This is a compilation of essays on ?What India Meant to Me? written by English men and women who had lived in India after Independence and which were sent to the compiler when he was working as editor of the Illustrated Weekly. Khushwant Singh points out that for far too long the Britishers have been looked upon as unwanted rulers, who exploited India and as soon as their tenure was over, returned to England to the comforts of their hearth and home, forgetting the time spent in India.
It is true that the majority of those who came hated everything about India??its climate, mosquitoes, flies, the filth, dirt and smell?. Above all, they hated Indians. There were others who enjoyed the luxury of living in spacious bungalows with servants, shikar, riding, pig-sticking, drinking, and dancing??but even they kept themselves aloof from Indians? and subscribed to their ?White Only? clubs. The third variety of English men and women liked everything about India, ?stayed away from the racist clubs, went out of their way to befriend Indians and maintained contacts with them after returning to England. Some even gave tacit support to the freedom movement and stayed behind in India after the country gained Independence,? reluctantly returning to England when the bread-winners in the families retired.
Lord Mountbatten talks of his setting up of the Supreme Allied Command in South East Asia in October 1943 with ?a million Indian sailors, soldiers and airmen serving under me. I was particularly proud of this and admired their courage and steadfastness.? About the people of India he says, ?It was a wonderful experience when the people of India on all levels appeared to return our feeling so that the whole of our time in India from beginning to end was one of real happiness in spite of the many difficulties which had to be overcome.?
Escott Reid, High Commissioner of Canada to India, who came to appreciate the struggle of the government and people of India speaks of their struggle against the ?evils so various, so numerous, so intractable and so monstrous ? the evils of hunger, illiteracy, disease and ignorance of feudalism, social inequality, casteism and communalism, the evils of superstition and of obscurantism.? He speaks of the wonderful memories he had of Jawaharlal Nehru and his personal kindnesses when as a diplomat, ?I had the privilege of knowing one of the great men of his time.?
Rowland Owen, a bureaucrat says, ?I am proud and happy to have seen in my years in Delhi, India ?rise, regenerate from the gloom? and to hear the future call ?with a manifold sound to crescent honours, splendours, victories vast?.?
Stanley Jepson, who was once the editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, says, ?India reminds me through the various tribulations of a great elephant shrugging off whatever elephants do shrug off.?
For Sir Arthur Dean, an engineer, ?India meant to me a very friendly relationship with a number of interesting and pleasant people.?
Horace Alexander, Quaker teacher and writer, finds that India has progressed ?but acute poverty has not been overcome. Unemployment has not been abolished. Even the trait of untouchability is evidently by no means abolished in the villages? To the outward eye, it would seem that the changes that Gandhi and his colleagues hoped to achieve are slow to arrive.?
JAK Martyn, the second Headmaster of Doon School says, ?I, to be honest must admit that my own love of India does less credit to me as to India. I cannot honestly say that I have made the necessary effort to make such progress in those respects and that my love of India is more because of what she is than what she has achieved.?
Peggy Holroyde, writer, considers India a paradox as the country is ?princely rich and peasant poor, warm of heart yet inexplicably cruel, painfully beautiful and harsh, puzzling to the Greek logic of mind yet clear in immediate flashes and as the frosted ice on the far reaches of the Himalayas.?
Arthur Hughes, a government servant and teacher, talks of his love affair with India ?which began on the eleventh day of December 1927, the day I set foot in India, and has continued ever since.? He considers himself lucky to have established contacts and experiences as ?India led me gently by the hand, drew me into her home and grappled me to her soul with hooks of steel, fringed with a thousand small tendernesses and attentions.?
Lionel Fielden of BBC ?hated it (India) from the first moment and through all my five years there.? What India ?meant to me was certainly many good friends and lovely places, but also overriding poverty, apathy, indifference and hideous overpopulation.? He however was a well-wisher of India as he wanted to see India ?not pruned and rootless in the barren soil of materialism, but firmly rooted in her own ancient traditions, bringing from the past a measure of serenity and dignity to grace the present.?
This book is worthy of being read to get an idea of what our rulers must have undergone before they could bring themselves to love India. What is more touching is to read compiler Khushwant Singh, who has crossed the age of 93, quote lines from Thomas Moore'sOft, in the Stilly Night:
When I remember all,
the friends so linked together,
I?ve seen around me fall
like leaves in winter weather.
I feel like one
who treads alone,
some banquet hall, deserted
whose lights are fled,
whose garlands dead,
and all, but he, departed.
(Penguin Books India Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)