Now that I’m back in London, I’ve discovered that I’ve got a copy of my father’s very brief diary entries for the last 74 days of his time in India, which were published in the Indo-British Review, XIV, no.2, June 1988. He had transferred in 1946 from a short period as a District Commissioner in Malda in West Bengal (he had previously been an under-secretary in Government House in Delhi) to be Deputy Secretary to Sir Frederick Burrows, the newly appointed Governor General of Bengal, who was a former President of the National Union of Railwaymen and who both my parents liked and respected. The diary is deeply and sadly uninformative about his attitude to Independence, or that of anyone else around him, concentrating on the business at hand – the drafting of consitutional telegrams, without description of their content, discussions about Partition, again without detailed comment, working on the Indian Independence Bill, visits from Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the Fellow of All Souls responsible for the detailed terms of Partition, and Christopher Beaumont, who acted as Secretary to the Commission, a visit from Gandhi (he adds in a footnote that ‘What I remember especially about the Mahatma’s visit was that he was the only Indian leader coming to Government House of whom all the office staff asked permission to down tools so that they could have a personal sight of him’). There was a certain amount of bridge playing and snooker with the Governor after dinner, as well as packing up his typewriter and gramophone (he later gave the typewriter to a church fete). On Friday 15th. August, 1947, the Indian flag was hoist and my father boarded a flying boat to leave for Karachi and home. Maybe the very ordinariness of the description of the transfer of power is itself eloquent of British attitudes at the time.
5 thoughts on “Indian Independence (3)”
Fascinating. Are you watching the telly programmes on Partition? How is it possible that the British Government, and Mountbatten, got it so disastrously wrong?
I’m sure your father thought that what the British Government was doing was right – I don’t think they could have had any idea of the chaos which would result, but I have read that the Partition borders were decided on far too quickly without sufficient thought.
I’m reading Arundhati Roy’s book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness at the moment and I feel it reveals much about India – very interesting.
For a different view of the British in India look for the East India Company at Home project’s web site. Between 2011 and 2014 academics and local historians studied the cultural items brought back to the UK by nabobs and others between 1757 and 1857 – many now in NT houses.
Thank you – good suggestion. Charles
Back in 2013 the Hampstead Theatre staged ‘Drawing the Line’ by Howard Brenton, directed by Howard Davies, on Cyril Radcliffe and Partition (http://hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2013/drawing-the-line/). The play was a little clumsy, and didn’t examine the broader political climate in which Partition took place, but it did show the British government as at best callous and uncaring about the consequences of its actions.