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Cha

pter III

Seekers and Suffers: A New Dominion


The other two novels A New Dominion and Heat and Dust selected for study are also
sordid and depressing tales depicting how the western women come to India in search of
spirituality and end up in self delusion. A very notable feature of these two novels is that all the
characters, whether Indian or western, display a lack of stability and gullible, the Indians are
invariably petty-minded and completely lack in genuine love or fellow feeling.
The novel A New Dominion conveys with astonishing intensity the psychic sum total of
Ruth Jhabvalas twenty years in exile. It is fraught, even more powerfully than A Backward
Place, with tensions generated in a displaced European sensibility arising on account of the
increasing oppression of an alien culture. The novel was written during a dark phase of the
novelists life in India, at a time when she was keenly aware of her condition as an alien. As the
title suggests, India is seen not from within but from without. In consequence, this novel belongs
more recognizably to the tradition of the expatriate writing than A Backward Place is. In fact, the
novel carries the tradition forward by operating within the socio-political context that Forsters A
Passage to India anticipates- one in which Indians and Europeans can communicate freely.
Apparently, the races do communicate with one another, for the separation created by political
situation have no relevance after twenty five years of Indian independence. The westerners of A
New Dominion pursue their quests with freedom. Lee and Raymond move in and out of every
social class on Indian society, rubbing shoulders with the royalty, the middle class, the workers
and the ascetic with equal ease, unhampered and unprotected by officialdom. The food served at

the supper party hosted by a British High Commission official is, like the guests, a judicious
mixture of English and Indian and the host boasts of a special relationship between the two
races and speaks in terms of family bonds nd mutual influences quite unlike her predecessors of
the old dominion.
Yet the novel contains many reminders of the separatist regime. The life style of the
embassy official is totally different from that of the mainstream Indian and is comparable to that
of the ruling class before Independence. To Raymond, who represents the authorial point of view
more closely than any other character in the novel, the scrupulous cleanliness of the High
Commission compound seems to mock the poverty and squalor that lie just beyond its walls:
You cant help thinking that no place in India has the right to be clean. (AND 71), he writes to
his mother. In the novel not only the racial distinctions but also the ideal of white superiority is
carefully maintained. A decaying old woman of eighty-ix still thinks it worthwhile to dress up as
a proper memsahib, and is outraged at the rumor that her ancestry is not all white. The charity
home for aged Europeans is in fact, a hot bed of scandalous gossip and intrigue, each member
accusing the other of mixed origins.
Traces of the old dominion, too, remain in the educated Indians hatred of the Raj, which
has remained unchanged from the first stirrings of nationalism in India. Deepak challenges his
hosts assumption at the High Commission dinner party that some kind of integration has been
developed during the two centuries of British rule. When his host Gerald points out that the two
races have shared a common language meaning common ideas and values, Deepak retorts that
Indians willy nilly learn the language of the British but not vice versa (AND 52). This,
however, is only one aspect of the impact of British rule of India. The other is a clear cut
identification with the alien culture. Raymonds Indian neighbor at the embassy dinner table

boasts about her friends the Haffiners and talks happily about English style cottage in Kasauli,
so quiet and peaceful like an English village (AND 54). Both approaches are viewed by the
novelists as out of context with the needs of contemporary India.
But by far the most powerful reminder of the Raj in the novel is the presence of members
of the former royal families who are now stripped off their powers and privileges and forced into
a position of choice between two alternatives- one of an arrogant extinction of royalty and
secondly to develop new forms of royalty. For the first time Jhabvala in her fiction depicts the
ragged bits and pieces of princely India. Ex-royals who are intelligent enough to recognize the
inevitable are quick to seize their opportunity and can exchange one form of kingship for another
while the foolishly arrogant defy the new order and are winnowed out. Jhabvalas moral
assessment of both types is in the negative. She sees the first as treating irreverentially a noble
heritage in an attempt to worm itself into the favors of a corrupt bureaucracy. The other, by
constantly harping on the past and refusing to recognize reality, is assailed by acute imbalances
and neuroses. In her delineations of Rao Sahib and Asha, the novelist presents the two aspects of
this struggle in the new India.
The invasion of the old by the new is evident in other areas of the Indian landscape,
external as well as internal. The young industrialist Bob, Indian by birth but American by
education and conviction, is clearly a prospective builder of modern India before whose ability
rank and wealth have to take the second place. The old British hospital in Maupur to which the
Raymond takes the dying Margaret is completely overshadowed by a vast modern block built
with foreign aid but quite empty from inside and smelling of bat droppings (AND 108).
Classical music, patronized by princely India, has to give precedence to acutely unmusical
hymns with political affiliations at the Rao Sahibs party. There is a sustained irony in the

