Hindoo Holidayby J.R. Ackerley
In the 1920s, the young J. R. Ackerley spent several months in India as the personal secretary to the maharajah of a small Indian principality. In his journals, Ackerley recorded the Maharajah’s fantastically eccentric habits and riddling conversations, and the odd shambling day-to-day life of his court. Hindoo Holiday is an intimate and very funny account of an exceedingly strange place, and one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century travel literature.
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Meet the Author
J. R. Ackerley (1896-1967) was for many years the literary editor of the BBC magazine The Listener. His works include three memoirs, Hindoo Holiday, My Dog Tulip, and My Father and Myself, and a novel, We Think the World of You (all available as New York Review Books).
Eliot Weinberger’s most recent book is the essay collection Oranges & Peanuts for Sale.
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Ackerly has accessed a place where foreigners are usually not entertained:the Indian psyche.There are cringing flunkies and charming fellows here which urban Indians and foreigners travelling around India often encounter. But the real twist in the tale comes because of Ackerly's singular ability to make people act naturally in front of him,and show them their true colours.This ability alongwith his ability to write honestly and unjudgementally enables him to reveal to us the flesh-and-blood characters who think, feel, and live like many people we intimately know. Books about India often deal with the spirituality, the monuments, the culture, the color, and the royalty, of India.They make you believe there are no people real living there but interesting, obsequious, colorful characters who go all out to earn their Bakshish by pleasing the moneyed outsider.They are handled humourously or politely and patronisingly lest the hospitality stops on the next trip.Books like EM Forste's'Passage to India' and other fiction about Raj goes to other extremes to make up for this sketchy and shallow treatment of Indians in literature, and make their Indian characters a tad too rounded. Ackerly, surprisingly for his day and age, avoids all cliches, is hardly impressed by any monuments or traditions. His focus is people( one could also say men or boys) and he hardly has time for anything else but the idiosyncracies of the Maharajah whose personal secretary of sorts he becomes during his visit to Chokrapur(Chokra means Boy, nudge, nudge...), or the eccentricities of hindi teacher, the sagacity and balance of the prime minister and other the beauty and charm of beautiful youngmen he befriends or often feels spurned by.His involvemnet with the Indians he meets is intensely personal and plumbs such depth which acompanies relationships between people of the same colour and kind. His colour blindess and his complete imperviousness to 'difference' makes him come across as very contemporary. This a must read for all Indians, for they will be surprised at the sexual glasnost of the Chokrapur of the 1920s, and will be able to find characters whom they could easily relate with ( and most closely with Ackerly himself for his values and attitude are of any young urban Indian of today)as they crave freedom from superstition and strict religious code and are rearing to embrace westernization. For others who want a fresh look at a over-hyped and worse-for-wear cliches here is a book with insights and a view which one can never trade for all the descriptions of the Taj Mahal.