This is a book that sent me down the memory lane evoking a host of feelings for both the city and the author. Having been born and brought up in Shimla, the place has, and always will have, a special place in my heart. It’s always a pleasure to read about Shimla, even though the era in which the novel is set is long gone by. As for the author, Ms. Manju Jaidka was my teacher in Panjab University, though briefly, and the mere mention of her name sent me back to the “good ol’ student days”- the days of “Purani jeans aur guitar”.
Even for those who have no memories or associations with the city or the author, this novel however proves to be worth a read. It just carries you along as it charts the roller coaster ride of the life of Maharaja of Patiala. For most people Shimla is synonymous with Scandal Point. There are so many legends surrounding this name and the author builds upon the most compelling account prevalent – that the Maharaja of Patiala eloped with the Viceroy’s daughter from this very spot and was henceforth banned from entering Shimla. In retaliation, he built his own palace at Chail. So the legend goes. Which Maharaja it was who dared to accomplish such a feat remains a mystery. While it’s generally believed that the Maharaja in question was Bhupinder Singh, the author believes it to be Bhupinder’s father, Rajinder Singh. The book picks up this very legend, and interspersing fact with fiction, gives us a racing tale of love in colonial India – a love between a “gori memsahib” and brown prince. Can it get more romantic?
Set amidst the hills of Shimla, the resplendent Viceregal Lodge, and the Princely state of Patiala, most of the story is told in flashback as the young son of the Maharaja sets forth on a journey to find the truth about his real mother. As he reads through his mother’s diary, the fairy tale romance, with all the accompanying intrigues and conspiracies that went on in Royal households is recreated very vividly.
The biggest strength of this book has to be its lucid flowing narrative that carries you along. Be it the ill fated love of the Maharaja and Betty, or Betty’s devotion to this relationship or the trials and tribulations that this relation endures, there is never really a dull moment.The same lucidity I remember as the author’s strong point even in her lectures in Panjab University and her academic works that I read in my student days. And this clarity of thought and ease of flow make Scandal Point imminently readable. While some may not find the plot very riveting or gripping, it nevertheless make you hang on till the end reliving the colonial era in all its glory!