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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book review: John Master's Novel on India during the Raj"Bhowani Junction"


There is one man who epitomizes the Raj in his writings. He is John Masters (1914-83) an Anglo Indian writer who brought alive the Raj in his books. Masters wrote prolifically about his association with India and the Raj. One of his books, Bhowani Junction has captured the imagination of the public. Made in to a movie with Ava Gardner in 1956, the novel is a swan song on the last days of the British Raj.

There is no denying the fact that a lot many English men made India their home and one of them was John Masters. Masters wrote Bhowani Junction in 1952, when India had gained freedom. The book by John Masters written in a racy style is a de facto portrayal of the Anglo Indian community who had a close association with the Police and the Indian Railways. The Anglo Indian is a dwindling lot in India as most have migrated to Australia or the UK. Masters in his inimitable style brings out in this book, the dichotomy of the Anglo Indian community which could trace there pedigree to English blood, but were never entirely accepted by the English as their equal.

 The story revolves around the period when the Second World War was over and the British under Attlee had decided to leave India and go away. This was a period of uncertainty for the Anglo Indian community who to say the least were bewildered. This is succinctly brought out by Masters through the character of the heroine, an Anglo Indian girl named Victoria. The girl is searching a niche for herself in the changed environment, which was to emerge after the English left India.

John Masters create a 28 year old beautiful and restless heroine, who decides to become an Indian and loves a Sikh. But the clash of cultures is poignantly brought out by Masters as the girl despite visiting the Gurudwara expects to be kissed by the Sikh, which never takes place. She ricochets from this relationship to love an English army officer Lt col Savage, who is the Officer Commanding of a Gurkha battalion of the British Indian army. But this relationship despite taking on a carnal hue still leaves the girl more bewildered. Masters however faithfully portrays the character of most Anglo girls and he brings out the fact that these girls were rather roughly treated by the English as sexual objects.

 Masters brings out the dichotomy of the Anglo Indian who was not completely accepted by the British and at the same time felt he was superior to a native. The writer creates some excellent portrayals of an Indian revolutionary, political leader and the general atmosphere that pervaded the last days of the Raj. More important his description of the caste conflict between the higher and lower castes is certainly worth its weight in gold. Masters writes in simple English. The book is easy to read and I dare say one can finish it in one sitting. The writer certainly captures the imagination of the reader. There are a lot many books written on the Raj, but a novel with the theme of Independence and the raj is a rarity. The book is certainly recommended for all readers who have a nostalgic feeling for the Raj and also love a good and straight love story.