The Far Pavilions
|Author||M. M. Kaye|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||1000 pp (first edition)|
The Far Pavilions is an epic novel of British-Indian history by M. M. Kaye, first published in 1978, which tells the story of an English officer during the British Raj. The novel, rooted deeply in the romantic epics of the 19th century, has been hailed as a masterpiece of storytelling. It is based partly on biographical writings of the author's grandfather as well as her knowledge of and childhood experiences in India. It sold millions of copies, caused travel agents to create tours that visited the locations in the book, and inspired a television adaptation and a musical play.
Ashton Pelham-Martyn (Ash) is the son of a British botanical scientist travelling through India, who is born on the road shortly before the Sepoy uprising of 1857. His mother dies from childbed fever shortly after his birth and his father dies of cholera a few years later. He is entrusted to his Hindu ayah (nanny) Sita to be brought to his English relatives in the city of Mardan. After discovering that all English feringhis have been killed during the uprising, Sita adopts the dark-skinned Ash and takes him in search of safety.
They eventually find refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote where Ashton, now going by the name Ashok, forgets his English parentage and grows up as a native Indian boy. While working as a servant for Lalji, the young yuveraj (crown prince) of Gulkote, Ashton befriends the neglected princess Anjuli, in addition to the master of stables, Koda Dad, and his son Zarin. At the age of 11, Ashton uncovers a murderous conspiracy against Lalji and learns he himself will be killed for interfering with the plot. Promising Anjuli he will return for her one day, he and Sita escape the palace with assistance from friends Sita and Ashok have made within the palace over the years, and flee from Gulkote. The ailing Sita dies en route, but not before revealing to Ash his true parentage and entrusting him with the letters and money his father gave her before his death.
Ashok makes his way to the military division Sita instructed him about, and they recognise him; now known by his English name, Ashton is turned over to English authorities and sent to England for a formal education and military training. At age 19, Ashton returns to India as an officer in the Corps of Guides with Zarin on the Northern Frontier. He quickly finds that his sense of place is torn between his new-found status as Ashton, an English "Sahib", and Ashok, the native Indian boy he once believed he was.
After going AWOL in Afghanistan, Ash is suspended from The Guides and sent to escort a royal wedding party across India. He discovers that the party is in fact from the former kingdom of Gulkote, now known as Karidkote after merging with a neighbouring princedom, and that Anjuli, along with her sister Shushila, are the princesses to be married. Also in the wedding party is Anjuli's younger brother, the prince Jhoti. After revealing himself as Ashok to Anjuli, Ash falls in love with her, but is unable to act on his feelings as she is not only betrothed to another but belongs to what is now an alien culture, across a divide which they can no longer bridge. Over the months that follow, Ash thwarts a plot to murder Jhoti, and falls into increasing despair over his unrequited love for Anjuli. While caught in a dust-storm together, Anjuli reveals her love for Ash, but rebuffs his pleas to run away with him out of duty to her sister as a co-bride in an arranged marriage. Ash is forced to watch Anjuli be married off to the lecherous rana of Bhithor and return to his duties in the military.
Two years later, Ash receives distressing news that the rana of Bhithor has died, and that his wives are to be burned alive in the Hindu ritual of suttee. Racing to Bhithor, Ash and his friends manage to rescue Anjuli and take her to safety; this rescue results in the death of not only Ash's beloved horse but also most of the human members of the party. He insists upon marrying Anjuli, despite the insistence of all other members of his group of acquaintances, including Anjuli, that this is not only unnecessary but against God's Law.
Here the book's focus shifts from the relationship between Ash and Anjuli to England's and Russia's political wrangling in the regions north of what were the Indian Borders at the time. In England's desire to expand its territory into Afghanistan, Ash is sent into the country as a spy to relay information that will help England establish a permanent foothold in the area. What follows is an account of the first phase of the Second Afghan War, culminating in the September 1879 uprising that killed the English envoy in Kabul. This part of the story is told mostly from the perspective of Ash's best friend Walter "Wally" Hamilton.
After the uprising in Kabul, Ash and Anjuli set out in search of a paradise in the Himalayas – "the far pavilions" – free of prejudice where they can live out their lives in peace.
Characters in The Far Pavilions
- Ashton Hillary Akbar (Ashok) Pelham-Martyn
- Koda Dad Khan
- Biju Ram
- Belinda Harlowe
- Kaka-ji Rao
- Walter Hamilton
- Zarin Khan
- Captain Stiggins
Film, TV and theatrical adaptations
For HBO and Goldcrest, and first screened in 1984 in the UK, Peter Duffell directed a five-hour three-part television miniseries based on the novel, starring Ben Cross as Ashton, Amy Irving as Anjuli, Omar Sharif as Koda Dad and Christopher Lee as Kaka-ji Rao. It was HBO's first mini series. The mini series ran 300 minutes, and the parts were entitled "Return to India", "The Journey to Bhithor", and "Wally and Anjuli". (The current DVD release split each of these parts into two, creating 6 parts each of about 50 minutes, added a credit section at the newly created break in each part, and in addition removed the titlecard names of the original parts.) A theatrical edit of the series, entitled Blade of Steel, ran 140 minutes, cutting half the story. Although conventional in storytelling and photography, the mini series has ample production value (at a budget of $12 million it was the most expensive made-for-cable movie at the time) and is faithful to the book, although cutting short the youth of Ashton before his return to India, and transposing the Afghan rebellion and Ash's rescue of Anjuli. Carl Davis composed the score, which is a much-sought collector's item. Much of the film was shot in the precincts of Samode Palace.
A 2005 stage musical adaptation was produced by Michael E. Ward, with music was composed by Philip Henderson. It premiered at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End on 14 April 2005. The musical closed in September of the same year due to the sudden drop in audience numbers following the 7/7 London bombings. Budgeted at 7 million pounds, the show's cast featured Hadley Fraser as Ashton, Gayatri Iyer as Anjuli, Kulvinder Ghir as the Rana of Bhithor and Kabir Bedi as Kahn Sahib.
- "'Far Pavilions' author M.M. Kaye dies". USA Today. 4 February 2004. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
- Tsering, Lisa (17 July 2003). "Victor Banerjee to star in London musical". The Times of India. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
- "Hbo Gambles On A Costly Mini-Series". The New York Times. 15 April 1984.
- Erickson, Hal. "The Far Pavilions (1984)". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
- Tom Shales, 'TV Previews Plodding "Pavilions"', The Washington Post (21 April 1984).