IT IS AUGUST 2017 AND THIS month is the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence so it is with haste that I am publishing this book of my father’s to coincide with this great date. Tomorrow is 1st September 2017 so the manuscript has to be uploaded today.
Life produces some really extraordinary coincidences because, by chance, on the 1st September 2015, in the stifling heat of a Berlin summer, I opened the manuscript of my father’s book, Viceroys of India: Synopsis, for the first time in decades to note he had finished his research, completed the book and dated it on the 1st September 1983.
As I reached into the archived files I have of his letters, documents and written memorabilia, I pulled out a letter he had typed to me for my birthday in 1979 in which he refers to the monumental date in his life when he took charge of his life in order to ‘to escape the tyranny’ of his existence, after having been orphaned at the age of eleven. The date was 1st September 1935.
It could not be more apt, then, for me to publish his superlative research online at the end of the month of this 70th anniversary, and although my first inclination was to re-write the book in a more contemporary style, I dropped the idea immediately when I saw the scope of the task involved. I have thus just published the book as a series of pdfs executed for me by an excellent company who did the donkey work of scanning and produces the required digital formats for CreateSpace.
Although he was a master of language, my father, like most highly educated Indians of that era, had an astounding ability to over-complicate language to such a degree that the most learned academic would give up trying to comprehend his extreme discombobulations, excruciating twists and turns of phrase; philosophical conditional and non-conditional statements and exacting legal jargon simply to reach for a double whisky. It is not good authorship if a book has to be deciphered to understand a point however articulate the writer, but please bear with the prose and understand that I could not re-write it while maintaining sanity if I want to enjoy any type of personal life during the next three years. I am sure my father’s excellent book presented just as it is can receive the praise it so truly deserves some fourteen years after his death.
He intended his book for schoolchildren in the subcontinent to learn about the British Raj (impossible, they would need a D.Litt., as a pre-requisite), however, in its original format, it is of complete fascination to the educated adult interested in this incomparable time in modern history, particularly at the end as Britain prepared to leave India. I do earnestly point you to his highly amusing and pointed observations which could only come from an Indian wryly observing the British in rule.
It is a demandingly difficult read, I repeat; but for our great amusement, I have left in the editing comments from his ex-girlfriend, Dahlia, who was the pain of my dear mother’s life. ‘Day,’ as she was known in our family, was a blue-stocking graduate from Cambridge who had a terrifying command of German and English grammar. The two of them had a secret code when she telephoned our home to speak to Pa about this work. We children would listen in from the sitting-room to hear Pa say, ‘Hello? Yes. Yes. Tiger, Tiger, 1,2,3,’ which in their jargon meant, ‘the coast is clear.’ Mercilessly, we would shriek with laughter, tears pouring down out faces as we imitated the conversation, bouncing on and off the sofa, if, for nothing else, than to reassure our poor mother’s unnerved heart. Day was the previous girlfriend from 30 years beforehand, from around 1951, and she was a real thorn in my mother’s side, particularly as my mother, Jill, dutifully had to send her £5 for Christmas on behalf of Pa each year.
Please enjoy particularly her highly amusing literary comments with their undisguised flirting at the end of the book after Page 110 (Pa’s Letraset numbering). I might add this was a labour of love of my father’s which was hammered out on a battered old golf-ball typewriter requiring miles of cartridge ribbon and cartons of white Tipp-Ex print-remover as he obsessively corrected his typing errors. To experience the agonised roar of a trapped animal followed by a string of expletives in those days meant that Pa had typed to the end of a page and missed a comma on the 2nd line. This was a twice daily occurrence. People born after the arrival of the Internet have no idea what this means, and you will, indeed, see what I mean and why I refused to re-type the manuscript. Although apparently finished in 1983, it had started many years beforehand when we were in our twenties in the late 1970s, at a time when we were still infinitely capable of collapsing in undignified mirth at the absurdly furtive antics!
However, as I journey myself into my original copy of his manuscript today, the gift to me is his remarkable resonance which shines through in joyous presence, lighting my immutable memory of him; that and the whiff of a Romeo & Juliet Havana cigar arising from the familiar, but well-worn, torn and yellowing pages. My old copy of Viceroys of India: Synopsis is surely the more evocative.
I am indebted to Jan Morris, CBE, FRSL, the eminent Welsh author and historian, to whom I wrote just after her interview on the BBC celebrating her 90th birthday in October 2016. Pa had an ongoing correspondence with her regarding this book, and her encouragement in 1983-84 for him to publish it was my impetus to write to her. She remembered him and the book, and gave me her blessing to include her name. What a wonderful testimonial to my father’s undoubtedly highly original, inspirational and meticulous research!
This is published with privilege and love for my cherished father, and in profound honour of his fatherland – both divided and undivided – the subcontinent and its people are for me an infinite joy and inspiration for its beauty, for its majesty and for its unparalleled spiritual magnificence.
Selima Gurtler, London.
 Subsequent entries dated 1984, I cannot explain.