Colonial power was at its height and in nineteenth-century Shimla, flocked dashing young men were seeking their fortunes. Here came ‘Grass Widows’, married ladies escaping both the heat and their husbands – and quite amenable ‘to a little something’ and ‘a someone’ to keep them entertained. The finer specimens of the ‘Fishing Fleet’ wound their way up the narrow mountain paths in search of husbands. There was the enigmatic club of ‘Black Hearts’ whose members could not commit the offence of ‘living in open matrimony.’ Whiffs of scandal floated as freely as Shimla’s mists. It needed a warehouse to contain all this; along came ‘Scandal Point’.
This was the time when the soon-to-be-famous, Rudyard Kipling came to the ‘summer capital’ of India and its glittering social swirl. Well over a century and a half, after he first put pen to paper, part fiction, part fable and part reality, he created a world whose images are still with us. In 1888, Kipling’s story, ‘The Education of Otis Yeere’ was first published. Two characters of his creation appear in the story. There is Mrs Mallow and, the formidable Mrs Hauksbee who, “…was sometimes nice to her own sex,” while she had, “The wisdom of the Serpent, the logical coherence of the Man, the fearlessness of Child and the triple intuition of the woman.” It is in this story that the phrase ‘Scandal Point’ first appears in print, “Your salon would become a glorified Peliti’s,” says Mrs. Mallow, “A ‘Scandal Point’ by lamplight.” From this moment on, this line from Kipling’s pen enters perceived reality and steadily gathers more stories.
Going by the popular tale, recounted time and again with supposed authority, a Maharaja of Patiala carried off a British Viceroy’s daughter (or wife), from this spot on Shimla’s Mall. The Maharaja in question may have had numerous affairs and kept a substantial harem, but at the time of the supposed incident, he wasn’t born and if he was, then he would have been an infant. Years ago, as now, little or large gatherings have sorted out the world at this crossroad and exchanged gossip. Within the course of a conversation, governments have risen and fallen on Scandal Point. There is hushed talk of ‘who ran off with whom’ and ‘who would like to run off with whom.’ In a word: scandal.
The Patiala connection probably stems from the fact that the Patiala durbar had a ‘Vakil khaana’ in the Middle Bazaar, just below the so-called Scandal Point. Here, employees of the Patiala durbar worked and conducted the sundry matters of this influential princely state. In 1929, ten disgruntled citizens of Patiala drew up a list of charges against the Maharaja. The British Viceroy of India, Lord Willingdon cleared the Maharaja of all charges. Employees at the ‘Vakil khaana’, like many others would probably sun themselves and air their views to anyone who would care to listen. With this incident, the Maharaja has passed into urban legend as a figure of notoriety and has left his stamp on the spot. And the only scandal of ‘Scandal Point’ is that there wasn’t a scandal and still isn’t.