Indian Summer

I just ordered Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire written by Alex Tunzelmann. Below is the first paragraph from the book:

In the beginning there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.

And then, after two hundred years of British imperialism, the author argues, the situation was completely reversed! (The “beginning” she’s referring to is 1577, when the Mughal empire was at its peak under the great emperor Akbar, in case you’re wondering.)

It’s difficult to imagine a country as diverse as India to be “culturally unified” as the author suggests, but even after adjusting for the exaggeration, the shift in opposite direction is as conspicuous as it is interesting. It shows what imperialism often does to the ruled, and to the ruler.

indian summer

Due to some early mixed reviews and the gimmicky subtitle (The Secret History of the End of an Empire) the book didn’t make it to my bookshelf in spite of its tempting subject. But now someone is making a movie based on this book with primary focus on Nehru and Edwina’s “clandestine and intense” relationship and my curiosity skyrocketed. And why not, after all one of the cover designs of this book features the infamous picture (the image on the right) that inspired me to write a post that’s very close to my heart: Love to Hate Nehru.

Unfortunately, but expectantly, the production of Indian Summer has been halted. The Indian government officials are evaluating the salacity of the script. “It was a relationship of great friendship between individuals of the opposite sex but at what point that relationship becomes more is between them. The desire to guard a reputation is institutional,” said Nehru’s biographer M J Akbar.

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3 responses to “Indian Summer

  1. Vishal,

    I would love to know your thoughts after you finish reading the book.

    I am interested in knowing some logical and fact findings about such statement that shows glory of india and the way it was reversed. Because I feel how is that possible in span of 200 years, yes that is big number – but than who was responsible – only the monarchy or the masses?

    We will discuss this.

  2. Vishal

    Ritesh,

    Sure!

    This book is not about the causes of that polemic shift though. I’ve already read the introductory chapter of this book, and she uses that opening paragraph (quoted in my post) just as a set-up for the following chapters. The idea is to introduce the reader about how big and drastic the British occupation was.

    Then the rest of the book revolves around three characters: Nehru, Lord Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten – what they did and where they were during the last several months of the British empire in India.

    The enormity of the occupation that the author propagates in the introductory chapter, makes the “hasty imperial retreat” in 1947 more pronounced and startling. Below is an excerpt from Pankaj Mishra’s detailed and positive review in The New Yorker magazine… I think this passage pretty much sums up the gist of the entire book:

    “Sixty years ago, on the evening of August 14, 1947, a few hours before Britain’s Indian Empire was formally divided into the nation-states of India and Pakistan, Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife, Edwina, sat down in the viceregal mansion in New Delhi to watch the latest Bob Hope movie, “My Favorite Brunette.” Large parts of the subcontinent were descending into chaos, as the implications of partitioning the Indian Empire along religious lines became clear to the millions of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs caught on the wrong side of the border. In the next few months, some twelve million people would be uprooted and as many as a million murdered. But on that night in mid-August the bloodbath—and the fuller consequences of hasty imperial retreat—still lay in the future, and the Mountbattens probably felt they had earned their evening’s entertainment.”

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2007/08/13/070813crbo_books_mishra

  3. Ok got it.

    I guess it would still be a very interesting read, seems some of the chapters in “Freedom at mid-night” and this book might overlap.

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