The raj

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

Rejecting the Raj: Gandhi’s acolytes in the West

Madeleine Slade, born in 1892, was a typical upper-class Victorian daughter of empire: a childhood riding around her grand-father’s estate in Surrey was followed by years of rejecting suitors and performing Beethoven on the piano. Occasionally she would sail across the world to visit her father, the commander-in-chief of the East Indies Squadron, who was responsible for Britain’s fleet in the Indian Ocean. But in 1923, a trip to Switzerland to visit the Nobel laureate Romain Rolland in the hills of Villeneuve would change the concert pianist’s life forever. Rolland had recently written about an Indian civil rights activist called Mahatma Gandhi. ‘You have not heard about him?’ he asked