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The Day of the Scorpion is the 1968 novel by Paul Scott that continues his Raj Quartet.

Plot introduction

The novel is set in the British Raj of 1940s India. it follows on the from the storyline in the The Jewel in the Crown.

Much of the novel is written in the form of interviews and reports of conversations and research from the point of view of a narrator who might be Guy Perron, a character who appears in the later novels. Other portions are in the form of letters from one character to another or entries in their diaries.

Setting

The story is set in the period 1942-1944 in several locations throughout India, particularly in an unnamed British province of India. The province, which is located in northern India, shares characteristics with Punjab and the United Provinces. The names of places and people suggest a connection to Bengalmarker; however, the physical characteristics place the setting in north-central India, rather than in northeast India. The province has an agricultural plain and, in the north, a mountainous region.

The capital of the province is Ranpur. Another large city in the province is Mayapore, which was the key setting in The Jewel in the Crown. The princely state of Mirat is a nominally sovereign enclave within the province. Pankot is a "second class" hill station in the province which serves as a headquarters for the 1st Pankot Rifles, an important regiment of the Indian Army, who fought the Axis in North Africa. During the cool season, the regiment moves to Ranpur, on the plains. At Premanagar there is an old fortification that is used by the British as a prison. Another town, Muzzafirabad is the headquarters of the Muzzafirabad ("Muzzy") Guides, another Indian Army regiment. Sundernagar is a "backwater town" in the province. Another hill station is in the Nanoora Hills.

Plot summary

In this novel an old Raj family comes newly on the scene, the Laytons of Pankot, an imaginary hill station in India. Now an army captain, Ronald Merrick, a self-made man of the lower middle class and the former police official in charge of the Daphne Manners case, begins to insinuate himself subtly into the Layton family. We learn what the Laytons do not know, that in a searing session with the incarcerated Hari Kumar, Merrick tortured and molested him.

Susan, the younger Layton sister, driven by a sense of her own nothingness, marries one Teddie Bingham, a colorless and conventional officer in the prestigious Pankot Rifles. By accident, Teddie and Merrick are roommates, and when his designated best man falls ill at the last minute, Teddie asks Merrick to act as best man. The wedding is held in Mirat, a native state ruled by a Nawab. On the way to the wedding ceremony, someone throws a rock at the car in which Teddie and Merrick are riding. Teddie is injured and has to be patched up. At the wedding reception, the Nawab of Mirat becomes a victim of heightened security when he is denied entrance to his own property. When the newlyweds are being seen off at the railway station, Shalini Gupta Sen appears and makes a scene, begging Merrick to reveal the whereabouts of her nephew, Hari Kumar. She is being used as a tool by an Indian nationalist who has arranged for Merrick to be harassed wherever he goes.

Nigel Rowan, an officer serving in the civil service, takes Lady Manners to observe the debriefing of Hari Kumar, who was tortured and jailed after the rape of Lady Manners's niece, Daphne, and who has been held in prison for a year under the Defence of India Act for vague alleged political crimes. The panel, consisting of Rowan and an Indian member, is horrified to learn of Hari's treatment at Merrick's hands. It comes out that Hari has never been informed that Daphne conceived a child and then died. The questioners realize that Hari's statements will be too inflammatory in the fragile political climate of India. They also realize that Hari is innocent, however, and decide that at some point in the future, he will be quietly released from custody.

Teddie and Merrick are sent to the front in Manipurmarker against the Japanese and their surrogates, the Indian National Army (known as "Jiffs" among the British). Teddie, against Merrick's warnings, falls victim to an I.N.A. ambush while trying to induce INA soldiers from his regiment to surrender for the honor of the regiment. Merrick does his best to save Teddie, but is unsuccessful, and comes away horribly disfigured. Sarah Layton, the older sister, comes to the fore as the morally fine-tuned mainstay of the family.

To show the family's gratitude for his efforts, Sarah visits Merrick in Calcutta, where he is convalescing at an Army hospital. Merrick explains to her why he believes himself partly responsible for Teddie's fate. She is horrified by his disfigurement and learns that much of Merrick's left arm is to be amputated.

While in Calcutta, Sarah is staying with Aunt Fenny, who is eager to get Sarah matched up with a young man. She gets her husband, Uncle Arthur, to bring several of his junior officers over for dinner. In particular, she is enthusiastic about introducing Sarah to Jimmy Clark. After an unsuccessful evening on the town, Clark takes Sarah to the Indian side of Calcutta, where they attend a fancy party at the home of a wealthy socialite. There, Clark seduces Sarah by challenging her to taste life.

