Authors: M. M. Kaye
St. Martin's Press
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and the India that he knew and loved so much
Portrait of my father, Sir Cecil Kaye
CSI, CIE, CBE
to whom this book is dedicated.
Beyond the wheat and harvest of fruit upon the bough,
I recognize old Autumn riding on a plough.
The year has passed its zenith and now it must decline;
Earth's had her share of summer As I have had of mine.
It was still high summer with me when those few lines of verse in a monthly magazine, now long defunct, caught my attention by suggesting an appropriate title for something I had long promised myself that I would write in the autumn of my days: an autobiography that would tell my children and I hoped my grandchildren, something of the lavish, sun-splashed share of summer that has fallen to my lot. However, since at that time I was not yet ready to give much thought to autumn, I contented myself with copying out that little verse,
and having pasted it for safe keeping inside the cover of an old copy of Kipling's
, I pushed the whole idea of an autobiography into a cupboard in the back of my mind labelled â
Some day when I am old and grey
Millions of people, I am told, are not only convinced that they could write an autobiography, but equally certain that it would sell like potato-crisps if they did. And when one realizes how many people do write one â and how very many readers (my husband among them) prefer true stories to fiction â who is to say they are wrong? Any number of autobiographies and biographies pour off the presses every
year, and since even the dullest of them are, if nothing else, small fragments of History, they should be valued as such even if the authors or their subjects cannot claim to be famous or notorious figures in their own right. âMr Pooter' is a shining example to us all.
My decision to write my own some day was made as far back as 1947; the year in which that brief period that has come to be known as âthe Raj'
came to an end and the British packed up and left India: for witnessing a once great Empire crumble and dissolve like a child's sandcastle when the tide comes in, and watching, appalled, the Pax Britannica snap like a thread of cotton, I felt that I must one day write about all the people and places and things I had seen and known, before it was too late. Not for my own sake, because as far as I am concerned it is all safely in my head where it will stay until I die â and perhaps after that. Not even, really, for my children; because they like myself were born in India and I intended to tell them all I could about the past that I had known. But for my children's children and their children, whose lives are going to be so very different from my own. No one else will ever again live the kind of life that I have lived. Or see what I saw. That world has vanished for ever â blown away by the wind which as the Chinese proverb says âcannot read'.
A few years ago my younger daughter, who was with a touring company that was booked to play in a dozen exotic cities starting in the Far East and ending in Cairo, wrote home to say she was afraid that she had seen them all a good ten years too late, because every city they had played was exactly like the last. The hotels were all âEastern-Hilton' style; while shops, offices, flats and public buildings were all exactly like the last. To which I replied sadly that she had not been ten years too late, but thirty at the very least.
I, however, had not been too late. It has been my great good fortune to see India when that once fabulously beautiful land was as lovely, and to a great extent as peaceful and unspoiled, as Eden before the Fall. To live for two years in Peking in an old Chinese house, once the property of a Manchu Prince, at a time when the citizens of that country still wore their national costumes instead of dressing up â
or down! â in dull, anonymous, Russian-style âuniforms'. To have visited Japan before war, the Bomb and the American occupation altered it beyond recognition, when the sight of a Japanese woman in European dress was unusual enough to make you turn and stare, feeling startled and more than a little shocked; and when there was only one major tourist hotel in beautiful Nikko, and no railway desecrated the lovely road that leads up through the mountain gorges to Lake Chuzenjiâ¦
I have lived in Persia; in Khorramshahr on the banks of the Shattal-Arab. Bought silks and brocades in the Covered Bazaar in Basra; known Egypt in the days when that country and its capital city looked much as it did when Walter Tyndale painted it, and been privileged to see so much of this wonderful world in the last sunset blaze of its infinite charm and variety, before the nations involved in the Second World War drenched it in blood and destruction, and then replaced the beauty they had destroyed with a jungle of ferro-concrete, vast glass matchboxes and instant council-houses â together with the weed-like growth of class warfare, quangos, racism and Government interference; â not to mention envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness! For which reason my share of summer is going to concern itself as little as possible with politics.
