Free Press Journal

Return of the Raj

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  1. The Woman in the Bazaar

Author: Alice Perrin

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 170; Price: Rs 250


  1. Star of India

Author: Alice Perrin

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 261; Price: Rs 299

Alice Perrin was born in India in 1867 and having been sent back to England for her education, she returned later after her marriage to an engineer working in India. In the 16 years spent here, she wrote many books which must have been popular in those Raj days through the Brits’ love-hate attitude towards the “occupied” country.

Both the two books under review see India through British colonial eyes where there are “dark-faced” natives and a life of parties, dances, fetes and more. Which of course, lead to illicit love which draws the characters and yet repels them.

Both books started in villages in England where the prettiest English girls live in vicarages but are espied both my handsome older men, who marry them in both the stories and take them away to India, where the girls individually were longing to go.

From a penniless, stodgy life in the villages, they become the belles of the ball in their Indian environment. The husbands, who are hard at work have little time for their pretty (now beautiful) wives, who are bored with their lot and boring lives of parties and such like and naturally indulge in flirtations with their handsome young neighbours, who are dazzled by the beauty of the wives of their official superiors.

After the reader has had the fill of tennis parties and hunts (yes, they used to shoot in those days, especially if you were white) and other amusements, the mood in both books takes a turn to something more serious, more tragic. With all its seriousness the “Star of India” ends in a “happily after” mood and you turn the last page wiping a tear from your eye, even though it is as a result of a yawn.

The bazaar woman in the other book brings tears of laughter for the astonishing end, even though it is not supposed to be funny. But then Ms Perrin did make an effort and her novels must have been properly read in her time.

Why were these published at this time? Has there been a Raj awakening that this reviewer had not heard about? Surely there was more to the British presence in India than just love affairs of an almost incestuous kind. One Commissioner did work in the famine areas and the Star of the book’s title did venture into the areas of cholera, malaria among the poor native and outcasts. But the heat-bearing Brits continued to give their charity balls and played tennis and danced their Indian lives away, waiting for home leave, when of course they would miss India. They would then return to do missionary work and go to church on Sundays and plan to convert more heathens.

Why were these books republished? They must have been the Mills & Boons of that period. One can imagine the ladies relaxing at home in the afternoon stupor, gorging on this description of illicit love before dressing for the next evening dance. But today? British social life or history have other more intriguing and deeply authentic books to read or even watch on TV.