Jawaharlal Nehru on the relations between Englishmen and Indians (1936)

Introduction: J. Nehru (1889-1963) studied in England from 1905 to 1912. After his return he lived in Allahabad and worked with his father, Motilal, a famous lawyer. At that time he encountered the Englishmen whom he later on described in his autobiography published in 1936. Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) whom he quoted was the author of the famous novel „A Passage to India“(1924).
(see also AHOI, Ch. 7, section: Election campaigns and office acceptance)

To quote (E.M.) Forster.... every Englishman in India feels and behaves, and rightly so, as if he was a member of an army of occupation, and it  is  quite impossible  for natural and unrestrained relations between the two races to grow under these circumstances. The Englishman and the Indian are always posing to each other and naturally they feel uncomfortable in each others presence. Each bores the other and is glad to get away from him to breathe freely and more naturally again.

            Usually the Englishman meets the same set of Indians, those connected with the official world, and he seldom reaches really interesting people, and if he reached them he would not easily draw them out. The British regime in India has pushed up into prominence, even socially, the official class, both British and Indian, and this class is most singularly dull and narrow-minded. Even a bright young Englishman on coming out to India will soon relapse into a kind of intellectual and cultural torpor and will get cut off from all live ideas and movements. After a day in office, dealing with the ever-rotating and never-ending files, he will have some exercise and then go to his club to mix with his kind, drink whisky and read Punch and the illustrated weeklies from England. He hardly reads books and if he does he will probably go back to an old favourite. And for this gradual deterioration of mind he will blame India, curse the climate and generally anathematise the tribe of agitators, who add to his troubles, not realising that the cause of intellectual and cultural decay lies in the hide-bound bureaucratic and despotic system of government which flourishes in India and of which he is a tiny part.

            If that is the fate of the English official, in spite of his leaves and furloughs, the Indian official working with him or under him is not likely to fare better, for he tries to model himself on the English type. Few experiences are more dreary than sitting with high- placed officials, both English and Indian, in that seat of Empire, New Delhi, and listening to their unending talk about promotions, leave rules, furloughs, transfers, and little tit-bits of Service scandal.

            This official and Service atmosphere invaded and set the tone for almost all Indian middle-class life, especially the English-knowing intelligentsia, except to some extent cities like Calcutta and Bombay. Professional men, lawyers, doctors and others succumbed to it, and even the academic halls of the semi-official universities are full of it. All these people lived in a world apart, cut off form the masses and even the lower middle class. Politics was confined to thus upper strata. .........

(Jawaharal Nehru, An Autobiography ( London, first published 1936, 22nd ed. 1958) p. 28 f.)


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