13 June, 2021

Then And Mhow

I know the Raj in its last days could often be snobbish, racist, boring, and self-satisfied but was it always as awful as the Mhow of Chinnery's Hotel?

Then And Mhow
AS a child of the Raj, that subject has an endless fascination for me and so I galloped through Chinnery’s Hotel. But like Paul Scott and other novelists of the Raj, Jaysinh Birjepatil made me aware how lucky I am to have lived in Independent India.

All the claustrophobia and the other phobias of the Raj are there in this novel about small-town life under the British, the town being Mhow with its strong military presence. The dominating phobia is the British attitude to the Anglo-Indians, a severe blot on the escutcheon of the Raj. I won’t reveal the tragedy that unfurls because that phobia survives nearly four decades after the Raj in the daughter of the owner of Chinnery’s Hotel. Suffice it to say that it leads to incest accidental and then intentional.

All the well-known features and personnel of British Raj life are there in the Mhow of Jaysinh Birjepatil. There is the cantonment with a commanding officer who protects his soldiers who have beaten a sweeper to death. There is the police officer who tries to do his duty and defy the army officer to see that the...

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