A posting about India - not least because it's Diwali. I bought this wonderful book about Raj-era Simla for £4 yesterday at a stall on Queen's Crescent in Kentish Town. It's from the high water mark of Empire - published in Calcutta in 1904, almost equidistant in time from the Rebellion/Mutiny of 1857 and independence and the end of the Raj ninety years later.
The book's been bashed around a bit, but it's complete, including hugely evocative photographs and illustrations, and a folding map. Simla was the summer capital of British India, replete with Viceregal Lodge. It was where all the Brits who could manage to hid away from the sun during the summer - up in the hills, within sight of the Himalayas. The presence of thousands of army officers, civil servants and above all their wives defined colonial-era Simla.
It tells its own story that a large part of this book is about amateur dramatics in Simla. And lo an behold, here's Colonel R.S.S. Baden Powell - yes, that Baden Powell, really! - taking to the stage in Japanese dress. The book records: '"The Geisha", in which General Baden-Powell, of Mafeking fame, played with Miss Turner and Mrs Elsmie, was an extremely popular production ...'. Indeed!
What badge, I hear you wonder, did scouting's founder get for this performance? Answers on a postcard please.
And as an encore, here's the 1902 cast photo from 'Floradora' at Simla's appropriately named Gaiety theatre
It's not all white mischief in the hills. The book also has explorations of Indian traditions and customs - a photo of a wrestling match, for instance - and plenty of landscapes and townscapes of a Simla long gone, along with its amateur strollers:
Do you have any more of the street photos, the chemist in particular ? Frank Bliss was my family, my great grandfather’s brother.
Leave a Reply.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!