Smith, Beatrice. [MS] Reminiscences of Life in India.

Smith, Beatrice. [MS] Reminiscences of Life in India.


4 volumes, varying formats, basically 4 slim ruled notebooks and exercise books covering 180 pages of text including some rather affecting original poetry. A fascinating and very personal memoir, obviously embarked upon as Britain’s power in India finally all fell to bits, “I’m writing this for my children and grandchildren”:

“June 6th, 1948. As India is changing so rapidly in every way I feel I would like to give some impression of life in India- starting in Victorian days...”

The memoir begins in 1876, when Beatrice was born in Bankura in Bengal: “My father was in the Imperial Indian Police, having been in the Military Police before the formation of the Civil Police. He had been offered a commission in the army, but his father, in the army, told him not to take it as he could not give him any private income + without it my Grandfather said life in the army would be impossible, or at any rate most uncomfortable.” She recounts her childhood (in quite remarkable detail) in Cuttack (once capital of the east Indian state of Odisha), where she recalls steamer journeys, her father hunting alligators, having an elephant “for camping”, and bungalow life in general, including “a very jolly cricket match at Lal Bagh, the Commissioner Mr. Cook’s residence, which had a huge compound and nice garden. The ladies were to play the men who had to play with broomsticks. As we hadn’t enough players for the ladies Mr. Arnott and Mr. Maddox played for us as well. I distinguished myself by knocking the Commissioner down!” She also frequently harks back to her childhood belief that the “John Company Baghan”, a sizeable and overgrown garden, was haunted by the ghosts of the crinolined British ladies of the height of the Raj. The narrative continues across the 4 volumes, some details extending into the 1930’s, but the majority of the memoir, filled with anecdotes of white civilian life in India, the occasional furlough in England and a myriad of of memories of a world that even then was cracking under the weight of its own anachronisms, is concerned with the 1870’s up to 1910 or so. Fascinating.

[Ref: 805]


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