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Lord Sandwich reviews 'Shadows at Noon'

Mumbai: Election poster for India’s first and only female prime minister Indira Gandhi | Dinodia Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

Earl of Sandwich

Earl of Sandwich

2 min read

A brilliant analysis of political and social change, Joya Chatterji’s history of South Asia is one of the most enjoyable reads around

Among serious histories of India, this book is a real surprise. The author is Joya Chatterji, emeritus professor of South Asian History at Cambridge and a life fellow of Trinity College. Coming from a Bengali Brahmin father and an English mother, she is well-placed to discuss the end of empire and the dramatic scenes all over South Asia after independence. She does this by weaving in a highly personal account.

Don’t be put off by the number of pages. This is a serious academic book, and there are a lot of footnotes and an epilogue. But it is also one of the most enjoyable reads around. She may be the first to convey the strong social and political personality of independent India, with the Raj (and cricket) left very much behind in second place.

Don’t be put off by the number of pages

The trauma of Partition, and Bangladesh’s later independence from Pakistan is well covered, including the often unrewarded struggle of owners and officials to recover property. But despite the losses we are reminded that the great Bengali writers and poets like Rabindranath Tagore are still the heritage binding East and West.

Shadows at NoonWhile generally unsympathetic to the imperial legacy, Chatterji offers a brilliant analysis of political and social change. As a scholar, she passes on considerable first-hand research and experience of poverty and famine. Under the heading of culture, she displays a wide knowledge of Bombay cinema – and even wrestling.

India will, surely, remain a close ally of the United Kingdom in view of our joint history, common language and growing diaspora. Issues such as minority rights, child labour and supply chains will continue to concern non-government organisations and the media who are themselves persecuted by Narendra Modi’s government. But there is also renewed interest in India and South Asia because of the many business and financial ties, especially through trade deals such as the new free trade agreement with India, multiple small and medium-sized enterprises and continuing tourism, so I think this book will appeal to a range of parliamentarians. 

Lord Sandwich is a Crossbench peer

Shadows at Noon: The South Asian Twentieth Century
By: Joya Chatterji
Publisher: Bodley Head

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