An Indian orphan boy, Rajkumar, is one of the many exploitative Indian businessmen in Burma, grown rich on the teak trade. During the discretion of the Glass Palace Rajkumar spies Dolly one of the queen’s attendants, falls in love with her and eventually marries her. Like an epic legends and contemporary Bollywood films, they are separated but not before he promises to see her again. From his humble beginnings, Rajkumar, through fortitude and street smarts, rides the crest of the ensuing economic expansion to achieve the heights of success as a timber merchant, simultaneously playing his part in the building of colonial Burma. Years later, his promise to Dolly is fulfilled when he travels to Ratnagiri in India, home of the exiled royal family, to be reunited with his love.
Raj Kumar as a child is remarkable for his exploring spirit, keen perception and his ability to take calculated risks. Raj Kumar works in a tea stall of a matronly lady Ma Cho. He loves exaggerating his age just to feel like an adult. A well-travelled orphan, Raj Kumar is worldly-wise. Right at the beginning of the narrative, the author drops enough hints for the legitimacy of his choice of a protagonist. Although, a child, an orphan, this boy is established as bold, and remarkable. Once Raj Kumar lands in Mandalay, his life-long search for places and people begins. He is taken in by the city. And after a long exploration he develops sense of belonging at the new place. Barriers are challenging to him and made him venture and getting beyond his thoughts. As he views the fort of Mandalay the crystal shining glass palace, he instinctively knows that orphans like him cannot go there and yet ‘No matter what Ma Cho said, he decided, he would cross the moat-before he left Mandalay, he would find a way in’. It is this spark that sets Raj Kumar apart for a life of success’ adventure and prosperity.
At the heart, he is always certain about his success in life. When the British throw down the King of Burma, Raj Kumar is told that the British wish to control Burmese territory for wood. And from this point starts his shaping of his future plans. He senses wealth in teak. When the city is rampaged by the British, it is the Indian soldiers who come on orders of their colonial masters. Suddenly Indians become the target of mob frenzy. Raj Kumar is also attacked. He is saved by Saya John. That day, Saya perceives something unique in Raj Kumar. Saya offers him help as she realizes worldliness, curiosity and hunger in the eyes of Raj Kumar. The character of Raj Kumar seems to embody everything that is both good and bad about British imperialism. He is a self-made businessman who through sheer enterprise and tenacity was able to raise himself out of his humble beginnings and build a teak empire, which is not unlike the imperialist urge to expand and improve. His empire, however, like Britian, relied on exploiting Indian workers for raw labor and disregarded the most everything else.