I am currently writing, ‘Confessions of an Imperial Childhood’. Born and brought up in British India in the 1940’s, with a war raging in Europe, loved and indulged by Indian servants, on the eve of Independence in 1947 my family and I had to leave forever. The book is about my subsequent experiences, first for a year in rule-bound, traumatised post-war Britain, and then eight years in Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. The confessions are not only about how I, as a child of the British Empire, had to come to terms with a new reality, but also about an intrinsic racism in my blood and the gradual realization of the shared humanity of all of us …
“It was a long hot journey by train ambling down through the middle of India. We chuffed for hours and hours, day after day, through desert with spindly trees and skinny cows. Whenever we reached a station, even if it was in the middle of nowhere, there would be crowds of Indians all shoving and pushing as they packed themselves and their bundles into the third-class carriages. Those that couldn’t get in, crowded onto the open platforms, or clung to outside handles likes flies. We children also stood outside our first class carriage with smuts flying into our eyes. Although my mother shouted at us to take care, it didn’t do any good. What else were we to do to fill in the endless hours of dusty boredom? Besides, my older brother took particular pleasure in breaking rules. He even copied the Indians, hanging onto the handles of the train and, leaning right over, gobbing and spitting onto the railway track. It was 1947, India was about to get its independence, and we were on our way ‘home’ to England.”
As we steamed away from Bombay watching the land turn a misty grey and the trees become pieces of thread, the Gateway to India, which had towered above me when I’d stood under its stone arch, got smaller and smaller until it finally disappeared from sight. What I couldn’t possibly have known at nine years old with my whole life stretching, like the ocean in front of me, was that during that time there were going to be changes so big as to be unimaginable; that everything I thought I knew was going to have to be changed and that the whole world would turn itself upside down.