Many simply didn't want to integrate into the Indian way of lifeby Burhan Wazir / March 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
Four decades after the Indian rebellion of 1857, George Curzon, then viceroy, wrote: “While we hold onto India, we are a first-rate power. If we lose India, we will decline to a third-rate power.”
Immigration, jobs and the search for meaning cast a long shadow over David Gilmour’s wonderfully entertaining The British in India, which in 600 pages covers the years of the Raj and ends in the 1960s. Gilmour’s book is an intimate look at the ordinary and extraordinary Britons who left the United Kingdom and worked in India’s factories, schools, hospitals and hunting grounds.
As Gilmour writes, India—or at least the promise of India—attracted all manner of people: technocrats, entrepreneurs, conmen, dreamers, as well as those who had fallen on hard times. The six-month passage was arduous, conditions in India were harsh and easy fortunes were hard to come by. Yet as the British grip on Indian society tightened, hundreds of thousands of British men and women found work in new businesses and railways. Women were employed as nurses and doctors and home helpers.
The British in India is most revealing when Gilmour turns his attention to those Britons who found succour in remote forest outposts and hilltop stations. He also writes compassionately of policemen and factory workers. Many of them were pr
ofoundly homesick, had little interest in integrating into their new surroundings and were often dismissive of the Indians they encountered. Current commentators and politicians who condemn a perceived lack of integration among immigrants should pay especially close attention—few communities were as zealous about protecting their way of life as the British cantonments of India.
Future historians looking to understand when the seeds of Brexit were originally sown might want to look at the beginning of the last century, when Britain first started to worry about its place in the global hierarchy.
The British in India: Three Centuries of Ambition and Experience by David Gilmour (Allen Lane, £30)