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India at 60 makes good and bad news in Britain

world Updated: Aug 13, 2007 15:07 IST

IANS
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The 60th anniversary of India's independence is being marked by a raft of books, features and television programmes by the British media that are invariably framed against the ideology of the British Empire and orientalism.

The mists and myths of the British Empire continue to provide the backdrop of most such endeavours. In fact, anyone whose grandmother was born in India or had a grandfather who worked in colonial India has come out with diaries and reflections of the days of yore.

Robert Beaumont, the son of Christopher Beaumont, has surfaced from a quiet village in Yorkshire with a collection of his father's archives. His father was the secretary to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was chairman of the India-Pakistan Boundary Commission.

In one of his diaries, Christopher writes: "The viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame - though not the sole blame - for the massacres in the Punjab in which between 500,000 to a million men, women and children perished. The handover of power was done too quickly."

Pamela Mountbatten, the younger daughter of Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, recently published a book "India Remembered" with her daughter India Hicks as the co-author. Pamela narrated her recollections of India, mainly of Nehru, during an interview with the BBC Sunday.

She said: "Yes, Nehru and my mother were in a deep emotional love, but what nobody wants to understand is that it was only just that - it was not so much physical. He was a very charming man. My father was fine with it. He was anyway inured to my mother's affairs."

In the Indian summer, apart from Pamela's book, other books that are up in the charts are "Gandhi: the Man, His People and the Empire" by Rajmohan Gandhi, and "The Great Partition: the Making of India and Pakistan" by Yasmin Khan.

Almost every British newspaper, including regional dailies, has published several lengthy features on India's independence. These include dispatches from their foreign correspondents based in New Delhi or Mumbai, most of them focussing on the rise of India's economy and how the country has changed over the years.

The BBC is marking what it calls 'The 60th Anniversary of Partition' with an 'India and Pakistan Season'. Channel 4 recently telecast a series titled 'Empire's Children', in which prominent British individuals who were born in India or other parts of the British Empire revisited their places, narrated their memories and met old friends.

Much of the rare footage used for the 'Empire's Children' and 'Lost World of the Raj' (BBC2) comes from the private collections preserved in the Bristol-based British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.

In a feature on BBC Radio 4, veteran journalist Mark Tully said: "The biggest problem for India is that the rapid economic growth has only led to stunning changes in the lifestyle of the rich and the middle classes. There is still widespread poverty in the cities as well as the countryside."

But not every media exertion has been informed or attuned to the historical and contemporary realities of India and Pakistan. Many viewers of Sky News were left uneasy as its anchor Sunday tried to get India's high commissioner, Kamalesh Sharma, to speak on Pakistan while he steadfastly refused to speak on historical or recent developments in the neighbouring country.

Many winced as the anchor, who was clearly ill informed about the subject, patronisingly asked Sharma about the partition: "I read last night that millions of people killed each other during partition. Where did that hatred come from?"

Similarly, a feature produced by BBC 2 with the well-known British Asian actor Sanjeev Bhaskar left many Indian viewers here perplexed. The feature was titled 'India With Sanjeev Bhaskar' and involved Bhaskar travelling around India, trying to interpret its realities to a British audience.

Bristol-based writer Maithreyi Nandakumar wrote in AIM magazine: "The 60 minutes devoted to the grandly titled 'India with Sanjeev Bhaskar' left me feeling bored, vaguely irritated and definitely not as engaged as I'm normally likely to be - sucker as I am for any documentary about the country.

"Hounslow-born and bred Sanjeev was never entirely sure how to conduct himself through this film. Not to labour a point too far but Sanjeev was completely lost when it came to interpreting Kathakali.

"Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal have made it into the upper echelons of British entertainment through sheer dint of their hard work and persistence. Surely, the time has come for discerning programme makers to move beyond treating them as the spokespersons of an entire sub-continent that they are clearly not?

"The burden he bore was tangible. Sanjeev made it clear time and time again that he was above all a bloke from Southall," Nandakumar added.