Although lacking the late Paul Scott's persistent compassion, Hanley's sardonic and witty novel of post-Raj India resembles Scott in its stately pace--within which a meticulous fretwork of lives, poses, and relationships becomes a grand design flecked with ironies. In the state-let of Induspur, the 48-year-old Maharajah, Chandra Gupta, is an artifact, an anachronism, alienated from Hinduism by his education. So, with his best friend, aging scholar Colonel Tim Bingham, the Maharajah shares the predicament of being a ""godless believer""--as the two lightheartedly discuss evolution, the tantalizing possibility of universal purpose, the atomic end-all, and the lure of lost religions (of which Chan's devoted old advisor, Shambu Lal, is a moving reminder). Chan, playing the role of Prince, also convinces himself he's in love--with Welsh beauty Megan, who's recently separated from nasty Wally and, on a sea of gin, has been piling up a sizable fortune by authoring exotic schlock romances under the pseudonym of ""Saleema Begum."" (Megan's own amorous involvements--with careful Chan, an overwhelmingly handsome English scriptwriter, and a Sam Goldwyn-tongued film producer--have a way of turning up in her fiction.) And meanwhile an American film project--centered on 18th-century royal passion--uncovers royal-family scandal, with shafts of threats involving Princess Subhadra, Chan's pretty Communist aunt, and the ""diseased"" marriage of the Tones: brittle his and obnoxious Freddie. Freddie tries some blackmail; Megan runs with Saleema; there's a death of a Princess; Chan directs a ""funeral pyre"" with attendant hallucinatory capers. And, at the close, the uncommitted Bingham descends to commitment. . . while Chan prepares to disappear, accompanied by an ex-Untouchable, hoping to ""emerge as a fully equipped and able nobody."" A finely satiric portrait gallery--with wise, sad commentary on the little deaths in life and philosophical shadows of some larger, nuclear-age issues.