On her way back to Pankot, Sarah encounters Count Bronowsky, a White Russian emigre who is the Nawab's wazir or chief advisor, whom she had met during Susan and Teddie's wedding. With him is Nigel Rowan. They are there to meet Mohammed Ali Kasim, a prominent politician who is being released after a period of imprisonment under the Defense of India Act. Kasim learns from his younger son, Ahmed, that his elder son, Sayed, an officer in the Indian Army, has become turncoat and joined the I.N.A. and now faces charges of treason.

Barbie Batchelor, the friend and paying guest of Mabel Layton discovers the secret of the enmity between Mabel and Mildred one night when both the elderly women are unable to sleep. Mabel also tells Barbie of her wish that when she dies she be buried next to the grave of her late husband, James Layton, in Ranpur.

Susan Bingham, Teddie's newlywed and pregnant bride, is unhinged by news of Teddie's death. As it is, Susan depends on others to define her role and character. Without Teddie to serve as the anchor for her identity, Susan is lost and afraid to be responsible for a fatherless child. Coming unhinged, she makes a ring of fire with paraffin and places the baby with it, in imitation of a native treatment of scorpions which she witnessed as a child. The baby is rescued unharmed by its nurse.

Characters in "The Day of the Scorpion"

Capt. Ronald Merrick

Merrick’s fears, desires, ambitions, and hatreds are the catalyst for this story and the stories of the subsequent three novels in the series. Merrick comes from a working-class background and keenly feels his inferior position in British society.

Having come to India, he finds a place where he can be on top, and he has developed a sophisticated justification for a virulent brand of racism. Merrick strongly believes that whites are the natural rulers of the world and non-whites must be made subject to them. He also believes that non-whites cannot ever improve their position and that they must be reminded of this.

For his own part, however, Merrick seeks to climb the ladder of British society. He is intelligent, competent, and ruthless in both his quests: to keep Indians in their place and to improve his own social rank. Merrick uses the appearance frankness and honesty as a tool to impress his social betters. He often reminds them that he is "only a grammar school boy" and not, for example, the product of an exclusive school like Chillingborough.

Merrick was the district superintendent of police in Mayapore when Daphne Manners was raped. He was admired for his efficiency and skill at his job, but his notoriety after the Manners case (and his sadistic treatment of Hari Kumar, which was never revealed to the public) resulted in his transfer to Sundernagar, a backwater town in the unnamed province. Seeing his opportunity to advance in the civil service frustrated, Merrick calls in his chips to get a commission in the Indian Army at the rank of captain.

Other characters in the story become important when Merrick "chooses" them for his personal attention. He chooses the Layton family as an opportunity to climb the social ladder. He gets his opportunity after befriending Teddie Bingham. When it becomes clear that Bingham's regiment will soon be sent into battle against the Japanese, Merrick helps Bingham arrange a quick wedding through his contacts with the government of the Nawab of Mirat. When Bingham's best man falls ill, Merrick is rewarded for his troubles with the honour of the role of substitute best man. From this point on, he insinuates himself into the Laytons' lives.

Although Merrick desperately wants to join the upper classes, as personified by the Laytons, he is contemptuous of their "romantic" attitudes towards Indians and India. From Merrick's point of view, it is a simple matter of political subjugation which must be met head on. People like Teddie Bingham, however, see themselves in a familial role, with the English officers of the Indian Army as parent (man-bap, "mother and father") to loyal Indian soldiers. This dispute between Merrick and Bingham leads Bingham to fall victim to an I.N.A. ambush. Merrick does his best to save Bingham, but is grievously injured, and again becomes a hero in the eyes of the English in India. People from Bingham's class are amateurs--privileged dilettantes--Merrick believes, in contrast with his professionalism, and, from his perspective, Bingham "died an amateur."

With Bingham's death, however, Merrick comes to understand something about his old-fashioned views and he connects to his experience with Edwina Crane, who was attacked by a mob when Merrick was the district police superintendent in Mayapore.

Mohammed Ali Kasim

Kasim, known in the popular press as "M.A.K.," is an Indian politician and one of the few remaining Muslim members of the Indian National Congress. Kasim was formerly the chief minister of an unnamed province, until the Congress decided to boycott the elections. At the beginning of the story, Kasim is arrested under the Defense of India Rules, when the Congress votes to oppose the entry of the Indian Army into the Second World War.

Kasim is a principled man and he strives to live his life according to those principles. He wants independence for India, but he believes in a secular, undivided India, which puts him at odds with his fellow Muslim leaders, who want a separate state (Pakistanmarker), and who have left the Congress to join the Muslim League.

