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Ghost riding India in a Rolls-Royce

Ghost riding India in a Rolls-Royce
Having read Sir Edward Penderel Moon’s, The British Conquest and Dominion of India, I was unsure of what to expect when I was handed Dominique Lapierre’s, India My Love. Book pundits may naturally question my juxtaposition of these two books, but I have my own reasons to do so.

Sir Moon was a British national, Lapierre, French. Both nations, Great Britain and France at the height of their glory were imperialist powers.
While, Sir Moon’s book had long accounts glorifying British valor in India, Lapierre’s book in the first section prefers language heavily loaded with western supremacy.  

India, for long has been a source for West’s romanticism with Third World nations. Lapierre, who writes about the exclaimed stares he got when he, along with Larry Collins, travelled the length and breadth of this magnificent nation in a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost in early seventies, seemed unaware that mass production of cars in India began much later in 1982.

Well, I may not want to go full ninja on Lapierre for his alleged lack of sense, what baffles me in this book is the manner he tries to project himself as the emancipator of millions of Indians. Lapierre writes in French and it is a well understood fact that his books are mostly for foreign markets, expatriates and also for Indian people who wouldn’t make the extra effort of knowing the cruel realities of India.

With them he scores a 100, but with people like me he may have to re-negotiate his literary skills. One of the good things about Lapierre is his background as a journalist which makes him go to great detail to source content for his books. A lot of times, authors, who haven’t previously been journalists tend to get carried away in erudition and deviate majorly from the basic thought they are writing about.  In this account, Lapierre, though heavily inclined towards his own style of projection does not leave out India and the whole idea of being an Indian national anywhere.

While the first part of this reminiscent account has fleeting instances of comparison of the present times with those of the colonial era, the second part, overflowing with details about his charity work in Calcutta (now Kolkata)  is too monotonous except for an anecdote or two, which might make you feel interested. When the tragedy of human life in the vast slums and shanties of such nations is colloquially celebrated, it becomes a basis point for a reader like me to flip the pages fast and look for something of which I don’t know about.  

However, two anecdotes had me interested in particular. The first one was when Lapierre’s eyes got set on a green Rolls-Royce Corniche at the company’s Conduit Street showroom, located near the Victoria Station in London.  Having decided to buy it, he approached the salesman and the company representative who refused to sell him the car on knowing that he wished to take it to India. On insistence he was told that the company deemed India unfit for the use of its cars as the nearest service station was located, 3,000 kilometres away in Kuwait.

Flustered with the condemnation, Lapierre decided to talk to Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India who instead suggested him to take a relatively cheaper and old Silver Ghost model to India. Having brought and shipped one to his intended destination, Bombay (now Mumbai), Lapierre was overjoyed. However, during the course of his stay, the car developed a snag and Lapierre started thinking that the aspersions of the British men may have come true.

However on speaking to the British High Commissioner, Lapierre took his car to the vestigial British Garage in Connaught Place in New Delhi.  When his car was returned to him, he could not believe that an Indian garage after 25 years could find the problème and fix it too. The venerable Sikh, who with his deft hands exonerated the Rolls Royce of all its problems, was written highly about Lapierre, who believed the British consternation about selling one of their finest cars was unworthy of any thought.

The second instance is when Lapierre while in Calcutta was acquainted to Satinath Sarangi, who had decided to devote his life for the many Bhopalis who had been rendered incapacitated after the Union Carbide Factory in the heart of the city, leaked deadly methyl isocyante on the intervening night of  2nd and 3rd of December, 1984. Lapierre, who took to writing to highlight Bhopal’s cause lambasted the callous indignity of the American MNC in accepting responsibility.  The emotion with which Lapierre wrote about the incident was laudatory.

The book overall doesn’t amuse me much but then I’m not the only one who has read it. However, with its crisp English it can definitely pass of as a foreigner’s fabled trysts of India.
Devang Chaturvedi

Devang Chaturvedi

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