A rainy spell has all the powers to strengthen your mood. As I write this post, a steady sound of pouring rain is comforting my ears and assisting my thoughts. All of a sudden, my mind is flooded with memories of my numerous sprees to the famed Mall Road of the famous hill station of Shimla. Just at the juncture of the four trails on the Mall Road lies an equally famous landmark intriguingly called the Scandal Point.
Quite interestingly, the point where the Ridge and the Mall Road converge is being called the Scandal Point since as far back as the late 19th century. But what exactly must have transpired that the junction, now a raised traffic police platform, was called a Scandal Point still continues to be a mystery. In her book Scandal Point, the Chandigarh based author Manju Jaidka, a professor at Panjab University, attempts to solve the mystery.
Although entirely a work of fiction, the story goes that it was here that the Maharaja of Patiala had whisked away the daughter of the then Viceroy of India. The already married Maharaja later eloped with her; causing much furore in the royal house of Patiala as well as the British authorities. This even led to the Maharaja being permanently banned from entering Shimla by the British authorities. As a reaction to this ban, the Maharaja constructed himself a new palatial summer retreat at Chail, located at a higher altitude than Shimla. In her historical fiction, the author Manju Jaidka has tried to weave around a tale of romance, politics, bureaucracy, jealousy, revenge as well as luxurious, royal lives of Kings; combining some basic popular facts with fiction.
The story sequentially relates the Maharaja’s routine visits to the Viceroy Lodge in Shimla, his first meeting with the daughter of Viceroy, love at first sight, her stay at Patiala and their eventual marriage. Their son was named Richard Ram Rahim Singh. The author talks about the jealousy of the elder Maharani and the attempts on the life of Viceroy’s daughter Betty as well as the infant prince. Such circumstances force the Maharaja, Betty and the prince to part ways. Subsequently, the story talks about how Maharaja addresses this situation and continues performing his duties as a King. A good part of the story is about the life of prince RRR Singh, later called Kartar Singh, as he reconstructs this story.
Howsoever romantic or intriguing the story might have been but the author, in my mind, has failed to practically consider the sequence of events from the annals of history. Although, the author has clearly written in the beginning of the book itself that most of the events related here are imaginary and have to be taken as such. To this day, the “mystery behind Scandal Point” continues to be a permanency of Shimla and rest everything feels like a fairy tale consigned to the sphere of fantasy. Despite the lack of tangible relevant facts, despite any evidence to corroborate the story of the elopement, the Scandal Point continues to be a concrete landmark of the queen of hills. Today, a visitor to the Mall Road at Shimla would possibly get as many answers as the number of people questioned.
Negating the author’s version, the author and columnist Khushwant Singh says, “Though I’d love to cling on to this legend as much as anyone who has got pictures clicked at the Scandal point, the demi-official letters and notes which I came across at the British Library London might prove to be killjoys to a tale which has been passed from generation to generation with delight and pride”. “There is no denying that the Maharaja of Patiala married an Irish woman during the same period as attributed to the Scandal Point episode. However, the entire scandal apparently took place in Patiala, thus rendering the Shimla tale to a mere fiction”, he adds.
In about 227 pages, the author takes you through the royal lives of Patiala Palace, Nabha State, Kapurthala Palace as well as the Viceregal Lodge at Shimla popular for hosting Friday evening parties. Published by Rupa Publications, the Scandal Point is available at an average price of Rs 136 at Flipkart and Amazon. I recommend this book to all Shimla and Chail lovers who wish to know more about the region or love reading fictions in general.