Cover illustration: Krishnendu Chaki
It's not often I re-read a novel. But over the past week, I have returned to this book which I first came across shortly after it was published in 1993.
Mulligatawny soup is the greatest, indeed perhaps the only, culinary achievement of the Anglo-Indian community - and that's not simply people of mixed background, but a distinct and now dwindling community which has, at some generations removed, some European paternity.
This is a tender account of one Anglo-Indian woman, and her brave but largely unsuccessful attempt to come to terms with issues of identity - racial, cultural, national. Elsie-Nora Rogby from Shahpur in north India struggles against the dated assumptions of her own community - ultra-loyal and distrustful of natives and even more of Indian nationalism - and of the sterotyping by other Indians of Anglos as promiscuous, washed-up, a blind alley of history.
There's much more to this novel. Perhaps because it touches on issues of identity which have played out in my own life over the past two decades, I remembered it - and sought it out for a second read. In the intervening years, I have got to know Anglos in India, and come across Anglos in north London (the novel opens and closes somehere near Mornington Crescent).
The community, certainly in India, no longer harks back to the Raj - it is fully and proudly Indian. Perhaps the Elsie-Noras of today have a better life than she had.
Peter Brookes cartoon in 'The Times'
The first time I've been to Liverpool since Derek 'Degsy' Hatton was deputy leader of the council. The occasion - the Liberal Democrats' conference. (It was work, not party loyalty, that took me there.)
What a stunning city Liverpool is these days. The Albert Dock done up as museum and restaurants but still with that sense of the sea - more, and better, Victorian municipal architecture than any other of the great northern cities. A comfortable, lived in place.
The conference. Well, I'm not going to get in to the politics. But I found Peter Brookes
's cartoon for today's 'Times' - 'with apologies' to both - the best for a very long time. Especially for those of us who can remember 'With the Beatles' when it came out almost half-a-century ago.
I tried hard at the conference, as befits any squirreler away of lapel badges, to find badges referring to the coalition. Nothing. At the Lib Dem stall, which sells just about anything you could imagine of use, or not, to a party activist or candidate, there was not a single item that gave any sense that this party was back in government for the first time since well before the Beatles.
One stall had bars of 'Clegg and Cable' chocolate for sale. No sign of the 'Clegg - Cameron' milky bar kids.
If you are curious about my modest haul of lapel badges from the Lib Dems, here they are. (A couple, as you will see, are from the British Humanist Association stall).
On to the late night Glee Club, still surely the best political sing song around. At the biggest hall in the Liverpool Hilton - what a smart venue for such radical ferment - the massed voices coalesced around opposition (or at least a semblance of unease) to the coalition.
The latest version of the Liberator Song Book
has a new title: 'Twelve Days of Coalition'. Here are the words. Sung last night with huge delight. The lyrics are, I should mention, almost identical to those of the old Lib Dem Glee Club favourite, 'Twelve Days of Merger' - though in that version the soggy SDP is portrayed as the ungenerous ally.
I'm happy to report that the 500 or so present sang 'The Land Song'
with the usual fervour - everyone on their feet, is if it were the Lib Dem national anthem (which, after a fashion it is), and waving song books as imaginary ballot papers. It's prompted me to get on with my attempt to chronicle the history of this curiously affecting song.
And it's nice to know that tradition has its place even in the daringly new political landscape.
In today's 'Guardian' review section, Geoff Dyer explains why he spent well over £1,000 for a yellowing 1927 letter of no great historical value written by D.H. Lawrence. The purchase was, he says, 'ludicrous and completely out of character'. But he's not regretted buying the letter for a second. It's in a double sided frame on a wall in his study, where it makes him 'feel intimate with one of the most remarkable men of the 20th century'.
I wouldn't go for Lawrence, have never spent anywhere approaching a four figure sum on anything of this sort, and have no great desire to buy letters and manuscripts. But I do understand, and share, that love of tangible things - pamphlets, ephemera, association items - which allow a vicarious sense of connect with a moment, a movement, a man or woman. How better to get a touch, a feel, of the past.
Crete means Knossos, as far as cultural monuments are concerned. At least, that would be the general view. But visiting for the first time recently, I was underwhelmed. The Knossos site - of vast antiquity, a millennium older than the Parthenon - is a mish-mash of fairly bare ruins, and slightly brash reconstruction. You can't quite tell where the original ends and the rebuilt begins. And some of the reconstruction has the aesthetic appeal of a school out-building.
What I wasn't expecting in Crete - fine Venetian sea forts. The one above is on the small island of Spinalonga. It later became a leper colony, and persisted as such into the 1950s - the last in Europe.
Below is the imposing fort at Rethymnon, built to be big enough to accommodate the town's entire population. When the Turks eventually came, they simply bypassed the fort and took over the adjoining town. And when the fort eventually fell, they built a rather splendid mosque in the middle of it - that's the white cupola that can just be made out.
During the eighteenth century, thousands of Cretans converted to Islam. More recently in 1923, with Crete securely a part of Greece, there was a forced exchange of populations - Muslims from Greece in one direction and Orthodox Christians from Turkey in the other. Tens of thousands of Cretan Muslims were forced to leave their island. A sad postcript to centuries of occupation