Kasim is a descendant of the 18th century Urdu poet, Gaffur Mohammed, and, as such, he is a kinsman of the Nawab of Mirat. Kasim has two sons. The elder, Sayed Kasim, is an officer in the Indian Army. The younger, Ahmed Kasim, is an indolent playboy, who, in MAK's view, wastes his time in a sinecure as secretary to the Nawab.

Several historical persons, such as Abul Kalam Azad, prominent Muslim politicians who stayed with the Congress and opposed partition, may serve as the basis for the character of Kasim.

Sarah Layton

Sarah is the elder daughter of Lt. Col. John Layton, the commanding officer of the 1st Pankot Rifles, and his wife, Mildred. While her father is held in a German prison camp in Europe, Sarah and her family continue to live the aristocratic life of the British in India. However, unlike the rest of her family, Sarah is uncomfortable with the hierarchy that the English have established in India. She is not so sure of the racial philosophy that forms the basis of British dominance in the subcontinent and she occasionally shocks her family with her deviance from accepted propriety.

Sarah's meeting of Ahmed Kasim in Mirat, during her sister's wedding, in particular, sets her thinking about the relationship between Indians and English. Although they are of the same age and education, and, perhaps, in some sense, social class, she is keenly aware of the distance between them and the pains that Kasim takes to preserve that distance.

However, Sarah's strength, independence, and competence are what keep things going in the Layton household, especially after the death of Susan's husband Teddie. For the duration of the war, Sarah (as well as her sister, Susan) has joined the Women Army Corps (India), and is serving in a clerical position at regimental headquarters in Pankot.

Sarah eventually assumes the role of moral compass in the last half of the Raj Quartet, and often gives voice, perhaps, to Scott's own despair at the political and ethnic turmoil of India both before and after Independence.

Capt. Nigel Robert Alexander Rowan

Another graduate of Chillingborough, Rowan, although an officer in the Indian Army, was assigned to work with H.E., Sir George, in a civil service capacity. When the war heated up, he was called back to serve in Burmamarker, where he contracted a serious illness. Sent back to Sir George to recuperate, Rowan is trying to leave the army for a permanent place in the "political" service, the branch of the civil service that handles the relationship between the crown and the princely states, such as Mirat.

Rowan actually remembers Hari Kumar from Chillingborough, as well as Kumar's friend Colin Lindsey, but Kumar doesn't seem to recognize him. This connection and his knowledge of the unjust treatment Kumar has suffered leads him to do what he can, anonymously, restore Kumar to some kind of normal life. What Rowan learns at the interview of Hari Kumar shocks him, and he develops a loathing for Ronald Merrick. But he knows that it will be impossible, because of Merrick's popularity with the English, and because of the fragile political situation, that any of Merrick's doings will come to light. Instead, Merrick will be rewarded with a promotion.

Barbara Batchelor (Barbie)

Miss Batchelor is a retired missionary schoolteacher who lives with Mabel Layton at Rose Cottage. Barbie is a simple, down-to-earth woman, who believes strongly in her god and in Christianity and has clear ideas about right and wrong. She is troubled that in all her years of missionary work, she was not very successful in converting the children in her charge to Christianity ("How many of them did I bring to God?" she asks.) Above all, Barbie wants to be useful, wants to have a role in society.

Barbie is haunted by the suicide of her friend and former colleague, Edwina Crane, who in The Jewel and the Crown was witness to a brutal murder during rioting "on the road from Dibrapur."

Barbie comes from a working-class background and this, as well as her taking up space in Rose Cottage are cause for resentment on the part of Mildred Layton. Her egalitarian attitudes, based on her communal Christian beliefs, are a source of annoyance and exasperation to Mildred.

Barbie is a figure of fun among the best of Pankot's English society. They mock her and roll their eyes at what they view as her hysterics and spread rumours that she is a lesbian. However, Sarah Layton, especially, and her sister Susan have affection for her.

Ahmed Kasim

Kasim is the younger son of Mohammed Ali Kasim and the personal secretary to the Nawab of Mirat. He claims not to be interested in politics, or in Europeans. His job does not tax his abilities, and he spends his free time womanizing and whoring. He is a sensitive and pleasant man, but he does not know how to relate to the English. His assignment as Sarah Layton's escort one afternoon leaves him unsure how to behave.

Mabel Layton (Aunty Mabel)

Mabel Layton is the stepmother of Colonel Layton and the owner of Rose Cottage in Pankot. Mabel is very close to her stepson and his daughters, who address her as "Aunty Mabel."

