Going Jungly

Posted on by David Gelber

When the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly appeared on the television programme Who Do You Think You Are? he discovered to his amazement that there was an Indian in his family tree. His great-great-grandfather was an Irish labourer who enlisted in the British Army in 1856 and was sent to India, making him one of thousands […]

The Making of Mahatma

Posted on by David Gelber

Reading this magisterial new biography of Mohandas K Gandhi, one could almost imagine that the British Empire might have been saved had the imperial government, not to mention the Indians, listened to him more. As is pretty well known, he didn’t turn against the empire until well into his career, long convinced – beyond reason, perhaps – that the nation of John Stuart Mill and of the numerous liberal friends he had made while studying law in London would eventually show what he took to be its ‘best side’ and grant self-government to India, on the same basis as Canada and Australia, under the aegis of its beloved king-emperor. It was for this reason that he actually aided the British side

Imperial Designs

Posted on by David Gelber

The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies was granted its royal charter in 1600. This gave what became known as the East India Company a monopoly on all English trade ‘to the east of the Cape of Good Hope’. India became the principal focus of the Company’s operations, and by 1772, […]

Riding the Gravy Train

Posted on by David Gelber

Things aren’t what they used to be on Indian Railways. There was a time when, on boarding a long-distance train, you were invited to fill in a menu form for as many lunches, dinners and breakfasts as your journey looked likely to entail. The form was then collected and you forgot what you’d written. But […]

Muddy Waters

Posted on by David Gelber

In the myths of Hinduism, the Ganges is a river to be both fought and fought over, to be mastered or importuned. A sage, disturbed in his meditations, razes the sixty thousand sons of a king with his eye. One of their descendants pleads for the Ganges to descend from heaven to earth to cleanse […]

Initiation into Despair

Posted on by David Gelber

There is a recurrent grumble that ‘colonial’ writers are unfairly over-represented on every short-list of every literary prize. It arises from the belief that novels from overseas (and particularly from India) are overrated. Novels like this one, however, suggest that any over-representation is perfectly justified. The quality of the writing in The God of Small […]

729, By The Way

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Surely it is self-evident that woodworking’s primary appeal for the man about town, that is to say, for the Kamasutra‘s man about town, would be the fashioning of wooden dildoes? Yet James McConnachie, in his study of the history of Vatsyayana’s book on the art of love, finds this bizarre!  Last year the University of […]

A Functioning Anarchy

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

India confounds most Indians. None, for instance, can even hope to read the banknotes they use daily; there are eighteen scripts embossed on each one and more linguistic constituencies are agitating to be represented. Differences of caste and creed mean that most Indians are unfamiliar with the lives of most other Indians. Imperial eminences – […]

A Great Soul

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

I remember quite clearly the moment when I heard that Bapu had been shot, and I remember being comforted by one of my parents’ servants, who assured me that he was now seated beside Vishnu on a lotus in heaven. Nothing better illustrates M K Gandhi’s unique hold over the popular imagination in India in […]

Divided It Stands

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Indian Summer is surely destined for Hollywood. Equipped with a handsome and flamboyant cast, Alex von Tunzelmann has already more or less arranged the settings, designed the costumes and produced a script which flits from place to place and from character to character, deftly interweaving private lives with political events in a racy, dramatic and […]

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RLF - March