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Freedom at Midnight

Oh goody, yet another book written through colonial tinted glasses.

It's a well written, easy reading book so I can see why it's so popular, and if it was labeled fictional, I'd give it four stars, for fictional it is, speaking of a world where the British Raj and it's leaders brought civilization to the masses, but the masses turned the wise Brits away even though they were led by that holiest of holy cows, Lord Mountbatten - and this turning away caused mass bloodshed in the process. It's almost a biblical story, and no wonder so many people still think fondly of empire, they probably read books like this one.

The target audience for the book seems to be people who want to be able to understand just enough of the British Raj to absolve the Raj of any guilt and blame Jinnah and others for much of the ills of partition.

The authors struggle with the very basic idea of why some brown people wanted independence, especially when the British were so benevolent and wise, and give up and just talk about it like it was just something which was happening, no hard feelings really, except against Jinnah.

The book ignores practically all Indian writings, and even famous British writers like Adam Smith or Florence Nightingale, who were harping on about the British needlessly killing millions in famines every few years in British India. Famines, bigger than the holocaust - skip that, lets concentrate and talk about Mountbatten's shiny medals and his big big parties! And oh, look, Mountbatten has a Rolls-Royce! And he's the grandson of some queen or the other!

So on one side we have Mountbatten, working hard, inviting a few brown men to luncheons every now and then, working so hard, with hardly any help, just a few thousand servants, not much at all, and on the other we have those spoiled little boys, Gandhi and Jinnah, needlessly talking about freedom and what not. It was enough to put Mountbatten of his tea, but poor little Mountbatten suffered through it all, why one year he met Jinnah twice! And after each visit he had to go recover in the hill stations of Simla because Jinnah was such an unpleasant little man, asking uncomfortable questions. Forget the questions, did you know Jinnah was a stiff man who had this very uncomfortable stare?

What were those uncomfortable questions? If you only read this book you won't know, for the authors were obviously very aware that Mountbatten descendants themselves would be reading this book, and they didn't want to make them uncomfortable with annoying little questions.

Some reviews point out that this book is well researched - I'm sure it is, but only in that section of the British Imperial Archives which has been scrubbed of voices which are in any way critical of British rule, or attempt to look at it honestly.

Little things like India having to bear the staggering high military cost of Empire don't exist in the authors fictionalized world. Heck, the authors go all the other way, and say that the British lost money during the Raj, and it was literally out of the goodness of their white hearts that the British ruled India.

History is a story - and the problem with this book is not that it's a story - the problem is that it's a glib view which completely omits and washes British hands of what they did during their occupation and departure from India.

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tagged: books nonfiction View on: github