novelists observation that the ancient arts, architecture and music of India are being destroyed
by political interference. Raymond is the only person at the Rao Sahib party who sits through the
sitar players presentation and it is only foreign tourists like Lee and Raymond who seek out the
places of beauty and take the trouble to reach them. This confirms the authors conviction that
the only reason for the survival of the old in India is its tourist value. India is depicted in the
novel as a dark continent, mysterious and inscrutable, historically changing but spiritually
unchanged that far from embracing the alien, who approaches her with faith and love, dominates
and destroys him. This picture of India depicted by the novelist is often denounced by Indian
critics as a dodge to attract a western readership.
But the most powerful indictment of India in the novel is the physical and psychic
damage done to the westerners. In this dark phase of her Indian experience the Eats and the West
appear irreconcilable to her. The delineation of the encounter is drawn in terms of a conflict
between affirmation of individualism and fostering of the self and Eastern encouragement of
self-negation in the interest of reaching higher state of being. Thus, the Swamijis, doctrine to
belong and to be proves to be a source of degeneration for the westerners who respond to it. In
the ultimate analysis although the East wins in the novel, its values are not idealized as they were
in A Backward Place. Thus, Jhabvala portrays the conflict in the novel as one sided- not a
conflict at all but a frightening assault on western values.
There are two western approaches to Indian spirituality in the novel. One is the old
colonial view of Hinduism as a dark primitive faith into which it is the duty of every Christian to
bring light. This view is represented in the person of Miss Charlotte. This view is seen in conflict
with a new western view. For the young westerns India is a land to which Europeans should
come not to bring light but to seek it. This view is represented by Margaret and it is this view that

predominates in the novel, people just do not come anymore to India to do any good, those days
are over. What they come for now is- well, to do good to themselves, to learn to take from India.
(AND 26)
Regarding Indian spiritualism, there are two opposing approaches in the novel- the blind
faith of the East and the rationality of the West. Indians, faced with an identity crisis, fall easily
into the doctrine of blind faith propounded by the pseudo-eremite and give in to his demands of a
total, unquestioned obedience to his will. But the western self seekers voluntarily surrender to the
reason and the sense of proportion and are betrayed by the essential moral weakness in them. The
false guru battens on his weakness. He instill into his disciples a desire to slough off his existing
personality as the first step towards spiritual assimilation with the Guru who will then lead them
to a higher state of existence. The disciple, eager to reach this higher state, allows a destruction
of his identity and believes that the tensions he experiences in consequence are the pangs of
adjustment to a superior identity. In the meantime, the false Guru enjoys his worldly ambition of
commanding wealth and power over human beings. The extreme fraud on innocent whites
prompts Jhabvala to challenge its worth. In this way the spiritual in the novel emerges as a
destructive force.
In one of her autobiographical writings, eight years later, Jhabvala describes her own
initial attraction to the guru cult and the inevitable recoil:
Whenever opportunity came to visit a Swami, I did so. I loved to think I was near
someone holy, within the range of such wonderful vibrations. Of course here was the
richest soil for disillusionment, and I reaped that harvest in plenty. I could not stand those
Swamis anymore, far from embodying human perfectibility; they embodied its

corruption, degradation, lies I hated them for being what they were and not what they
pretended to be and what I wanted them to be.1
From her bitter personal experience she realized that there were more charlatans on the
swami circuit than anywhere else in the religious world and that the nave and eager western,
especially the woman, is the gurus favourite prey.2
I saw a lot of Western girls come to Indiathey wore sarees and walked around on bare
feet (and got hookworm) and meditated on the mantra given to them by their guru.
They became vegetarians; they bathed in the holy river; they got jaundice and became
very pale and worn away physically they had given up their personalities. Their eyes
and thoughts and souls were only for their guru.3
The loss of identity which threatens the western self-seekers in India has been fictionally
represented over and over again in Ruth Jhabvalas stories in the experience of Daphne of A
Spiritual Call, of the narrator of An Experience of India and Katie of How I Became a Holy
Mother. But her most powerful exposition of the theme is seen in this novel, in the destinies of
Lee, Margaret and Evie who come to India in the hope of shedding inherited norms and neurosis
and acquiring a lifes total view and returning to a life of faith.
In the beginning of the novel we see that three English girls have come to India to free
themselves of the influence of commercialism, pretentiousness and falsity of middle class life in
England. Here in India, they place their faith in a fraud Swami thinking that he would help their
tormented souls and transform them into new unified beings in harmony with themselves and
with the world at large. Contrary to their expectations, they come across a sordid picture of self-

