In his sequel of The Raj Quartet Paul Scott depicts the life of two of the minor characters Tusker and Lucy Smalley. This is the appealing story of the last surviving members of the old school of British in Pankot, a town in India, 24 years after the Independence. Covering only a few months, it makes us witnesses of a whole lifetime. Frankly told, often causing us to feel a lump in our throats, Scott's novel skillfully pictures the emotional impact the débãcle of the British imperialism in India has on a family who chose to stay on.
It took me a while to become fully immersed in the book due to its unusual beginning. The very first page tells of the death of Tusker Smalley, which, in fact, is also the end of that elegiac psychological novel. As I read pretty much the same description of the very same episode at the end of the book, I felt something totally different. Since Tusker was already a friend of mine, his ways not just a weird old man's habitudes, his life not merely a consecution of events, but the result of unfavourable circumstances and crucial decisions, his death grieved me deeply.
The divergence between the story and the plot draws us into a mazy time puzzle, which we have to arrange for ourselves. We are shown into the all-embracing socio-historical setting both before and after the Independence in 1947 through the eyes of Mr and Mrs Smalley, their servant Ibrahim, and the manager of the hotel where they live, Mr Bhoolobhoy. The various perspectives contribute to the comprehension and comprehensiveness of this fading Anglo-Indian portrait of a whole civilization in miniature.
The character of Lucy Smalley is similarly developed through a number of retrospections. In her imaginary conversations with the young Englishman Mr Turner she looks back with bitterness on the days of the raj, most of which pass under the sign of the imposed British hierarchy. Just when she achieves the aspired position of Colonel's Lady "the old hierarchy collapsed and a new one, the Indian one, took its place". Thus, nothing changes for them because the new race of sahibs and memashibs places them as far down in the social scale as the Eurasians in the days of the raj.
The changes brought about by the Independence estrange Lucy and Tusker even more than before. The lack of communication cuts them off from one another and makes them live separate lives under the same roof. He has a rude awakening when he realizes that the huge rise in the cost of living in England prices them out of the home market and they must stay on in India. This leads to his "personality change", as Lucy calls it. She, for her part, is terribly lonely because in this new world she has become "a black sheep in reverse exposure". She fears the moment when her ill husband will pass away and she will be destitute because, `She would be alone in a foreign country. There would be no one of her own kind, her own colour, no close friend by whom to be comforted or on whom she could rely for help and guidance."
Staying on is not a novel of action, but one of contemplation and speculation. Its very title implies passivity. It however, turns out to be misleading for in Tusker and Lucy's case staying on in India requires strong will and endurance. In fact, this paradox makes Tusker and Lucy analyze and reconsider their lives; makes them realize that their happiness was sacrificed part because of circumstances, part for habits' sake. The profundity of their psychological portraits, the moving episodes, even the purifying humour turn this novel into a quest for our own inner selves. Thus, even though the end of Staying On is well-known from the very first line, it still strikes us with its poignancy for we have changed our perception and have turned into Tusker and Lucy's best friend who knows all they've been through,
So when Lucy sits on her "throne" in the bathroom, appealing to Tusker:
...Tusker, I hold out my hand, and beg you, Tusker, beg, beg you to take it and take me with you. How can you not, Tusker? Oh, Tusker, Tusker, Tusker, how can you make me stay here by myself while you yourself go home?
what I hear is the echo of the record Lucy loves best, Chloë:
Oh through the black of night, I gotta be where you are. If it's wrong or right, I gotta go where you are. I'll roam through the dismal swamplands, searching for you. If you are lost there let me be there too...