One of my more expensive buys from Oxfam (£4.99) - but then it is a curious period piece, with period photos to match. Rosita Forbes was a remarkable woman explorer and travel writer - there's a biographical note on the web with the appropriate title Appointments in the Sun.
This title was published by the Right Book Club - a counterblast to the hugely more successful Left Book Club - in 1939. Not always to approving reviews. A review tipped in to this copy concludes of Miss Forbes: 'It is a great mistake on her part (and in the very worst of taste) to write about the private lives of some of those in authority in these [princely] States. Never have we been in greater need of their support and understanding than to-day, and such remarks as Miss Forbes makes can do no good, but might well do irreparable harm.'
I bought the book because it has a chapter on Kashmir's royal family, where again the author writes 'in the very worst of taste'. She recycles some of the more vicious colonial era stereotypes and prejudices about Kashmiris. I apologise for any offence caused by repeating her words - but they are instructive of the attitude of the colonial elite as late as the 1930s:
'Throughout history the Kashmiri has been a victim. From his own character and the position of his country on the high road of invasion he was predestined to be conquered. Foreign rule, continuously changing, has made of him a rogue. His villainies are insignficiant and habitual. They do not detract from his charm. The Kashmiri proper will always run rather than fight. He has a genius for the misrepresentation of the smallest and least important fact. Lamentably untrustworthy and undoubtedly attractive, he invites oppression, and a succession of conquerors have made habitual his natural inclination towards slavery. A hopeless people, but with a ready wit and imagination that makes them the first of story-tellers, they love and live on rumour. ... They may not be courageous, noble or virile, they may not have the fighting qualities of the Rajput and the Dogra, but they are excellent cultivators, capable of developing their rich land, and their endless lies are often a form of courtesy, or a habit. Straight speech to so quick-witted a people is dull as cold boiled mutton. They offer prevarication as a spiced dish.'
Later in the chapter, Rosita Forbes returns to this theme, remarking: 'The Kashmiris have known too many grievances under a succession of conquerors to be happy without one.'
It is alarming to think that these ossified and ill-informed sentiments were once common currency among at least some of the English in imperial India and its princely states.
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