Did we like it?
The latest in the BBC’s outstanding Lost World Of… series used home movie footage taken by families living in India between the wars. Fascinating and absorbing.
What was good about it?
• The fantastic Britishness of one or two of the contributors. Nancy Vernade, for example, described how she contracted malaria shortly after she was married: “That was too bad. Just one of those things,” she said, with admirable restraint.
• The information that most British families had to pack up and move every six months or so as the man of the house received promotions. It was an arduous task, but Jocelyn Abbott was still able to proudly show off her intact china that she had bought in the 1930s and had survived all those moves and made it back to Blighty. “I had quite forgotten about the square vegetable dish,” she whispered.
• The fantastic collapsible dining chair manufactured in India specifically to aid Brits in their movements. Ingenious.
• Sulaiman Chacha vividly describing his job as a servant, where he would work the punkah, a fan to cool the family down, by hand. His anecdote about a mean boss who fired him was particularly well told as well.
• The tremendous images of inflated buffalo skins that acted as rafts on rivers as families travelled across the country. Of course, as the hides were inflated, they didn’t weigh much, which afforded the wonderful image of a single Indian man apparently carrying a large buffalo on his back with ease.
• Norman Jackson, 94, who explained that the best way to learn the language was: “To take a dictionary to bed with you. Of course, the dictionary would have two legs…”
• The great sense of nostalgia felt by all the contributors, who universally loved growing up or living in India, where they were afforded so much freedom and fascinating experiences. Particularly good was Brian and Margaret Williams’ trip back to an area of Pakistan that was part of India, and to the church where they were married. It was a tender, romantic moment as they recalled their wedding day.
• Former BBC India correspondent Mark Tully’s brilliantly eloquent speech about leaving India, going to prep school in England and then returning to India with the BBC and smelling the unmistakable scent of marigolds.
• No over-wrought music, a restrained narration and a steadfast refusal to resort to the saccharine.
What was bad about it?
• Occasionally the British beliefs were a little… different, such as when one contributor claimed that the women charged with mowing the lawn by hand, by literally plucking at the grass, ‘thoroughly enjoyed themselves.’
• The story of Frank Jordan, whose father was British and his mother Indian. Frank, along with thousands of other mixed-race children, were sent to a kind of orphanage, unwanted by both of his parents. Interestingly, the tea export business was so important that British workers were not allowed to bring out their wives. Consequently, many sought comfort in the female Indian workers, which gave rise to this large number of unwanted children.