Literary Shelf

The Alien Sky: Confluence of Human Emotions

This novel The Alien Sky set entirely in India, throws light on the craftsmanship of Paul Scott as an evolving writer. He combines different strands of the story with great expertise, while highlighting the problems and dilemmas confronted by Eurasians.  We also come across the peculiar predicament of some Anglo-Indians, who feel their roots are in India, preparing to stay on away from ‘home’ which is alien to them. Paul Scott also deals with the political turmoil that was witnessed before India became independent. Most of the themes perceivable here are to gain greater magnitude and significance in his magnum opus The Raj Quarter subsequently.

Joe Mackendrick, An American, comes to Marapore in search of Dorothy, one time girl friend of his brother Dwight. Bholu, his servant, has his eyes on his money. The boy notices a photograph carried by the American in his purse.

Major Milner, who is in love with India and Indians declares his intention of staying back in India after the departure of the British. He can get on with Hindus and Muslims alike. He tells Mackendrick that sports day function is going on at the ‘Maidan’….Vidyasagar, a young athlete of Laxminarayana College, is the one to watch.

In the function Vidya Sagar refuses to take Victor Ludorum and leads a demonstration against Tom Gower, Dorothy’s husband. Miss Haig declares:

“Tom won’t go home. He is like me, his roots are in India” - [The Alien Sky 38]

This obsession of Paul Scott’s characters as regards their roots in India is symptomatic of the novelist’s love for India.

Gower has been in India for years, ‘he is almost an institution’. He edits Marapore Gazette airing his liberal, humanistic views freely, frankly and fearlessly. It is the article he wrote recently supporting the demand of the Muslims for the creation of Pakistan, which has enraged young Vidya Sagar to lead a demonstration. Gupta’s covert support cannot be ruled out. He is determined to take over the reins of editorship from Gower at any cost. Nair, the owner of the Gazette, is cowed down by Gupta with his alleged strong R.S.S. connections.

That evening Viday Sagar paints ‘Gower Go Home’ slogans.  Gower is at a loss to comprehend why he has become an alien over night.  He fails to notice the rapid transformation in the political scenario charged with radical intentions and religious fanaticism. The misconception among different sections of the people assumes greater significance.

As Gupta tries to enlighten Mackendrick about the changed situation in India, the fraternization parties are fixed ceremonially. Apparently people mingled, not their souls. It was the hour for masks, ‘The hour of lies’. Mackendrick does not fail to notice how the distance is consciously maintained between people of the two races. His American mind fails to comprehend the basis of what Gupta says, “there is no insulting between Vidya Sagar and Gower as men but in the souls who shall decide who insulted and who is insulted”. Vidya Sagar’s protest is only symbolic. He is denouncing what Gower represents to him, the Raj, fully conscious of the man and his good deeds.

Miss Harriet Haif is one woman, lame and old, walking with her sticks, who also is convinced that India is her ‘home’.  She is not prepared to go to England as she tells Cynthia Mapleton, “’Home’ ? What for my dear ? I have no illusion about the sort of background I’d go back. Ten years as a Memsahib has given me different ideas about life.”[21] She confesses with Mackendrick:

“England is not home and I am afraid its beauty is only a memory for me. I’ve got rather used and so I am staying.”

Unlike Cynthia, a colour conscious woman representing the British bigotry, derives delight in browbeating and ill-treating Eurasians calling them ‘Chi-Chi’ and ‘Half-caste’, Miss Haig sympathises and understands their plight:

‘They are only like that because we and the Indians treat them abominably. They are made to feel like social pariahs. Somebody ought to speak for them. They could be the back bone of the country. Half-breds have an exceptionally strong sense of preservation and India needs people like them’[27]

If Gower is threatened with the sack as regards Marapore Gazette, Miss Haig is prepared to get his employment with Jimmy the ruler of a native state, Kalipore. She was his governess; he still treats her warmly and reverentially. She was the one who ‘influenced the boy too much to see the barrier which separated the ruled and the ruler, influenced him too strongly – to try to break it, to lead his people into a new life of self-respect.’[27] She rejoiced to know, ‘one could work creatively through others.’[35] Perhaps, this comment can be related to the novelist Paul Scott as well.

