Out of India: A Raj Childhood

Out of India: A Raj Childhood

Michael Foss

Language: English

Pages: 141

ISBN: B01N8Y7K27

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Born in India in 1937, Michael Foss's childhood was spent between the cold, grey austerity of Britain under threat, and the brightly lit and teeming vitality of wartime India. Here, beautifully evoked, is a childhood spent amongst grudging and unloving English relations; a sufferance of cruelly harsh schooling, a bleak, dank landscape; and a sense of permanent cold and a savage hunger even for dreadful food.

All of this was suddenly changed for the sub-continent's jumble of conflicting sights and sounds and smells: the vital, stinking, hot, noisy, crowded streets; the calm, quiet grace of moghul architecture; the ancient Hindu kingdoms reduced to stones amid the roots of trees; the monumental Victorian buildings that echoed British power; the attitudes of the Raj; the self-conscious majesty and pomp. The British, the author notes, lived on but not in India.

"Our rules for living were not their rules," he writes in this wry, affectionate reflection on a childhood spent between two continents, two civilizations, two versions of history.

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ride out at dawn for a spin round the hill-top in an open cabriolet while some drunken voice attempted a melody from Bing Crosby, or that new soft-shoe transatlantic swing. Her life went flying by, but my mother had not reckoned with Hitler and a world war. * What had happened to her hard-won advantages? She heard the night bombers drone out from the airfields of the fenlands nearby. Sometimes the noises of the air were so loud and puzzling she held her head in her hands. Those hands were

One after another in line astern the big ships entered the Suez Canal, as if shuffling slowly through a sea of sand. By our side, surprisingly close but far below, strings of camels often kept pace, swinging along with their tortuous gait. It looked like a new way of doing something even as old as walking. Then the ships threaded the Great Bitter Lake, members of a monstrous modern caravan, huge arks making so little stir that their wakes hardly ruffled the water. * When we reached Suez we

left, statutes represented white men – kings, politicians, generals, men with the rape of society and many capital murders under their belts – or occasionally the freaky presence of a woman. But that figure of Sivaji on a horse, he seemed to have a look of provocation that would be worrying to governors of empire. And what lesion of the imagination had caused such bloated, disordered buildings as the Taj Mahal Hotel or, even more grotesque, Victoria Terminus station? Castles in the air, forced

cracked brown heels padding below the stiff whites of his servant’s clothes. Then she was free, but for what? Food or meals were no bother to her, since we ate in the hostel dining-room. She retreated to the intimate world of army wives, a sorority held together, as far as I could see, by cigarette smoke and loud laughter and the minute investigation of petty scandals. These gatherings were leisurely affairs, well-coiffured heads thrown back in the long chairs, feet at rest on a pouffe, a

No one was paying attention. We plodded on through a battered perimeter gate to confront the city of Glasgow and the unknown land beyond. An elderly sentry with a .303 Lee-Enfield rifle from the time of the Great War carefully closed the gate after us. * ‘Whose bairns are these?’ the old man said again, crinkling his eyes and squeezing a little rheumy water out at the corners. The thin old lady with the ramrod-straight back looked up from polishing boots and replied sharply, ‘Why, Tom, you

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