I have been trying for a few days now to write a post about Indian Summers, the new Channel Four drama series, based in 1930s British India. I felt somehow that I ought to, given my family interest.
But there has been a great deal of comment already though. Be it travelogues on Shimla where the series is set, travelogues on the places in Malaysia which actually doubled for vintage Shimla, pieces about the cast, the missionaries, the administration of British India. Many British India chat rooms have been buzzing with the why's and where's, the authenticity and so on.
And you know, despite my many posts about adding colour and "feeling" to your family tree, somehow Indian Summers has felt far too close to home for me. A step to far in seeing how things really were, seeing the segregation of British India up close and personal.
My Anglo Indian grandmother and great aunt had referred occasionally to stories which showed the casual racism with which they had lived in British India. Disturbing stories like going to a British club and being turned away because of the skin colour line on the sides of their hands, which were checked at the door. Or because their voices "gave them away" as Anglo Indian.
Indian Summers puts this racism right out there for all to see. The Royal Shimla Club was shown with a sign saying "No Dogs, No Indians", British characters casually refer to "blacky whites" for the Anglo Indian children of the nearby orphanage, the awful humiliation of an Indian civil servant invited to a British evening party. Just a few examples.
Then, today, I was listening to Desert Island Discs and the guest was Bryan Stevenson, an African American law professor and civil rights campaigner. He was discussing the lack of "truth and reconciliation" in the US, after slavery ended, after the white supremacist terrorist activities or even after the civil rights battles of his own lifetime. He talked eloquently of what he is up against but one story which struck me was of Stevenson was sitting, waiting, dressed in a suit, at the counsel table in a courtroom. The judge and prosecutor came into the courtroom and immediately told him to get out, saying he had no right to be at counsel table without his lawyer. Bryan Stevenson said that he told them who he was and they both laughed but offering no apology. Stevenson forced himself to laugh along because he did not want to prejudice his client's case. The client he was waiting to defend was white... He said that it really made him think about the state of the nation - that it should be so completely assumed that the lawyer could not be the black man.
It could be a story straight out of Indian Summers, straight from the heart of British India. And yet it is 21st century America. One in three African American boy babies is now likely to go to jail at some time in their lives. This statistic is the worst it has ever been.
In South Africa, the "truth and reconciliation" process referred to by Bryan Stevenson was aimed at allowing the two sides of apartheid to come together and talk and hopefully to move on and live in some kind of harmony. By simply packing up and leaving, the British avoided the need for this in India. To them, they were at the top of the heap and everyone "beneath" was one and the same. All Indians, all as bad as each other, despite the Anglo Indians' attempts to "be British" and despite the many religious differences in the nation. Indian Summers has, I think, done a fair job of showing this endemic feeling of superiority, shocking though it is to watch. But what is more shocking is that in so many places in the world, the same attitudes still prevail.
Do listen to Bryan Stevenson if you have a chance. It is a fantastic programme. And incidentally, take care when Googling.. Turns out there is a US porn star called India Summers.....!