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 of Britons who ended up in India by accident, someone who had never planned to go there. While in India he married the daughter of another Irish soldier. Her mother was Indian. The extraordinary thing was that no one in Connolly’s family had told him of his Indian ancestry.
Most historians of British India are concerned with the narrative of empire. They chronicle the doings of viceroys, make out the balance sheet of the costs and benefits of British rule, or analyse the rise of Indian nationalism. David Gilmour’s previous books include a magnificent biography of Lord Curzon