Salman Rushdie and M M Kaye

 In recent decades, many major novels have been written on Anglo-Indian themes. Two of the most famous have strong connections with the Pevensey area.

One of these is Salman Rushdie's controversial novel, The Satanic Verses (1988). In the opening pages, an Air India jumbo-jet explodes over London; two of the aircraft's occupants are blown away  to land safely on the snowbound beach of Pevensey Bay.

There is a family connection to help explain this. Rushdie's wife's grandmother was May Jewell, “a grand old lady living by the beach in Pevensey Bay, Sussex”. In the novel she appears as a character called Rosa Diamond, and through her eyes we have a wonderfully evocative portrait of the beach-front houses:

 “Nine hundred years ago all this was under water, this portioned shore, this private beach, its shingle rising steeply towards the little row of flaky-paint villas with their peeling boathouses crammed full of deckchairs, empty picture frames, ancient tuckboxes stuffed with bundles of letters tied up in ribbons, mothballed silk--and-lace lingerie, the tearstained reading matter of once--young girls, lacrosse sticks, stamp albums, and all the buried treasure--chests of memories and lost time. The coastline had chang
ed, had moved a mile or more out to sea, leaving the first Norman castle stranded far from water, lapped now by marshy land that afflicted with all manner of dank and boggy agues the poor who lived there on their whatstheword – estates.”

The Satanic Verses was published in 1988 and – in commercial terms – was not a great success. Then the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Rushdie to death because of it, and sales lifted. In the first few months of 1989, 750,000 were sold in the USA alone.

Ten years before The Satanic Verses, there was another publishing sensation, The Far Pavillions by M M Kaye. This massive book was set in India and charts the life of the hero, Ashton, who is brought up as an Indian then sent to England to train as an officer in the Corp of Guides, defending the North-west frontier. There is a also a star-crossed love affair and a grand sweep of Indian history in the 19th century.

Mollie Kaye was a daughter of the Raj, born in the beautiful setting of Simla in 1908. Here, in the foothills of the Himalayas she learned Hindustani before she spoke English. She came to London in her youth and hated the cold and gloominess. She went to art school then scraped a living as writer and a Fourpenny Library thriller gave her enough money to return to
India. In Kashmir during the war she met her future husband, GJ (Goff) Hamilton, DSO. Goff was an authentic war hero from the Corps of Guides Cavalry, whose family had served in the Indian Army through generations. Goff and Mollie met in June 1941 and fell in love immediately: he proposed within five days. There was the small problem of his current wife, and the affair had to secretive. Mollie and Goff (now divorced) were able to marry in 1945. By this time they already had a daughter, and giving birth at a remote outstation was not easy:

"The baby took five days and nights to arrive and we both nearly died. A tiger ate the hospital water-buffalo and the doctor sat up all night and finally shot it. Moths flew out of the chloroform bottle. I caught malaria because mosquitoes were breeding in the hospital water-tank. It was just so hilarious . . . utterly loony. It could only happen in India."

India became independent, of course, and the family moved around the world. Mollie became the perfect service wife. In 1967 Major General Hamilton retired. In time he and his wife – like many other returning servants of the Raj - sought to settle down in “Kipling Country”. What they found was a 1700-ish rambling old house in Boreham Street in the countryside north of Pevensey.

Here Mollie kept writing. Her literary agent was Paul Scott, author of The Jewel in the Crown. Kaye influenced his choice of subject-matter, and in turn Scott advised her to write an Indian historic novel. (He referred to his own quartet as “Cash 'n' Curry”.) So she set down to write, with her husband encouraging and supporting her.

After twelve years – twelve years! - the script of The Far Pavilions was complete. Goff had read the script six times before it was
sent the the publisher. The published book was 958 pages long. Bantam bought the paperback rights for $527,000, which went a long way in 1978. Subsequently it sold in by the million. Unfortunately the TV series was poor, but Far Pavilion-themed holidays were very successful and the books sold, quite literally, millions of copies.


Salman Rushdie: Joseph Anton, A Memoir, 2103 ; The Satanic Verses, 1988
Alex Hamilton Writing Talk, 2014
MM Kaye, The Far Pavilions 1978, Share of Summer 1990-98



  Mollie Kaye












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