Jimmy is modest enough to send car to her. Shafi, the young chauffeur comes, to help her.  ‘He saluted her and came, grinning to take her other arm. A re-union. Somewhere in the world there was gentleness.’[52] Scott’s subtle statements reveal his craftsmanship as well as his philosophy of life.

She is shrewd enough to exhort Jimmy to join India after the departure of the British and advises, ‘You always see yourself how much we depend on each other.’[59]

Gower’s ‘exit for all its dignity, is a retreat’, like that of the British. He introduces Mackendrick to Dorothy, who frankly declares that she remembers to have met Dwight some years ago in Calcutta.

Dorothy’s confession to Mackendrick that she was a Eurasian comes as a revelation. Except Judity Anderson, herself a Eurasian, Miss Haig and Settle no one knew it.  She is scared to disclose her true identity for, underneath all the so called trust and understanding between white and black, there’s mistrust and dislike. She tells him:

“We fight them and they fight ’us’. . . A union between the black and white is an act of treachery. Each side hates it to be reminded about it. From time to time they can forgive each other and call the battle off, forget for a while.  But they never forgive themselves their own treachery. They never forgive my sort of people.” [150]

She is blackmailed by Bholu, who recognized her from the photograph in Mackendrick’s purse. She parts with the money demanded by him. Her real name was Amanda, ‘Daw’ for short. Then ‘Daw’ became ‘Dor’ short for Dorothy, her half-sister. They had the same father.  Dorothy died of child paralysis. Her parents died in a car accident.  She was able to get away with her act as she was fair in complexion. The aunt ‘could not admit she had a niece who had a touch of tar brush’.

Dorothy saw her parents hating each other:

“He hated her because being married to her made him an out caste too. It dragged him down to her level. And she hated because he could not pull her upto that he had once been.”[150]

The lie about her could be sustained on account of her fair complexion.  Steele saw through the game and their mutual hostility is regarded by Gower as a cover up for their affair.

There is a violent demonstration of torches in hills at Ooni. Bholu runs into the demonstrators. Scared to death, in his confusion he runs towards Steele’s bungalow with a knife in hand.  He is shot dead by Steele who mistakes him for an attacker.

Gower calls Steele, ‘apostle of violence’ and reports to the police.  He warns him:

“We can’t avoid fear.  But we can avoid violence by not preparing for it” [162]

It is his gun that has emboldened Steele to kill a human being. He calls his servants to coach them as to what to say when the police arrive. They look at him, ‘fixing their loyalty in the young man with the gun at his waist, as though loyalty came first and understanding after.’[168]
On the other extreme of the spectrum are people like Gupta with their staunch nationalist fervour.  He tells Mackendrick:

“People who are not Indians should not interfere with them. . . . you will see Indians and British alike fraternizing as never before . . . Now we are on the brink of our freedom.  To forget what we have suffered for it would be infamous. Now we wish to be alone with out problem. We do not wish for interference in matters which I have said already concern the soul.  Buy our goods from us. Sell your goods to us.  Accept us as a nation among nations. Be extending the hand of friendship we will place our own in yours. But do not let that hand hold also a dissecting knife to probe our ills. We have our own knife. Sharper than yours. When you go home be telling your countrymen this thing and you will be doing better service for us than if you were living here twenty years “understanding” us. Twenty years “interfering with us.” [162]

Foster who enquires into the killing reassures Steele ‘who spoke the same language’ that they will have a ‘tamasha’ by holding an inquest and thus satisfying the Indians, ‘Nothing like a pucca ‘tamasha’ for them. They have great respect for courts and such like.’[171] It also demonstrates the incorruptibility of British justice.

The Racist in Steele justifies his action by branding the victim as a hooligan. ‘Bholu was not a ‘hooligan’, but the servant of the Sahibs.  But then there was the knife. That made him half hooligan’[164] . He forgets that Muttra Dass, his servant did not disclose who assaulted him because of his loyalty to the master.

Steele knows that his days in Ooni are numbered.  He plans to go to a tea plantation seeking a job, with his servant Mahmoud and ‘may be the girl or some other dark flesh beneath him would excite him as no white woman any longer lacked a subtlety, they lacked the elusive aphrodisiac scent.’[182]  Here, one notices the vulgar approach and absolute insolence of the Sahibs for the natives, especially women, in the colonies.

