India for the English

Rajnarayan Chandavarkar

  • The British Conquest and Dominion of India by Penderel Moon
    Duckworth, 1235 pp, £60.00, April 1989, ISBN 0 7156 2169 6
  • Raj by Gita Mehta
    Cape, 463 pp, £12.95, June 1989, ISBN 0 224 01988 0
  • The Last Days of the Raj by Trevor Royle
    Joseph, 291 pp, £15.95, June 1989, ISBN 0 7181 2904 0

The history of the British Raj is emotional, complex and controversial. It invokes guilt and shame, nostalgia and pride, for diferent reasons, in Britain as well as in India. It represents not merely a relic of the past but a vibrant, self-generating, living myth. Its collective memory, images and symbols have proved indispensable to the definition of Englishness, or perhaps Britishness. In the ‘sceptical’ 1960s, Trevor Royle tells us, some people considered the British Raj a ‘shameful thing’, and ‘the idea of empire was met with derision by younger intellectuals’; now, in the Eighties, happily liberated from guilt, ‘people want to know ... why the privilege of being British has been so absolute,’ and ‘the benefits of empire ... are being examined again with interest and, let it be said, not a little pride.’

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