Markandaya records the demi-quavers and, less successfully, the major quakes, of the Raj era by eavesdropping on a handful of interlocked British and Indian lives. The golden honeycomb of the throne of Devapur--stocked by the British conquerors--is serenely inhabited by that plump bumblebee, the Maharajah Bawajirai, pliant and likable product of an English education. Bawajirai's heir, Rabi, tutored by his mother and grandmother, grows to a clear-eyed knowledge of India's suffering and humiliation. By 1914 Rabi has slipped beyond the palace gates to work for a free India. Interchanges over the years accent the bizarre situations of the two cultures. Bawajirai and the British Regent, Sir Arthur, wistfully test the barriers to their mutual affection; Sir Arthur and the Indian Minister maneuver shrewdly; and English women tend their rose gardens in the midst of people who, even if presentable, are ""not like us."" The author is at her best enjoying the sights and sounds of India and the civil jockeying among upper-caste enclaves. However, Rabi, who advances to a nonviolent activism, is a noble cipher, Christian Endeavor style. A long, leisurely novel, placard-thin in spots, but richly atmospheric and appealing overall.