Friday, August 24, 2007

"Indian Summer"

Alex von Tunzelmann was educated at Oxford and lives in London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her first book, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, and reported the following:
Indian Summer is the story of the end of the British Empire in India, told through the lives of the people at the center of events, and through their relationships with each other. The most dramatic of these are the enmity between independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru and Muslim figurehead Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the conspiratorial alliance between Jinnah and Winston Churchill, and the love affair between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of the last viceroy of India. Page 69 details a relationship of paramount importance, but a lower profile: the close friendship between Nehru and the icon of independence, Mohandas K. Gandhi.

On the face of it, the two men were profoundly different. Gandhi was principally a spiritual leader, who believed in returning India to a ‘golden age’ of feudal purity. Nehru was emphatically anti-religion, and hoped to move India into a future of socialism and industrialization. Page 69 brings up a more minor difference: their attitudes to sex. Gandhi saw sex as sinful and had become celibate. Nehru replied that such prohibition “can only lead to frustration, inhibition, neurosis, and all manner of physical and nervous ills.” The two men rarely held back from heated argument with each other, but the bond between them only got stronger.

There is a hint about why this might have been on this same page. Gandhi was twenty years older than Nehru. He had four sons, but had not found any political heir among them. On page 69, there is a sad story about how one son, Manilal, fell in love with a Muslim woman, provoking the wrath of his Hindu father. “Your desire is against your religion,” Gandhi wrote. “It would be like putting two swords in one scabbard.” Gandhi’s troubled relationships with his biological family contrast with the far closer connection to Nehru. That connection, I conclude, worked on an emotional and a practical level: “Gandhi needed a link to the temporal world; Nehru needed a guru.”

It’s a sidelight on the book’s main theme, but a revealing one. If you’re looking for an intimate story of how the ties between a handful of people can bring down a mighty empire, read on.
Read an excerpt from Indian Summer and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue