars were landowners in a district of the United Provinces. They were rich by Indian standards and loyal to a foreign crown … but as a youth Duleep began to notice that … the callowest white-skinned boy doing his first year in the coveted civil service could snub them by keeping them waiting [outside] the sacred little bungalow from [which] wafted an air of effortless superiority. … Power, Duleep felt, lay not in money but in this magical combination of knowledge, manner, and race. … as a youth Duleep had acquired a good knowledge of [English] ... that he began to accompany his father on visits to petition the sub-divisional officer, and had the first intimations of the secrets hidden behind the bland face of the white authority. There grew in him a triple determination – to break away from a landlocked family tradition, to become a man who … granted favours, and to save [his younger sister] Shalini from ignorance and domestic tyranny … (p. 223, 225)
"But Kumar is another story, isn't he? ... Kumar told me about Colin Lindsey ... In England Colin Lindsay was Hari Kumar's closest friend. They went to the same school. Colin tried to get his parents to look after Hari when Hari's father died and Hari was forced to come back to India when he was not quite eighteen. With that Englishness. That English voice, that English manner, and English name, 'Harry Coomer'. Speaking no Indian language. An Englishman with a black skin who in Mayapore became what he called invisible to white people." (p. 168)
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It is 1942, the British colonial government has committed India to the war effort. But Indian nationalists are pressing for commitments to greater self-government. Two English women are assaulted during rioting around a rural town in northeastern India. The circumstances and the consequences are revealed in 6-8 linked vignettes and the correspondence of the principal characters.
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