The Glass Palace

by Amitav Ghosh

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In The Glass Palace, how much does Saya John influence Rajkumar's rise?

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Saya John is a British Christian man who establishes a teak lumber business in Malaya. Rajkumar is still a boy when he starts working for the colonial businessman. Saya John affects Rajkumar’s attitude toward business as he encourages him to think like a risk-taking entrepreneur and an owner-manager rather than like an employee. After becoming wealthy through several successful deals in the teak business, Rajkumar becomes a labor recruiter for the rubber business, in which he invests as well. Rajkumar also comes to identify with the European way of life and to equate his position with his identity, seeing himself as superior to the workers he hires and oversees. His son, Ilongo, later grows close to Saya John, who brings him into the business as well. The gulf between Saya John and the non-Europeans is brought home to Rajkumar, however, during the war, when Rajkumar’s son, Dinu, is forced off the train that would take them to safety from the invading Japanese, but Saya John, as a European, is allowed to remain on board.

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Through his role as a mentor, Saya John influences the rise of Rajkumar.

Saya John possesses a clear insight into the teak business of Burma. Rajkumar ends up learning these lessons, resulting in economic success in the timber industry.  This is only possible because of Saya John.  His mentor "shows him the ropes" of the inner workings of the business.  Through this nuanced approach, Rajkumar is able to establish his own economic voice.  

One specific example of how Saya John influences the rise of Rajkumar is through the development of new revenue streams.  At one point, Rajkumar uses what Saya John taught him to procure a contract to acquire a railway company.  When Saya John asks him how he will get the money, Rajkumar demonstrates the wide influence that Saya John has had upon him: "'Why, Saya,' Rajkumar smiled, a little sheepishly, 'from you, of course.  Why would I offer such an opportunity to anyone else?'"  It is clear that Saya John has influenced the rise of Rajkumar through teaching him how to seek out business opportunities that others might not envision.  It is for this reason that Saya John introduces Rajkumar to rubber after teaching him the timber business.

Upon realizing that Rajukumar's instincts were right about securing the contract,  Saya John says, "I really never thought you would get this far."  It shows the extent to which Saya John has influenced the rise of Rajkumar. Rajkumar combines Saya John's teachings with his natural risk-taking ability to generate wealth. 

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