Kipling proves there’s no Patiala link to Shimla’s Scandal Point

Is Shimla’s Scandal Point so named because the Maharaja of Patiala eloped with the viceroy’s daughter from there in 1893? No. One of Rudyard Kipling’s short stories mentions it in 1888. And there are other reasons to prove that the story is a fiction

Shimla’s juiciest legend is the one about Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh eloping with the viceroy’s daughter. The place he supposedly carried her away from is called Scandal Point.

Angered by the maharaja’s audacity, the viceregal papa is said to have banished him from Shimla forever. And the maharaja thumbed his nose at the Raj by building himself a fine palace on a hill higher than Shimla, at Chail.

It’s a fine romance, but utter rubbish. Here’s why:

  • This scandal supposedly occurred in 1893, when Bhupinder Singh was only two years old
  • Lord Lansdowne, who was viceroy at the time, had two daughters. The elder got married in July 1892, and the younger preserved her reputation long enough to marry Henry Beresford, 6th Marquess of Waterford, in 1897

Then some say it was not Bhupinder Singh but his papa, Maharaja Rajinder Singh, who did the hanky-panky. Sure enough, he married a white woman in April 1893, but the couple did not elope. Florence Bryan, an Irishwoman, was sister of Charles Bryan, keeper of the maharaja’s racing stables. At their wedding: “All the leading Europeans in the Patiala state, as well as most of the Sikh officers, were present.” Seems unlikely the maharaja had offended the viceroy that year.

And if he had, would he have been allowed to travel to Britain a year later?

“The Maharaja of Patiala, who is about to visit England for a sojourn of eight months, will bring with him his wife Florence, known as the Queen of Patiala, who is an English, or rather Irish, lady, and sister of Mr Charles Bryan, a gentleman well known in Indian racing circles as ‘Mr Doris’.”

The English press were all agog about this visit for months before.

Speculation aside, here is clinching proof for why the name ‘Scandal Point’ has nothing to do with l’affaire Patiala:

One of Rudyard Kipling’s early short stories, The Education of Otis Yeere, which was published in The Week’s News, in March 1888, mentions Scandal Point twice. And it is set “where every right-minded story should begin, that is to say, at Simla, where all things begin and many come to an evil end.”

  • “Your salon would become a glorified Peliti’s, a ‘Scandal Point’ by lamplight.”
  • “These vermin shall not rejoice in a new Scandal Point or an extra Peliti’s.”

So, Scandal Point is definitely older than its legend, but if the Patiala scandal never occurred, how and why did the name arise? A 1924 book, Thacker’s New Guide to Simla, has a plausible answer:

“Scandal Point, the place where the transmitters of gossip are ever at work — where, so people say, the savoury and unsavoury secrets of our society are flashed to the uttermost limits of Simla with all the speed of wireless. It is the place where the four main streets of the town conjoin…”

It was merely the place where Shimla’s gossips met to brew new scandals.

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