Researching the Raj

On a visit to Udaipur in 1990


I’ve been fascinated by India from an early age. My father was posted to the North West Frontier – now the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan – in the 1930s, and used to tell many stories from his time there, as well as speaking fluent Urdu. This kindled my interest in the region.

On trips to India in my twenties I was struck by how British influence still pervaded, largely in the buildings and architecture, but in other ways too – in the bureaucracy encountered in booking a rail ticket, in the love for the English language, and in some traditions – the love of cricket, and tiffin in the afternoons. In some of the towns I visited – Agra and Jaipur for example – there were many forlorn, abandoned bungalows where British officials would once have lived, now derelict and crumbling, their gardens overgrown, together with churchyards full of graves of the British who had met an early death far from home. This got me wondering about the lives of those people – what must it have been like to make a home in such a different culture, so far from your roots, often in lonely and difficult conditions?

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