Layton's houseguest and companion is the retired missionary schoolteacher, Barbie Batchelor. Mildred Layton, her stepson's wife, resents her for occupying Rose Cottage and for bringing the working-class Miss Batchelor into their lives.

But Mabel knows the real reason for Mildred's resentment. In 1919, after the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsarmarker, when most of the British in India were contributing to fund the retirement of Reginald Dyer, who was responsible for the massacre, Mabel contributed money to the fund for the Indian victims of the massacre. As a result, Mildred sees Mabel as a traitor to her own people.

Count Dmitri Bronowsky

Bronowsky, a lame émigré Russian, serves as the wazir, or chief minister, to the Nawab of Mirat. Much of Bronowsky's background is mysterious. It is thought that his title, "count," is genuine, but it is not certain. It is said he fled Russia after the defeat of the White Movement.

He is a clever and efficient operator, and he sees much in common with Ronald Merrick. As a homosexual himself, Bronowsky recognizes this trait in Merrick, even though Merrick struggles to repress this aspect of his personality. Unlike Merrick, however, Bronowsky has more of the humanist in him; he does not have Merrick's sadistic tendencies. Merrick on the other hand despises Bronowsky as a sensualist. The two men have a tense rapport, understanding each other better than anyone else does, while also finding each other's inclinations repulsive.

Bronowsky has great affection for the Nawab, as well as the Nawab's secretary, Ahmed Kasim. It is implied that his feelings for Ahmed might be more than a little sexual. Bronowsky also has affection for Sarah Layton. In Bronowski's eyes, all these people share the trait of being isolated from their own societies.

Mildred Layton (nee Muir)

Mildred is the wife of Colonel Layton and the mother of Sarah and Susan. As the daughter of a general and the wife of a colonel, she is very comfortable with her place in society and her class status and enforces her authority without hesitation. She keenly resents the presence of the low-class Barbie Batchelor in their midst, and has harboured a long-term resentment of her husband's stepmother, Mabel.

With her husband held as a prisoner of war in Germany, Mildred has developed a heavy drinking habit. As Ahmed Kasim reports to Bronowsky, "[S]he begins first, finishes last and has two drinks to anybody else's one. Also … her behaviour is erratic."

Mildred is the eldest of three sisters, the second sister being Fenella Grace. The youngest sister, Lydia, married and has "returned to England."

Susan Layton

Susan, the younger sister of Sarah Layton, is of a more superficial character and sees herself only as reflected in the eyes of others. She is engaged to be married to Captain Bingham. Despite, or perhaps because, of her personal emptiness, Susan is keen to the needs of others. At her wedding, a crisis of etiquette arises when the Nawab of Mirat is detained by guards at the entrance of his own guest house. Susan instinctively makes up for the insult by kneeling before the Nawab and greeting him as a sovereign, even though, as a British subject, she owes him no such honour.

Capt. Edward Arthur David Bingham (Teddie)

Bingham, a young officer in the Muzzy Guides, is engaged to be married to Susan Layton. He is not the best example of his class, being a bit scatterbrained. He does however possess the honour and chivalry demanded of him. He comes to depend heavily on Ronald Merrick, when it becomes necessary to hasten his wedding in order to be married before being sent into battle against the Japanese. When his best man, Capt. Tony Bishop, comes down with jaundice and can't make the wedding, Susan suggests that Merrick is worthy enough to take his place.

Teddie develops a resentment towards Merrick beginning with the incident at the railway station when Shalini Gupta Sen accosts them. Later, he resents cynicism towards the traditionally close pseudo-parental relationship between English officers and Indian soldiers. It is in an effort to prove Merrick wrong that leads to Teddie's demise on the front lines in Imphal.

Nawab of Mirat

The Nawab, unusual for an Indian prince, is an abstemious man, avoiding excessive displays of his wealth, preferring to dress in simple, worn clothes to the extent that an Englishwoman describes him as a "downtrodden munshi." He had an adventurous youth and had to be saved from or helped to engage in one romantic entanglement in Monte Carlomarker with the help of Count Bronowsky. Since then, the Nawab has relied on Bronowsky's counsel and has appointed him his wazir.

The Nawab has a poetic bent, being an admirer of his ancestor, the Urdu poet Mohammed Gaffur. He strives to do the right thing in administering his fiefdom. He is worried about the future of his state and of India as a whole.

The Nawab has two sons -- Mohsin and Abdur -- and a daughter who Count Bronowsky hopes will marry his protégé, Ahmed Kasim.

Fenella Grace (nee Muir) (Aunt Fenny)

Fenny is the younger sister of Mildred Layton. She is more outgoing and fun-loving than Mildred. She notices that Sarah doesn't seem to have quite the right attitude towards British administration of India and she worries that that puts off potential suitors, such as Teddie Bingham, who showed interest in Sarah before switching to Susan.

