I’m not sure what happens next, if anything.
Menen also wrote an entertaining nonfiction book Dead Man in the Silver Market (1953), which recounts among other things his visits to the land of his father. He is at his strongest as an observer standing to one side, listening to characters such as the Last Nabob of India.
A nabob is an Englishman of limited social distinction back home who has made enough of a fortune in India to be granted a knighthood by the Governor. This honor is portable and carried back to England allows the bearer to be almost as much of a “Sir” as someone knighted by the Queen. In the closing days of British rule in India, the new Governor determines that the honor will fall to one William Ponder (as Menen calls him), one of those people who have no talent except for arithmetic. This is not a bad qualification for someone about to be elevated to the status of gentleman. Menen notes that among the features of a good prospective nabob who is being “looked over” is blandness: conversation of “empty silences,” and certainly no awareness of art or recent literature. Ponder qualifies. “His rooms held a bookcase,” Menen relates. “He denied all knowledge of the books and said they were his wife’s. . . . I think he could have gotten away with collecting Chinese pottery. It was a thing they did in English country houses.” For all the Hindus’ devotion to nonviolence, the streets have gotten dangerous the day Ponder goes to Government House to receive his honor. So he rides on the floorboards of a car driven by a young woman who can converse with the rioters, and Menen comes along. He is essentially a sympathetic observer, or at least not overly cruel. Menen tells us a bit about local fakirs, with some of whom he is friendly. Big Tim has a simple mind and a simple function: he joins a naked procession as part of a fertility ritual. Women who have been unable to conceive touch the “organ of generation” as Menen delicately calls it and, if the correct prayers are recited, become mothers. Some less scrupled fakirs in the procession may take direct action to help the women, Big Tim admits glumly. Less endearing is the former railway clerk who has been holding his arm aloft for twenty years and tells a local maharajah that he thereby holds up the universe. The book’s theme is the similarity of the English and the Hindus in each race believing it is the pinnacle of human development. Menen’s bare-breasted Indian grandmother puts his Irish mother up in a separate house during a visit to the family coconut plantation in Malabar. A European would defile the Hindu household, he explains, besides which Europeans don’t bathe often enough for the Indian family’s taste (twice a day is standard at Grandmother’s). Aubrey himself is defiled by having been born in England. He could set himself toward purification, he is advised, by drinking a cup of cow urine, but this he declines to do. As for his grandmother’s limited wardrobe, she believes that any woman who covers herself above the waist must have an adulterous scheme in mind. Menen is less successful as a polemicist. His mildly amused rationalism is agreeable enough, though in no sense original. His satirical jibes at the English, in which he mostly comments rather than reports, are old hat. Possibly they seemed fresher in 1953. Nothing for it, I’ll have to go back for another try at The Prevalence of Witches. April 30 2017