Forget Eton. This Mumbai team should play Harrow at Lord’s

The first thing I do is turn my watch upside down. India is five-and-a-half hours ahead of the UK, so the trick does the conversion for you. Well, sort of – a time like 11.40 works perfectly (becoming 5.10), but anything on the half hour leaves you guessing which number the short hand should be pointing to. Still, it feels appropriate, because I learned it from Christopher Martin-Jenkins on Test Match Special, and cricket is the reason my son and I are here. Our first match is in Jaipur, where the Rajasthan Royals host the Delhi Capitals. Ever since I was Barney’s age (14) I’ve wanted to visit this country

The complexities of our colonial legacy

It happened by accident. In 1829 the naturalist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was trying to hatch a moth pupa. He placed it in a sealed glass container, along with some soil and dried leaves, and set it aside. Sometime later he was surprised to find that a fern and some grass had taken root in the soil, despite having no water. As Sathnam Sanghera writes in Empireworld, the discovery ‘revolutionised the logistics of international plant transportation’. Suddenly there was a means of securely transporting seeds and seedlings across vast distances. Empireworld is a sequel to Sanghera’s wildly successful Empireland. Where the latter examined the legacies of empire in Britain, this book

The greed and hypocrisy of the opium trade continue to shock

‘A fact that confounds me now when I think back on it,’ writes the acclaimed Indian author Amitav Ghosh at the start of this expansive and thoughtful book, ‘is that for most of my life China was for me a vast, uniform blankness.’ There were many reasons for this, he says. The war between India and China in 1962 might have played a part, along with the complex relationship between the two countries since then; but also the way that ‘an inner barrier’ has been ‘implanted in the minds’ of many around the world – one that blocks out China but allows in the ‘language, clothing, sport, material objects and

Has Bazball rescued — or ruined — cricket?

The date 6 June 2021 was a grim day for cricket. As the world was adjusting to life after the pandemic, a Lord’s Test with a full house felt like ‘the promised kiss of springtime’. And so it was, until the final afternoon, when New Zealand challenged England to make 273 in 75 overs. The gesture was recognised as generous by all except the faint souls in the England dressing room, rendered frit by the possibility of defeat. Thousands of spectators, bewildered by five hours of fearful prodding, withdrew their consent. Cricket has witnessed more profound changes in the past decade than in the previous 100 years With ‘the Hundred’

Why Sunak’s prayers in Delhi matter

Ever since Alastair Campbell’s declaration that ‘we don’t do God’, no prime minister – and almost no politician – has discussed their faith. David Cameron said his Christianity came in and out ‘like MagicFM in the Chilterns’, a line he borrowed from Boris Johnson who self-defined as ‘a kind of very, very bad Christian’. But Rishi Sunak is different. He’s a practising Hindu who has a shrine in No. 10 for family worship and works with a Ganesh idol on his desk. This being Britain, no one cares: a distinguishing point about our country. Sunak gets flak for being a Winchester old boy, a Brexiteer and an ex-banker, but no

Britain should not be nervous of India

For a disconcertingly large constituency in Britain, Indian history ends in 1947.The two centuries leading up to that bloody year – when British rule formally ended, India gained independence and Pakistan was conjured into existence – were replete with books, articles, pamphlets, lectures and debates on India. What unites this body of work, apart from colonial condescension, is an effort to comprehend India. That impulse faded once India attained freedom. After independence, India surged forward; Britain’s idea of India, however, remained captive to the past Britain’s sins in India – racism, carnage, plunder – are a matter for British consciences. But a more confident India will also one day acknowledge

James Heale

India’s century: Sunak’s plan for a new Indo-Pacific alliance

When Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, India’s press was thrilled. ‘From Age of Empire to Rishi Raj’ declared the Times of India: another headline hailed the ‘Browning Street’ phenomenon. ‘Indian son rises over Empire’, proclaimed the New Delhi TV channel, a play on the colonial-era adage that the sun never sets on Britain’s empire. When Sunak visits New Delhi for the G20 next week, it will be quite a moment. Two Hindu heads of government will meet – the old power and the new. Sunak’s agenda is to bind Britain closer to a growing Asian economic powerhouse – which last week completed its first successful moon landing – while containing

