THIS ABOVE ALL
Sahibs who loved India
had a small windfall in my fortunes. Last month my son living in
Mumbai redirected a bound manuscript of articles I had
commissioned for the now defunct Illustrated Weekly of India
over 30 years ago. The man who had sent it was Phillip Knightly,
once Editor of The Sunday Times of London. He was not
sure whether or not I was still around, so he sent it to my son
for disposal. I had invited English men and women who had lived
in India after Independence to write on "What India Meant
who had responded were Lord Mountbatten, members of the Indian
Civil Service, journalists, box-wallahs, housewives and others.
I went over them and found them fascinating as well as relevant
to our times. Far too long we have looked upon the English as
unwanted rulers who exploited India, kept their distance from
Indians, and as soon as their tenures were over, went back to
their homes in England. This lop-sided image of the English in
India persists in the minds of most Indians.
A majority of the Englishmen came to India because they could not get good jobs in their own country
It is true that
the majority of those who came here, came because they could not
get good jobs in their own country. They hated everything about
India—its climate, mosquitoes, flies etc. Above all, they
hated Indians. There were others who enjoyed the luxury of
living in spacious bungalows with staffs of servants, shikar,
riding, pig-sticking, drinking and dancing but kept themselves
aloof from Indians, having "white only" clubs.
was a third variety of the English race which liked everything
about India, disdained joining racist clubs, went out of the way
to befriend Indians and maintained contacts with their Indian
friends after returning to England. I was fortunate in having
quite a few of this breed—both those I befriended during my
long years in England and those I got to know in India.
closest to me were the Sinclairs. He (Sinbad) was head of Burmah
Shell. When in Bombay, I did not stay in a hotel or with an
Indian friend, but with Elinor Sinclair and her family. Later,
whenever I was in England, the Sinclairs’ home in London was
and Elinor died, it was the Croom-Johnsons. Henry was the head
of the British Council, his wife Jane, a tall handsome grey-eyed
blonde, made it a point to reach out to Indians. She stayed with
me in Kasauli. I and my daughter stayed with her in London. Now
both Henry and Jane are also gone. Only their memories linger. I
felt I owed it to my close English friends to record not only
what India but also Indians meant to them.
I handed the
manuscript to Ravi Singh and Diya Hazra of Penguin-Viking. It
was promptly accepted. Hopefully it will appear in book form by
the coming autumn under the title Sahibs who loved India.
can be divided into two equals — givers and takers, suckers
and spongers. Their relationship is symbiotic — one are
compulsive givers, the others thrive on them. I have always been
a sucker and resented being taken for granted. But I can't help
my nature. If any friend dropped in at meal time and drink time,
something compelled me to ask him to join me. He or she did so
as if doing me a favour. I no longer do so. I bluntly tell them
to buzz off as it is time for my lunch or dinner. I do the same
at my sun-downer. I tell them: "I enjoy my drink
Behind my back
they say with age I have become stingy. "He thinks he can
take his booze with him to the next world". I don't care.
Perhaps I will be allowed to take a crate or two.
I know of a few
families of which every member was a born sponger. Its in their
blood. Most of them also pretend to be do-gooders or
left-wingers. They make you feel guilty if you don't offer them
hospitality and open up your purses so that they could pursue
their good deeds. If you shut your doors to them, they think you
are mean and petty. They live in style, never return hospitality
but are over-eager to accept yours.
another class of spongers who get so habituated to being
entertained that they get convinced that it is their birthright.
Such are members of the now defunct princely order, retired
senior civil servants who were once in positions to grant
favours to lesser people. They accepted hospitality without
anyone expecting them to return it. You can see them by the
score at Embassy parties, book launches and large receptions.
They will be guzzling Scotch and swallowing canapes with an air
that they are honouring their hosts.
an exploited lot. They grumble, complain to their friends but
can do nothing about. It is in the order of nature not limited
to human beings. Similar divisions exist amongst animals, birds
and insects. They are drones and their workers—one takes, the
Car vs sarkar
A newly elected
member of the legislature was included in the Cabinet. He
decided to celebrate the occasion by buying a new car, in
keeping with his elevated status. So he bought the latest model
of Mercedes Benz. He was mighty pleased and said to his driver:
"This car I will drive myself (Main khud chalaonga)’’.
reacted scornfully: Sahib, aap sarkar chalaeye (Sir, you
run the government); car chalaana aap kay bus ka nahin
(You are not fit to drive a car).
(Contributed by J.P. Singh