As Steele goes to attend the inquest at Marapore he is shot dead by Vidya Sagar.  The English man falls dead with one arm clawed at Vidya Sagar’s feet as though praying for grace for all his misdeeds.

The girl with whom Steele lived comes to place flowers on his grave. She is abused and stoned by the women gathered there. Her poverty overwhelms Gower.

“He had only to bend down and touch her shoulder.  He had only to do his simple, almost undemonstrative act, to prove his understanding and his compassion’.  Where there should have been compassion there was only distaste, and where there should have been understanding was only the desire to turn away.”[187]

Knowledge of the child stuns him. ‘The child was obscene sprung from an act of lust and the urgency of the flesh’s need.  The child was not Steele’s nor was it the girl’s.  Rather it seemed a growth, a canker, from which both would have turned in disgust, back to the inviolacy of their separate spirits.’[187] Canker of Racism corrodes and debilitates vital human values.

The adverse reaction of Gower who ‘wanted to kneel by her side, comfort her, raise her up and bid her go unmolested to Steele’s grave’ amplifies the shock and revulsion at the hideous activities of his own countrymen in India.

Gower’s humanism is too profound and he, in fact, represents Paul Scott’s concern for the status and future of the children born of miscegenation.

Gower knows it is Mahamoud who had fisted Vidya Sagar for shooting his master dead. The genial Britisher muses, ‘kindness to Steele might have saved Bholu. Were Bholu alive, Vidya Sagar would not be here, in prison.’[188] Violence has claimed two lives besides throwing into prison a young man.

Gower is shocked to learn that Dorothy has been living with him despite despising and detesting him. She decided to go away with Mackendrick. Miss Haig’s effort to get a job for Gower with jimmy proves futile. Dejected, he attempts suicide and is saved by Abdul, the servant.

Mackendrick informs Dorothy of Gower’s plight.  She leaves the place in disgust thinking, Machendrick distrusted her; she is confident that Gower will come back just as she has come back.

In The Alien Sky the anticipations of The Raj Quartet, are quite evident:

“The general climate and constant threat of violence of 1947, the plight of the person of indeterminate culture, the predilection for judicial enquiry as a device to move the plot and above all, the emotional and spiritual crisis of the British as the Raj begins to cumber.” [ After The Raj 106]

While Harriet Haig, an elderly retired school teacher is a slight preliminary sketch for the memorable Barbie Batchelor, Cynthia provides an early study for the snobbery and meanness of spirit that characterizes the Pankot women in the The Raj Quartet.

It is quite interesting to find some of members of the British ruling class express their love for India and Indians. The way they explicate the exploitation of the natives by the Sahibs is honest and authentic. Like Edward Thompson, E.M. Forster, Paul Scott too exhibits his liberal humanism and supports Indians. While Forster could not establish the prospect of the ‘Twain’ coming together, Scott ably demonstrates in The Raj Quartet the possibility of the East and West coming together. All his early novels on India firmly lay an enduring platform for the enchanting edifice one comes across in The Raj Quartet. It is only in the fitness of things that Paul Scott’s Staying on a coda to his magnum opus The Raj Quartet was awarded the Booker Prize. The Alien Sky brilliantly brings to the fore most of Scott’s major concerns. It may be viewed as a confluence of magnificent human emotions essentially.

Works Cited:

  • David Rubin. After the Raj: British Novels of India since 1947. Hanover, University Press of New England, 1986.
  • Jean.G.Zorn. ‘Talk with Paul Scott’ New York Times Book Review. Aug,21, 1977. P.37.
  • Patrick Swinden . Paul Scott, Images of India. London, MacMillan, 1980.
  • Paul Scott. My appointment with the Muse.ed., With an Introduction by Shelley, C. Rece. London, Heinemann, 1986.
    -, Johnnie Sahib. London, Eyre & Spottiswood Ltd.,1952.
    -, The Alien Sky. London, GraftanBooks,1974.[ First printed by Eyre&Spottiswood Ltd,1958].
    -, The Chinese Love Pavilion. London, Eyre & Spottiswood Ltd.,1960.
    -, The Birds of Paradise. London, Eyre & Spottiswood Ltd.,1962.


More by :  Dr. T. S. Chandra Mouli

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