Friday March 01, 2024

A nostalgic foray into the closing days of British India

March 03, 2019

Audiences were catapulted back in time into the British India of the 1930s and the early 1940s at the Karachi Literature Festival on Saturday as Deborah Baker, a history researcher from the United States, and Anita Weiss, professor of International Studies at the University of Oregon, USA, engaged in a conversation.

The subject of the conversation was Baker’s book, “War and the end of empire”. The book is a treatment of the varied aspects of Calcutta in the World War II era, dealing with aspects as varied as exploration of the Himalayas, extraction of minerals from the mountain ranges, Calcutta with its share of spies, police informants, refugees from Burma, and the socializing of the British and Indian elites. It is an account of Calcutta’s experience of the war.

The book surely must be a treat for those who are avid travellers as it describes the awesome beauty of the Himalayas, and the forays by Michael Spender, an Englishman, for purposes of mapping and surveying the mountain range. The book is an account of the colonial outlook towards India and the stance of the colonial subjects towards the colonial overlord, Britain.

Baker, in her comments, said, “We, the West, actually forget the orient. We just give the impression that we

are the source of all the civilisation, democracy and liberalism.”

The book also tells of the softening of the colonials’ stance towards the locals with Spender marrying a Bengali woman.

By and large, the conversation gave one a deep insight into life in British India, the British Empire, and the global politics that was entwined with it at the time, as also the rise of fascism in Germany.