25 November, 2020


Alive with halftones of Empire, India took a slow hold of the British imagination. Raj nostalgia then played out as a curious re-initiation.

After the British left India in 1947, it was for thirty years a blind spot in the British imagination. What did India mean to most people in Britain during that time? A place we had left. Of course, that wasn't quite true. Well into the 1960s, there were British tea-planters in Assam and boxwallahs at the managing agencies of Calcutta and Bombay and both cities had clubs where the membership was European.

But in Britain I don't think the word 'India' meant very much. To me, it meant a few family stories. My grandmother, the daughter of a sergeant in the Royal Artillery, had been born in Meerut; my father sailed briefly for the British India Steam Navigation Company (but never saw India). When my grandmother died, in 1955, we inherited some souvenirs and placed them carefully in our new display cabinet: a small stuffed alligator, a gavial or ghariyal, which might have come from the Ganges; black cups and small vases known mysteriously as 'Lucknow pottery'; a book in Urdu script (though I didn't know that then) which my great-grandfather had...


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