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Authors: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Three Continents

BOOK: Three Continents
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By the Same Author

NOVELS

To Whom She Will
(US
Amrita
)

The Nature of Passion

Esmond in India

The Householder

Get Ready for Battle

A Backward Place

A New Dominion
(US
Travelers
)

Travelers

Heat and Dust

In Search of Love and Beauty

Shards of Memory

STORIES

Like Birds, Like Fishes

A Stronger Climate

An Experience in India

How I Became a Holy Mother

Out of India (Selected Stories)

East into Upper East (Selected Stories)

Copyright © 1987 by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

First Counterpoint paperback edition 1999

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under international and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the Publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer, 1927–

    
Three continents.

    
I. Title

PR9499.3J5T47
                 
1987
          
823
          
87-7880

First Printing

Jacket design by Caroline McEver

COUNTERPOINT

P.O. Box 65793

Washington, D.C. 20035-5793

Counterpoint is a member of the Perseus Books Group

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e-book ISBN 978-1-61902-878-4

For

J
AMES
I
VORY
and I
SMAIL
M
ERCHANT

My thanks and deep appreciation to the

J
OHN
D. and C
ATHERINE
T. M
AC
A
RTHUR

F
OUNDATION

for their most liberal—and liberating—support.

CONTENTS

I · PROPINQUITY

II · THE FAMILY

III · IN THE RAWUL'S KINGDOM

I

P
ROPINQUITY

M
ICHAEL, my twin brother, and I always wanted something other—better—than we had. Of course people would say that what we had was pretty good, and from a materialistic point of view that would be true. Our family name was well known, both our great-grandfather and our grandfather having held office in Washington; and though our parents were forever complaining that they were completely broke, this was part of their character rather than actual fact—our father because he was always overspending his allowance from the family trust, and our mother because she was afraid someone might ask her for money. They were divorced, and since the age of six, Michael and I lived mostly with our grandparents in the various embassies to which Grandfather was posted. That was how we came to spend some crucial years in the Middle East and then farther East; and it might be from those years that we got our restlessness, or dissatisfaction with what was supposed to be our heritage—that is, with America. Our last year of high school was in the International School in Bangkok and after that we both got into the college traditional to our family, where Michael lasted one semester and I two. Michael got back to the Orient as fast as he could, and then he traveled around and was sometimes in Kathmandu and sometimes in Goa, and then he turned up in Buddh Gaya, and then Gangtok, and back in Kathmandu. I missed him terribly and really didn't know what to do with myself when he was away.

It was during that year that Michael became involved with Crishi and the Rawul and Rani and all of them. He was one of the people who wanted to give his life for them and their cause. It was I who was skeptical at first; that is, when he first brought them to stay with us. It was the summer when I was nineteen—very long ago—and trying to decide whether to go back for my sophomore year or not. I was relieved when Michael called from London to say he was coming home; he was the one person who could help me decide. I wasn't bothered when he said he was bringing some friends—usually his friends just drifted around in the background and didn't get in anyone's way. I mean, in Michael's and my way; no one of them had ever come between us. But I was surprised the way he was so particular about how these new friends were to be entertained. He told me to call Lindsay, our mother, to the phone, and then he gave her very precise instructions, which threw her in a fit. He wanted all the best bedrooms made up, including the big front one where our grandparents slept when they came, and the entire house and grounds to be cleaned up for these friends of his who were apparently very important. I couldn't understand it at all, because Michael usually avoided important people; in fact, he couldn't stand them.

When they arrived, it really was like royalty descending on us. I'm trying to remember who was with them; they had quite an entourage—they never traveled without one—but so much has happened since and there have been so many people coming and going, that I can't remember who was there that first time. Or perhaps I didn't notice the people on the periphery because they were eclipsed by the ones at the center: that is, the Rawul, the Rani, and Crishi. These three made an overwhelming impression, singly and together. A lot of time has passed and what has happened has happened, and it is hard for me to describe how I saw them at first meeting. But I will try to do so as though they were three strangers who played no part in my life.

It is easiest with the Rawul, because my opinion of him, or perhaps I mean my feelings for him, has not changed so much as for the other two. The Rawul's personality was royal and gracious. He
was
royal, he had a kingdom—a very small
but very ancient one: the kingdom of Dhoka. The Rawul was tall and stout and imposing, and he usually wore handsome English suits and shoes, and when in town he carried a rolled umbrella just like an English gentleman—which he was, besides everything else, for he was brought up there and went to Harrow and Cambridge. He had English manners and an English accent, but very much softened by his Oriental disposition. One only had to look at his eyes to realize how different he was from English people—for instance, from Manton, our father, and our grandfathers on both sides; it was over two hundred years since their ancestors came to America, but they still had those very Anglo-Saxon eyes, cold and blue like the sea. The Rawul's eyes were not the usual kind of liquid brown that Indians have but were light gray—opalescent almost, in his dark face. I thought of them as mystical; a dreamer's eyes. Of course he
was
a dreamer—of the past, when his ancestors conquered and ruled their desert kingdom, and of the future, when he himself would rule, in his own way. There was nothing selfish or ambitious about him; he was as idealistic as Michael, and probably that was how Michael got involved with them all in the first place. Because he thought that they—like he and I—wanted something better than there was. And in the Rawul's case this was probably true.

The Rawul was Indian, and when I first saw her, I thought the Rani was too. She was dark and voluptuous, and though she usually moved slowly and languorously, she gave an impression of power and energy held in check. She had marvelous teeth, so strong that she could bite and chew anything. I never got it quite clear what nationality she actually was—as I didn't at first with Crishi; but like him, she was a mixture of various strains, partly French, partly Afghan, even a little bit of German. All this made her very beautiful, and she also had these very beautiful clothes and jewels. She was always called the Rani, and it wasn't till later that I realized this was not a title but the name she had adopted. Her real name was Renée.

BOOK: Three Continents
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