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Plain Tales from the Raj Paperback – July 1, 1988

23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


One of the most enjoyable books I have read ... It is an authentic record of the survivors of British India ... a book which takes on where Kipling left off ANTONIA FRASER If you read one book about the empire, let this be it -- Michael Wood Both a guide and an entertaining companion ... Humour, drama and regret fill its pages MAIL ON SUNDAY A lovely and compelling account of what India meant to the British between 1900 and 1947 ... One of the best THE TIMES --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Charles Allen is an oral and military historian specialising in colonial matters. He is the author of several previous books and lives in north London. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Futura Publications (July 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0860074552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0860074557
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Charles Allen's collection of stories about the British Raj in India by those who lived it is a wonderful insight into an often turbulent period of both British and Indian history. With first-hand accounts by the men an women who were a part of the Raj, Allen presents us with a kalidescope of exactly how it was in India in the early part of the 20th century. Whilst many of the eyewitnesses offer a typical British upper class view, there are wonderful descriptions of everyday life in village India. We are also presented with a glimpse of the moral standards of those who lived in the hill stations during the hot Indian summer and one can only surmise that with the passing of time, not much has changed. Kipling would have been proud of this broad panoramic view of the land he loved and wrote about with such affection. The cassette version is a sheer delight and is worth more than one listening. A must for any Indiophile or lover of Kipling.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sarakani on February 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
Pithy though this book is it will keep you glued and captivated. British individuals who were masters or participants in Colonial India talk frankly about what it was really like. Many of the people featured in this book like Deborah Dring, Reginald Savory and Philip Mason (who also introduces the volume) would now be dead. The voices were recorded for radio in the mid 1970s. Now the memoirs resurface like something out of a faraway fairytale.

Charles Allen, now getting on himself was originally put in charge of the recordings for a BBC radio series documenting the period of Colonial India between 1900 and 1948 from then living witnesses to a bygone age by Philip Mason. Thank goodness that Mason had the courage to launch this project which was regarded as somewhat politically incorrect even then. Allen is much suited to the task as the heir to a British family that lived and worked in Colonial India over several generations.

The stories reveal a peculiar breed - the very caricature of the English as they once were putting up an even more formal front than they would have at home as the rulers of India - few in number but ruling by prestige. Every part of the book reveals character, humour or history with priceless aphorisms spoken in true English style:

"You get these burning plains right across India, fifteen hundred miles of them, absolutely flat with revisers wandering through them fed by the snows, and behind them the greatest range of mountains in the world. You gradually go up from tropical ... climbs, through European and Alpine flora until you get right up into the snows.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on September 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
BBC compiled this book with interviews from 60 Brits who had lived in India while it was still a British colony. India -- the jewel in the crown of the British empire --was deep in the consciousness of British society and generations of young, ambitious Brits sallied off to India to make their careers as civil servants, soldiers, merchants, or missionaries.

The book is organized by themes in each chapter. A chapter on households describes the homes and servants the British had, "The Club" tells of that famous British institution transferred to the sub-continent, "Hazard and Sport" is about polo, hunting, tennis, and pig-sticking. Every aspect of life in India is taken up in 21 chapters. It was not an easy life for the colonials, but it was impossibly exotic, witness the popularity of writers such as Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham. Rigid British notions of race and class fit well with Indian caste laws; otherwise India was as different from Great Britain as it could possibly be. That the colonial enterprise was rotten at the core was concealed by stiff upper lips and a government that was "probably the most incorruptible ever known."

"Plain Tales" includes a brief biography of each of the interviewees who represent a cross section of British society in India and a glossary of Anglo Indian words (pukka = proper). This book presents a bird's eye view of the life of British subjects in India and their interaction with their unwilling Indian hosts, the environment, and their fellows. It's all a really fascinating tale. And, finally, in 1947 when the British had to go, they threw their topees -- those ridiculous cork hats -- into the sea and returned to England and Home.

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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 27, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A gem of a book! Too often, stories of the experience of imperialism are scrubbed to fit in with more modern sensibilities instead of staying true to the authentic tale. This book is glorious for the truth of the voices and the attitudes, morals and viewpoints that were the norm for the time. Invaluable to understanding what life was really like, and what motivated those who were the Raj. This was a wonderful read, completely free from political correctness and censorship. Finally a book that seemed to tell the tale as it was. The book flows well, the stories are engaging, the language is crisp and clear, and valuable information is present on every page. There is no attempt to portray the people as anything other than who they were, they are allowed to tell their own stories. I'm very thankful that someone realised how valuable this material would be to future generations and took the steps to capture it while it was still available.
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