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.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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