When Fenny encounters Ronald Merrick, she is keenly interested in the gossip about the Manners case and expresses sympathy for Merrick, having seen the object of his affection being stolen away by an Indian.

("Fenny" or "feni" is also an Indian term for a type of intoxicating drink made from coconut or cashews.)

Ethel Manners (Lady Manners)

Lady Manners is the widow of Sir Henry Manners, a former governor of the unnamed province. In The Jewel in the Crown, her grandniece, Daphne Manners fell in love with an Indian, Hari Kumar. Daphne was the victim of a gang rape during a riot that became a cause celebre among the English in India and Kumar was arrested as a suspect. Unable to make the charge of rape stick, the government put Kumar in prison for political crimes.

Daphne, who conceived a child, died during childbirth. Lady Manners takes the child, Parvati Manners, to Kashmirmarker, where they stay in a houseboat on Dal Lake. There, she encounters the Laytons. Lady Manners seeks justice for Hari Kumar and does what she can to try to get him released.

Maj. James Clark (Jimmy, Clark-Without)

Jimmy Clark is another graduate of Chillingborough, but he has a different perspective than officers such as Nigel Rowan or Guy Perron. Clark hates the British aristocracy in India, seeing them as dull and unobservant and living in the past. He takes advantage of his postings around the world to experience new cultures, and, especially, to have as much sex as possible. His method of seduction is straightforward, taking the attitude that sex is something that everyone really likes, so why not just do it? Under Clark's theory, denying oneself sensual pleasures only leads to unhappiness and disorders like alcoholism (In his words, "getting your screws from a bottle"). He takes Sarah Layton, who has come to Calcutta to visit the hospitalized Ronald Merrick, to the Indian side of Calcutta and seduces her in the home of a wealthy socialite.

Capt. Kevin Coley

Coley is the adjutant for the 1st Pankot Rifles. He is rather too old for his position and his lack of ambition in seeking an assignment elsewhere puzzles Pankot society. His secret is that he has stuck around because he is having an affair with Mildred Layton, the wife of the commanding officer of the Rifles, who is interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

His Excellency, Sir George Malcolm

Sir George is the governor appointed by the crown to the unnamed province.

Vallabhai Ramaswamy Gopal (V. R. Gopal)

Gopal is a civil servant on Sir George's staff. He, along with Nigel Rowan, participates in the examination of Hari Kumar.

Hari Kumar

Hari Kumar is an Indian raised as an Englishman and who attends the exclusive public school, Chillingborough. When his father dies unexpectedly he returns, impoverished, to India. Hari finds himself an alien among the Indians and the English, until he meets an English lady, Daphne Manners, with whom he falls in love. His affair with Daphne ends tragically when she is gang-raped by a rioting mob and he is held as a chief suspect by Ronald Merrick. The police are unable to make the rape charges stick. Nonetheless, they haul Kumar off to Kandipat Jail as a political subversive.

Lt. Col. John Layton

Colonel Layton is the commanding officer of the 1st Pankot Rifles, headquartered in Pankot and Rampur. He is also the patriarch of the Layton family. He is the product of Chillingborough, the same exclusive school that Hari Kumar and the brother of Daphne Manners attended. As the Laytons enter the story, John Layton is being held prisoner by the Germans after being captured in the North Africa theater of war.

Maj./Lt. Col. Arthur Grace (Uncle Arthur)

Major Grace is the husband of Aunt Fenny and is an officer in the educational corps, stationed in Calcuttamarker, where he is promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Pandit Baba

"Pandit Baba" is the alias of a man who has connections with Indian nationalists. A devout Hindu, Pandit Baba is respected in the Indian community of Mirat and elsewhere. Having been present in Mayapore during the riots, the rape of Daphne Manners, and the brutal treatment of Hari Kumar and his fellows, Pandit Baba has made it his mission to take revenge on Ronald Merrick. Merrick occasionally finds signs of Pandit Baba's scrutiny, but he can do nothing to act against him. Pandit Baba lectures Ahmed Kasim on the importance of preserving his Indian cultural identity and criticizes him for speaking only English and wearing western clothes.

Mr. Maybrick

Mr. Maybrick is the organist at the church in Pankot and a friend of Barbie Batchelor.

Major themes

The major theme flowing through the four novels of the Raj Quartet is the negative impact that ruling India has on the characters of the British rulers. As viewed by the author, Paul Scott, such rule over such a different people can only be justified by a racism - which becomes corrosive to the soul.





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