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BW Businessworld

Diary Of The Gora Sahibs

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Pramod K. Nayar is a distinguished academic, yet Days Of The Raj (Penguin) is not weighed down by scholarly analysis. Rather, it takes a quirky look at the ‘non-official and leisure life’ of the British in India. In deadpan humour, the preface says the British, like all rulers, had their favourite leisure activities and that everyday life was not all colonial pleasure.
Nayar has rich material to work with: the Raj left behind the largest imperial archive in the world — nine miles of shelving at the British Library in London! Investing the meticulous zeal of a historian, with the love for language that a professor in English must have, Nayar is enjoying himself as much as taking his readers on a trip. The book traverses a whole gamut of unintentionally hilarious situations revealed in the records: how does a gora sahib react to being propositioned by a nautch girl? How to deal with particularly fierce tigers on shikars and irritable khansamas (cooks), not to mention the district magistrate’s shopoholic wife? Comic stereotypes they might all be, but in Nayar’s eclectic selection, they come alive, these ‘personal dilemmas and professional hazards’ of being a gora sahib in colonial India.
Neatly, the book goes from the way the British travelled in India to the way their homes were run, and to their ‘favourite diversions’ and, in the end, leaves readers with selections that reveal how they interacted with the local population. Finally, Nayar is an underrated writer. His preface and chapter introductions alone are worth the price of this book
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 22-03-2010)