The phoney mystics who fooled the West

In recent years when we’ve talked about the relations between India and the West, we’ve gone back to stressing the impossibility of interchange. A hundred years ago, E.M. Forster ended A Passage to India with the certainty that Aziz and Fielding could not be friends. Forster thought things would be different after Indian independence, but the spectres of cultural appropriation and the assertion of ongoing imperialist guilt have discouraged equal exchange.  Meher’s spiritual energy was soon devoted to persuading Hollywood to make a massive movie about his life That may explain why the excellent story Mick Brown tells in The Nirvana Express has hardly been covered in the past. How

Would we welcome bears in Britain again?

In April this year, a jogger in the Italian Alps was mauled to death by a brown bear. This was reported as the first bear killing in Italy in modern times. But it probably won’t be the last. Bears have been reappearing in northern Italy as part of a rewilding project in the last two decades, returning to regions they had been driven from hundreds of years ago. More encounters between bears and humans are inevitable. The poor Sun and Moon bears are preyed on in Asia for their bile, valued in Chinese traditional medicine In Eight Bears, Gloria Dickie explores how we can coexist with the remaining bear species

The Roma have been feared and shunned for centuries – but who exactly are they?

Published in German in 2011, this book was the high point of a 20-year-old tradition of ‘Anti-Gypsyism Studies’, which suggested that all previous histories of Roma by non-Roma represented a self-serving, defensive ideology of oppressors demonising the oppressed. Anti-racist scholars should therefore stand aside from such colonialist impertinence and leave the actual history of Roma to be written one day by Roma themselves. They should concentrate on chronicling the racism of their own people – Europeans, and especially the Germans. The book is not, therefore, a history of Roma, and was not intended as such. The original title was Europa erfindet die Zigeuner, which means ‘Europe invents the Roma’. It

How many black or Asian Britons feel a strong sense of European identity?

Though wokeness is a vile thing, it has contributed to our culture in one fortunate way – by inspiring brilliant books which refute it. The woeful lack of anything passing for analysis (probably a colonial tool of oppression, like brunch) on the SJW side has thrown into gloriously sharp relief the difference in the intellectual firepower between those who believe in free speech and those who resemble Veruca Salt after joining the Stasi. We have Andrew Doyle’s The New Puritans and Remi Adekoya’s Biracial Britain; they have Laurie Penny’s Sexual Revolution and Jolyon Maugham’s Bringing Down Goliath – the latter category comprising unintentionally hilarious scribblings which will soon be up

How the British saved India’s classical history

In India, a generation has been brought up on the academic Edward Said’s unhistorical prejudices towards the British and what he called the ‘colonial gaze’. In his eyes, British Orientalists were guilty of what is now termed ‘cultural appropriation’.  To his followers it therefore may come as a surprise to learn that it was British Orientalists who in fact rediscovered India’s classical history and heritage and made it available to the rest of the world.  Sir William Jones, a brilliant polymath, contributed more than any other individual to India’s national renaissance. Alongside his day job as a judge in Calcutta, Jones mastered Sanskrit, translated Indian classics and used it to

Adrift in Berlin: Sojourn, by Amit Chaudhuri, reviewed

Feelings of dislocation are at the heart of Amit Chaudhuri’s award-winning novels. Friend of My Youth (2017) followed a writer’s unsettling trip back to his childhood home in Bombay. Before that, Odysseus Abroad (2014) charted the day of a lonely English literature student from India as he meandered around London. Now, in Sojourn – Chaudhuri’s eighth novel – we meet a nameless first-person narrator adrift in Berlin. It is the early 2000s, and the 43-year-old, Indian protagonist has just arrived as a visiting professor at a university for four months. He doesn’t know anyone, and navigating the streets is confusing. After giving his inaugural talk, he is accosted by Faqrul,

