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Plain Tales from the Raj Paperback – July 1, 1988
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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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Disappointed that it was merely a paperback and not the lovely book we had purchased several years ago. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Rose-Anne Hall
For those with some contact with India, a fascinating look at the life experiences of the people who were part of the British RajPublished 16 months ago by James Harvey
A fascinating history of daily life in India during the British occupation. These are stories collected from people who lived in India and provides incredible detail of the... Read morePublished 17 months ago by TM
The period covered in this book is my particular interest. Very well written and totally engrossing . Erin van Schendel.Published 18 months ago by Erin van Schendel
A thoroughly researched and readable description of life in India during the British Raj. Allen's narrative includes interviews and first hand accounts--a wonderfully entertaining... Read morePublished 20 months ago by rainbowgirl
Full of information, reads almost like a novel. Recommended for those with an interest in British imperial/Indian history.Published 22 months ago by HSP
I was heading to Bangladesh where I now live and a colleague suggested this book as a good background resource on the region. Read morePublished on September 21, 2013 by Yvette M.
Loved it! Read it under an umbrella in Fort Lauderdale last week and really enjoyed it. Brought the era of the British Raj to life through narratives of people who actually lived... Read morePublished on April 27, 2013 by chica