manipulation, sexual abuse and callousness. The Swami treats them as his possessions, his little
mice waiting to be developed by him.
The novel published in 1972, is divided into short sections, some narrated by the author
in the third person, other written in first person and ascribed to Lee or Raymond. The novel
opens with the three European girls Lee, Margaret and Evie who have come to India to get
spiritual salvation under the guidance of the Swami, a holy man. Lee, an American girl of twenty,
comes to India to lose herself in order- as she likes to put it- to find herself. Like the other
woman, Lee seeks affinity with India by travelling with her rural and urban masses from one
small dusty town to another. Sitting in cheap buses and third class compartments of the trains,
Lee reveals in the sensation that she was no longer Lee but part of the mass of travelers huddled
and squashed together (AND 2). In the course of her travels, she comes to Delhi where the sight
of the great domes of Jama Masjid intensifies her desire to merge with everything to become
part of it and cease to be herself (AND 39). She surrenders her body to an Indian youth in the
belief that this was part of the merging she had so ardently desired (AND 42). In this mood of
yearning for total immersion in something greater than ones own self she arrives at the ashram
where she meets Evie and Margaret. Both share her yearning for a great spiritual merger. Evie
believes that she has found it and Margaret says that she will find it by living. Life for her from
now onwards is completely determined by the whims and fancies of the Swami. Lee, however,
cant accept the idea of total obedience as easily as the other two seem to do. She experiences a
conflict between her western upbringing with its emphasis on freedom and the Swamis demand
for total humility and submission. Often depressed, confused and demoralized, she attributes
these feelings to her own spiritual poverty. This is affirmed by Evie who assures her that the true

joy of spiritual merger will be hers if she could surrender her ego and dedicate herself to
Swamiji- live by his will and not by her own.
The so called Swamiji, here, is a disturbing study of an ascetic who uses his powers to
create illusions of hope and bliss and claims wholly the souls and bodies of his disciples. He is a
hypocrite who enjoys meat and alcohol. He intends to travel widely, plans an air-conditioned
ashram, uses a young girl to help him write a book, subdues his disciples with his hypocrite eyes
and, in an horrid scene, rapes Lee. He seeks to obliterate the personal identities of his followers.
In fact, he is a bogus god man and it is really very difficult to realize how these western girls
could fall a prey to him who are quite rational and clear eyed.
The Swamiji fosters tensions and rivalries among his disciples so as to render himself
invaluable to each as the only man of trust. Swamijis strategy is simple and his goal is achieved
in two brisk moves. He first singles out one disciple for his favours and concentrates solely on
her: At first Lee thought she must be imagining it- after all, there were all these others, all intent
only on him- what was so special about her that he should single her out from among them?
(AND 67). Then follows a spell of deliberate neglect. These tactics are practiced on each disciple
separately, with the intent of causing jealousies and infatuations among his disciples and thereby,
of drawing each one more securely to himself. Lees letter to Raymond describes Margarets
state of bewilderment during the period in which she is being neglected by the Swamiji:
Margaret is funny nowadays Of course shes studying very hard [She] spends a lot
of time meditating on her mantra But it is not making her one bit serene the way it
should. She and I and Evie are in the same hutment, and shes always picking on us for
nothingthe other day she went for poor Evie- she accused her of using her towel, which