Seize the moment: Undercurrent, by Barney Norris, reviewed

Barney Norris’s third novel opens with a wedding in April. The couple tying the knot don’t matter; it’s the occasion that does, paving the way for a story about love, family and stories themselves, which is apt from a writer who is known for his dramas on the stage as much as on the page. Ed, who narrates half the novel, is there with his girlfriend Juliet, wondering why they’re yet to get married. It’s the expense, he supposes, and the not knowing what sort of ring to buy. And so he allows time to drift by, ‘just letting it happen to me, rather than me doing very much with

The man who changed Indian cinema

At 6ft 4½in tall, Satyajit Ray was head and shoulders above his countrymen. His height was unheard of among Bengalis, ‘a low-lying people in a low-lying land’, as the colonial saying went. With his stature, jawline and baritone voice, he might have been a Bollywood hero. Instead, he chose to tower over the world of art-house cinema, a directorial giant among the likes of Bergman, Kurosawa and Fellini, alongside whom he is credited with inducting cinema into the temple of high culture. His standing was secured with his first film, Pather Panchali, which premièred at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1955. India then only churned out musicals which,

Gandhi’s killer is more loveable than his victim: The Father and the Assassin reviewed

Dictating to the Estate is a piece of community theatre that explains why Grenfell Tower went up in flames on 14 June 2017. The abandoned block stands, like a cenotaph, a few minutes’ walk from the social club where the show is presented. The local council never cared much for Grenfell’s 120 families. Plans to destroy the tower and expand the estate – with higher rents, of course – had long been under discussion. A one-bedroom flat in west London goes for half a million pounds so there were profits galore to be made. ‘A gold mine for the council,’ said one developer, ‘and they don’t even have to dig

Why does India get a free pass for supporting Russia?

When Russia invaded Ukraine the Indian government rapidly launched ‘Operation Ganga’. This was not a military operation, nor did it aim to supply Ukraine with weapons – it was an operation to extract the 500 Indian students stranded in Ukraine. After Prime Minister Narendra’s Modi’s video call with Putin, the Russian president ordered his invading army ‘to ensure the safe exit of Indian nationals from the armed conflict zone.’ The Indian government quickly dispatched civil servants, not weapons, to Poland, Hungary and Romania to assist their fleeing citizens. Since February more than 22,000 have been repatriated. Otherwise, Modi’s attitude to Ukraine has been decidedly non-committal. He proffered his ‘deep anguish

Could the Ukraine war save Taiwan?

The phrase wuxin gongzuo – ‘working with your mind on Ukraine’ – has been trending on Chinese social media network Weibo. Essentially what it means is ‘distraction from work because you’re obsessed with the war’. One blog that monitors the site, What’s on Weibo, reports that shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a page with updates on the conflict had received more than two billion views. Censorship, of course, limits what Chinese social media commentators can say, but there is clearly plenty of sympathy for the dying civilians and fleeing refugees. There’s little doubt that in Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound in Beijing, Chinese Communist party higher-ups are, in a more

TB is back with a vengeance

If you were a teenager before 2005, one reminder of tuberculosis in British life is that small circular scar on your bicep. Maybe you’ve explained to your children why it’s there, if you ever knew. The BCG is no longer a routine vaccination in the UK, a revision which signalled to many that TB was over. What used to be known as consumption became treatable, preventable and ostensibly consigned to medical history as a threat of the past. We tell stories about diseases as if they are constant things. ‘It’s no worse than flu’ has become a familiar phrase; but flu is not all that common, it varies wildly in

The rise of Indian cancel culture

In 1975, India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi suspended democracy. The so-called ‘Emergency’ was largely of her own making, giving her the power to rule by decree. Hundreds of prominent writers and journalists, not to mention opposition leaders, were bundled off to jail. Remarkably, that was all it took for the rest to fall in line. Newspapers stopped printing stories that offended their ruler’s sensibilities. Shivarama Karanth, one of the doyens of the modern Indian novel, took off to ‘compose ballets with lilting music’ in the Canarese countryside. The Illustrated Weekly of India, meanwhile, began running acrostic love letters spelling the name of the premier’s balding, bovine son. How did the