I picked this up as a way of (belatedly) obtaining some much-needed background and understanding of the history behind the end of the British Raj and the creation of Pakistan, and the book delivers both with both barrels. Threaded throughout the story is Edwina Mountbatten, socialite wife of the “Last Viceroy”, whose personal (in evey sense of the word, allegedly) friendships with both Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru contributed so much to this era of Anglo-Indian history.
Here’s an interesting passage on women in India in c. 1947:
Women were prominent in India politics, which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Ghandism. Non-violence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practised by women without breaking social conventions; and Nehru had insisted as early as 1937 that the Congress manifesto pledge to remove all social, economic and political discrimination against women. As a result, there were more powerful women in India’s Congress than there were in Britain’s Labour Party or in America’s Democratic Party at the time.
As Edwina would later tell an audience in London, “We shall have to wake up in this country when we see how the women of India have achieved emancipation to such a remarkable degree in spite of the backwardness of the country, the illiteracy of the people, the low standard of life, and all kinds of disadvantages … “
Highly recommended reading, anyway – definitely one of the best books on India I’ve read to date.