Too many people have already written, or are engaged in writing, âcommitted', politically slanted or fashionable books for me to try adding to their number. Yes, there was poverty, squalor and starvation; drought and famine; epidemics and corruption. There still is. Yes, mistakes were made â some of them terrible. And yes, of course there were demonstrations and riots and reprisals â just as there are now. Anyone who was not aware of that would have had to be blind, deaf or half-witted. I knew all right, and I saw. But if I do not choose to write much about such things it is because I know I can safely leave that to the legions who can â and are only too eager to do so!
The years had begun to pass with ever increasing speed, but while my decision to write about my own prodigal share of summer remained firm, I felt no sense of urgency; there was still plenty of time â and so many other things to do. Too many things. The autobiography could wait. Then one day, not for the first time, I returned to India again.
On this occasion I went back with my sister to Jaipur in Rajasthan
to watch my novel
The Far Pavilions
being filmed for a TV serial. And one evening while the two of us were having tea on the verandah of what had once been the British Residency but was now the Raj Mahal Hotel, which the film company had taken over as its administrative headquarters, someone from the costume department dumped two or three sackfuls of discarded scraps and off-cuts of material on the floor near our table.
The sacks were large and unwieldy and presently one toppled over, spilling a cascade of assorted bits and pieces onto the cool marble. And as we sat looking down at it and idly identifying the various fragments, it occurred to me that the contents of that rag-bag could be an allegory of my life. Those exotic, shimmering remnants of gold and silver tissue, shot-silk, brocade, embroidered velvet and sequin-sewn satin in every imaginable tint and colour, together with off-cuts from darker, thicker and more sombre materials in black, brown and grey and the plain, coarse white cotton cloth that is worn in India for mourning â¦ it was all there.
That thought was followed by a much more disturbing one. All those multicoloured shreds and patches were destined for a rubbish-heap or a bonfire! It brought me up with a jolt, for it seemed like a timely reminder that the sooner I started work on that autobiography the better. Quite suddenly, there was no blinking the fact that by now my year was well past its zenith and it was no longer a case of âold autumn on a plough', but winter that I could see ahead. My summer was over; and by now my autumn was almost over too; that miraculous, golden autumn that had been transformed for me into a totally unexpected Indian Summer by the success of
The Far Pavilions.
The events of that astonishing Indian Summer had kept me too busy to spare either time or thought for writing my autobiography. And now that I have at last got round to it I am worried for fear that I have, after all, left it too late. Because, let's face it, my memory, which except in the matter of a perennially weak spot, names, has never let me down, is beginning to fail me. And as most of the earlier family records and photographs that could have helped me out with facts, dates and names were tragically destroyed in a warehouse fire a year or two after my father's death â together with all his books, my mother's photograph-albums and most of our family possessions â I have lost an invaluable source of reference.
Readers will therefore have to forgive me if my recollections are as varied and as scrappy as that rag-bag of off-cuts from the lovely costumes of
The Far Pavilions.
And if I occasionally make mistakes over dates or in chronology, I do most sincerely regret it. Perhaps I should have called this book âIf Memory Serves'? (except that someone else has already used that for his own autobiography). If there are places where mine has not served me well enough, I apologize. But this is how I remember it now â those lovely, glittering scraps sewn with sequins and gold thread, and those drab brown, grey and black ones, without which no life and no rag-bag would be complete.
Among them you will also find various snippets of historical information that I have thrown in because my father so infected me, at an early age, with his own love of history, that to me the tale of times past, and the thought that great events took place centuries ago on the very ground where I am standing, has always added an extra dimension to my enjoyment of the presentâ¦
Ah, did you once see Shelley plain
And did he stop and speak to you
And did you speak to him again?
How strange it seems, and new!
Here, then, in
The Sun in the Morning
, are the contents of the first rag-bag of my own lavish Share of Summer.