Volume 1 - A Volunteer in 1960's India
A Personal memoir illustrated with 60 original photographs
Fresh from University, the author was sent in 1967 with the British Volunteer Programme to teach at a remote University in Central India. Based on his letters and diaries of the time, and illustrated with 60 original photographs, he recounts his discovery of that recently independent nation, his integration into a society very different from his own and the pleasures and frustrations of working in a new university.
Personal anecdotes are interspersed with reflections on decolonisation and the place of foreign volunteers. Initially stereotyped as a white "sahib", he found this a role which did not correspond to his North of England working class background.
This first volume recounts his first year at Sagar. Later ones will describe his second year and his wider travels in India.
I went out to India in 1967.
At 21, I was six months older than the independent country itself and the same age as the remote University in which I had been sent to teach.
The world was in a ferment of decolonization. The decade had already been swept by MacMillan's "wind of change" with over 20 British colonies negotiating their independence and new democratic constitutions. Apartheid South Africa was excluded from the British Commonwealth and subject to international sanctions. America's neo-colonial war continued to escalate in Vietnam.
The Third World was a new concept and we in the West tended to speak - depending on our degree of optimism - of Developing, Underdeveloped or even Backward Countries.
Despite the initial stereotyping I faced as a fresh-faced European in post-colonial India, I was not a natural sahib.
"We have arranged a room for you in the University Guest House. Please come in," said the Professor.
Two or three khaki-clad male servants were hovering around. One of them unlocked the padlock on a door and we were shown into the suite in which I would live for over a year.
... We finished our tour with the bathroom.
"The toilet is behind the partition," said the professor, putting his head round. "Oh no!" he exclaimed, horror-struck. "It's Indian style! I hadn't realised."
"It doesn't matter," I mumbled.
I had already used a squat toilet in Bombay without doing myself any damage.
"No, no. It's out of the question. You won't be able to use it."
"I know! Professor Mishra has a Western style toilet and his house is only 500 yards away. I will arrange for you to use his toilet."
"No, no, really. There's no need. I know how to use this. I've done it before."
The idea of trekking over to a stranger's house whenever I needed a crap appalled me.
I asked for a ticket to Kishangarh but the conductor didn't realise I was with Khare and didn't believe me - so he gave me a ticket to Bijawar instead. This was the last town on the route, small, but not too small to be the capital of a former Princely State of the same name. At Bijawar we stopped in the shelter of the Maharaja's rather dilapidated palace for tea, meeting friends of Khare's & cursing the driver for his crazy driving.
At the edge of town, where the pukka tarmacked road gave way to a dirt track through the jungle, we stopped and underwent a transformation from village bus to shikar bus. In other words, the bus was adapted for a big game hunt.
A makeshift spotlight was set up on the roof, where the hunters lay on the luggage platform with their guns and we drove on through the forest, shining our light from side to side and stopping whenever one of the shikaris banged on the roof over our heads. Once we saw a tiger - it was so big I thought it was a cow. Despite much manoeuvring, the driver couldn't get his bus into a good position for a shot, so we moved on.
Those who care to see India from an honest European seeker's eye must read it. I can vouch for its accuracy as the author has accurately placed creative details laboriously protecting them for past fifty years. The book bears the testimony of an expanding India to its present splendour! I congratulate Mick Howarth for his sincerity of approach and appreciation of right values.
Prabhu Dayal Mishra
(retired Member Judge, MP, State Cooperative Tribunal Bhopal,
President of Maharshi Agastya Vedic Sansthanam)
It's a fascinating read, evocative and fresh, full of life."
Allan Hugh Ronald (Retired teacher of English Literature)