Evie hadnt done. Afterwards she kept muttering horrid things about her, how she didnt
trust her one inch, which Evie was smarmy and deceitful and that it was sad to see
Swamiji so taken in by her (AND 74-75)
Raymond recognizes the same symptoms in Lee when Swamijis work on Margaret is
done and it is Lees turn to suffer his callous indifference. Margarets will is broken and she is
physically and mentally shattered by the time Swamiji has finished with her. His triumph over
the forces of western rationality is complete when Margaret, having contracted jaundice, refuses
Raymond and Miss Charlottes offer of taking her to a doctor. She still harbours on Swamiji
power of restoration. Thus, the disintegration of Margaret who had come to India in the hope of
acquiring a pure heart untainted by modern materialism is the full measure of Swamijis
success.
Over Evies soul the battle has already been fought and won. Evie glories in being
nothing in herself and living only by his will and like nothing too. 4 She is also physically
worn and emotionally denuded. Love, hate, anger, jealousy, tenderness and sympathy have all
been drained out of her. As told it is an example of criminal desensitization. It is illustrated by
Evies communication to Lee during their vigil at Margarets death bed:
She said well go back together, you and I, wont we, well go back to him where hes
waiting for usShe said wel go soon now. As soon as Margarets dead. She added in a
joyful voice How happy hell be to have us back! (AND 97-98)
The three girls are unaware that they are being manipulated on a very physical level.
Mistaking what is lower in them for a higher manifestation Margaret and Evie lay themselves

open to Swamiji who leads them very far, right to the end one to the physical and the other to
psychic death.
Lee who feels suffocated by small things in English society comes to India and reaches
the point of no return soon enough in er relationship with the Swami. She, however, is a tougher
proposition and Swamiji knows that over her hell have to wage a fierce battle and use all his
weapons. He woos, scorns, neglects and hypnotizes her in succession, continually testing her
strength and assessing her potential for rebellion till she succumbs. Ultimately, Lee obeys the
Swami in the foolish belief that it is prompted by love and pity for her suffering. Lees
experience of sexual intercourse with the Swamiji at midnight is really frightful and sordid. Yet
Lees western conscious is never quite buried. She somehow manages to break herself of
Swamijis magnetic spell and runs under the protective umbrella of rationalists like Raymond
and the missionary lady Charlotte. But her escape from Swamiji is all too brief. He tells
Raymond with pompous assurance: And I will take her, and we shall start again from the
beginning. But this time we shall go further. I will take her far, right to the end if need be- and
this time there will be no running away. (AND 179). At the end Lee reaches a point of no return
and prepares a way for her final regression.
In the ultimate analysis it can be said that the tree girls who believe that they are on the
right path are actually caught in the trap laid by a fake Swami. The Swamijis ashram that bears
the grand name of Universal Society for Spiritual Regeneration in the Modern World, serves as a
den in which he can destroy innocent white women on the pretext of leading them to a higher
state. Evie seems mindless in her faith of merging completely with the Swamiji. Magarets will is
broken mainly because of her ill health. She harbors her faith on the holy mans powers of
rejuvenation and refuses Raymonds offer of hospitalization and treatment, which is purely a

rational approach. Lees relationship with the Swamiji is one of a continuous struggle. Although
she is aware of the sensual and materialistic aspects of Swamijis life, she still feels drawn
towards him. At the end of the novel we see that Margaret dies a slow painful death, Evie lives in
a mindless stupor and Lee is struggling hard to resist her temptation to go back to the so called
Swamiji. Thus, the novel is a pitiable study of the three English girls who are tormented by their
love for such a manipulator of women.
The novel also conveys the novelists recognition of moral vacuum in the Swamis
conquest of the three white girls. This recognition, however, doesnt reduce her hatred to the
remedy offered by the East to her refugees. The guru has often been represented by Indo-Anglian
and criminal. But no one except Jhhabvala delineates the destructive process employed by the
false guru. Such a one sided picture of Indian gurus often forces her Indian critics to comment
that she writes only for her western readers. Her Swami is an embodiment of criminal
exploitation. The collective faith of his disciples does not inspire him to transcend his earthly
aspirations even momentarily. His indifference to the suffering of others is couched in
philosophical terms: Everything must be experienced to the end (AND 134). The suffering of
the dying dog becomes a symbol of the painful throbs that the inmates of the ashram experience
in their movement towards what they believe is a divine assimilation but which, in terms of the
novels message, is a physical and psychic annihilation. The novelist depicts Hinduism as a
highly sophisticated medium of abuse and exploitation. Hypnosis, torture by mere withdrawal,
manipulation by refraining from comment, and perversions cloaked in the garb of deeply
philosophical and mystical approaches to life are some of the forms of abuse practiced by the
Swami on his disciples.

To Jhabvala, it is not only religiosity of India that annihilates westerners, its capacity for
assault is also represented in the fates of Raymond and Miss Charlotte who having enough
reason and common sense are saved from being caught in the trap of spirituality. The novel
embodies a series of quests all of which come to naught including Raymonds and Miss
Charlottes. Miss Charlotte is a strong woman with a mission yet she becomes a victim of
political change. She is the embodiment of her creators ideal of the only western type fit to life
in India.5 She is sent back after thirty years of selfless service in India- her lifelong ambition of
being laid to rest on Indian soil being left with no possibility of fulfillment. Raymonds attraction
to the beauty and purity of Indian art forms get inextricably mixed with his feelings for an Indian
youth whose physical perfections hide his complete self-absorption, unconscious cruelty and
parasitical tendencies. Gopi becomes the source of Raymonds most exquisite pleasures and pain
and ultimately annihilates her.
But if Gopi is manipulating Raymond, he is also being manipulated. Like all the other
characters in the novel, Gopi too is engaged in a quest for physical fulfillment, Raymonds for
beauty and Lees for self-realization, Gopis may be termed as a quest for financial expansion.
He finds himself alienated from the members of his family because of their poverty. Thats why
he is attracted towards the people who are materially advanced than him. It is thus that he comes
in close contact with the foreigner Raymond, the princess Asha and his uncles well-to-do family
in Benares. With them is added a fourth- the inscrutable Banubai whose pretended mother love
serves to mask her darker desires. Ultimately Asha wins him solely on the merit of her superior
wealth and under her protection he finds his true identity- that of a handsome playboy and
parasite.

Thus, the final image of India that emerges from A New Dominion is a malevolent one.
While the novelist concedes that India has supreme gifts to give to those who are ready to take
them (AND 75), she deplores the fact that when the offer is false it is readily accepted and when
genuine, it does not make a mark. The University for Universal Synthesis, whose mission is to
educate the mind in the language of the heart and the heart in the language of the mind (AND
140), preaches a noble and beautiful concept. Yet no seeker, either of the East or the West, is
drawn to it. India as portrayed in the novel is then as area of darkness in which evil flourishes
and goodness and sensitivity are crushed. It is seen as particularly harsh on the westerner who is
trying to find his identity here. Here it cant be forgotten that the novelist is recording that phase
of her consciousness in which India had failed her and her kind. It is phase when assimilation is
visualized by her only in terms of her ashes being immersed in the Ganges to the accompaniment
of Vedic hymns.6
To be obsessed only with the journalistic emphasis on all the strange and odd elements in
Indian spirituality will present a false picture of Indian life. Here a detailed analysis of Lees
behavior would throw light on her character. Here we should also bear in mind the fact that her
predicament also stems from her incapacity to distinguish between simple bodily pleasure and
the joy of spiritual merger. We see this confusing aspect in not only her relationship with the
Swamiji but also with her Indian friend Gopi. When Gopi makes love to her she begins to
realize, perhaps this was part of the merging she had so ardently desired while looking out of
the window. (AND 42)
Thus the conflict in A New Dominion emerges as one sided- not a conflicting at all but a
frightening assault on western values. When the novel concludes, the westerners flee India, get
trapped in the ashram of a bogus guru, are rendered homeless and rootless, or die in acute

physical and mental anguish. The novelists earlier optimism, visible in her depiction of Judys
assimilation of India in A Backward Place, gives way to an acute pessimism and a sense of
defeat in A New Dominion. Her pessimism is related to the fact that she is recording that phase of
her consciousness in which India had failed her. Laurence Fallis describes the prevailing
atmosphere of the novel analogous to a nightmarish journey of the soul:
The dramatic personae move within the framework of a plot that is like a slow train to
India: there is the noise and confusion of the departure, the appalling heat and monotony
of the countryside, and a fatigue of a midnight arrival, all of which provide the illusion of
a journey. But it is only an illusion for all that. And this, I think is what Jhabvala is trying
to tell us: we are all travelers on a train going nowhere. We come, we go and only India
remains.7

Notes
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvalas Testament, The Hindustan Times Weekly, 27 July 1980, p.1.
John Mellors, Merging with India, London Magazine, 16, no.3 (1976), p. 95
Ruth Prawer Jhabvalas Testament, p.1
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, An Experience of India, p.130.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Myself in India, p.9
Ibid., p.16.
7. Laurence Fallis, Review of Travellers by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Books abroad, 48,
No. 2 (1974), p. 419