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Book Nook - 03-04-2017

Monday, April 03, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to [email protected]

View From The Front Row
Pamela Hicks, daughter of Lord Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, has written a fascinating memoir about her family’s eventful life during wartime Britain, and the tumultuous period that led up to the independence of India and the formation of Pakistan.

In Daughter Of Empire: My Life As A Mountbatten, Hicks makes no apology for the fact that she lived a very privileged life as one whose father was related to the British royal family; but she and her sister Patricia were also routinely uprooted from their home, or wherever they had settled in, and sent to live with relatives and friends to protect them from the ravages of World War II.  The young girls come out of it all rather unaffected by the upheaval in their lives.

She writes rather candidly of her parents’ open marriage, where both took on lovers. There was no furtiveness about their affairs—the lovers visited their home—and an astounding lack of jealousy.  Hicks writes with amusement how her mother juggled her various lovers; “When my mother returned from shopping one day she was met with, 'Mr Larry Gray is in the drawing room, Mr Sandford is in the library, Mr Ted Philips is in the boudoir, Señor Portago [is] in the anteroom and I don’t know what to do with Mr Molyneux’.”

But under the glitter of the royalty and aristocratic privilege is strength and an unwavering sense of duty. Edwina travelled to trouble spots and jumped right in to help whenever there was a crisis.

There is a great deal of charm in how she describes royal protocol, the time it takes to plan every event, and how everything is meticulously laid out.  As Princess Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Hicks travelled all over the Commonwealth—she describes these trips in detail, and with great affection for the Princess who was holidaying in Kenya with her new husband Prince Philip when news of her father’s death broke, and overnight she was Queen, with a whole new set of responsibilities. Not once does she break down in public.

She writes an entertaining chapter about the time the girls spent at the lavish home of the American billionaire Mrs Vanderbilt, poking gentle fun at her flashiness and ignorance (she hadn’t heard of Hamlet,and when told about the Prince of Denmark, she sent regards to his father!).

The book is written in a breezy tone that make light of the trauma the young Pamela may have suffered—she does admit that her experiences made her “self sufficient.”  The family’s pet mongoose has an extended cameo.

To Indian readers, there is interest in the gossip linking Edwina Mountbatten with Pandit Nehru—Hicks believes their friendship was deep and sincere, but there was no affair. The Mountbattens were in India at a very difficult time, as Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten had to deal with the transfer of power and the horrors of Partition, which the lived through unflinchingly. Hicks makes her fondness for Nehru and love for India very clear—in fact when she returned to England, she had some trouble adjusting to life in her own country.

It’s a very readable memoir that is honest, but makes no claims to depth—she writes it more or less like it were her personal diary through which she gives the fortunate reader a glimpse of a lifestyle of pomp, ceremony and noblesse oblige, that they can only imagine.  The book is said to have inspired Gurinder Chadha’s film Viceroy’s House, which is why a still from the film is on the cover.

Daughter of Empire: My Life As A Mountbatten
By Pamela Hicks
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 272

Excerpt of Daughter of Empire: My Life As A Mountbatten
My mother longed to see the world. From an early age, possibly symptomatic of a repressed desire to flee her childhood, she had slept with a pocket atlas by her bed. So when my father’s job afforded her the opportunity to travel, she caught the bug. From then on, she was often away for long periods and for a while was not in England for more than a few weeks at a time. Even in 1924, when my sister, Patricia, was born, she partied in the South of France, leaving her baby daughter at home at just a month old. It seemed that she couldn’t stop herself indulging in this hedonistic way of life, the endless adventure and travel that so thrilled her. Fortunately my father was devoted to his new baby daughter from the moment she was born, a bond that was to last his lifetime and one that would extend to include me.

My birth caused a good deal of trouble. When my father’s tour of naval duty in Malta came to an end, my parents and two naval friends set off for five days in Morocco. My mother, normally so sprightly, was pregnant with me, although it hardly showed. When my father had asked his C in C for some time off he had been told, “Pull the other one, Dickie! Don’t try that old sailor’s excuse with me; I only danced with your wife last night!”

From Morocco, they crossed to Gibraltar so my father could return to his ship, HMS Revenge, for combined maneuvers of the Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets. Never one to miss out, my mother had made plans for the time he was away: the chauffeur had driven her beloved Hispano-Suiza H6 from England and, roaring out of town, in the front seat, in neat cloche hat, dark glasses, flawlessly rouged lips, and bright red nails, she felt on top of the world. As they climbed the mountains towards Málaga, however, the twists and turns left my mother feeling sick and exhausted, as did the train journeys onward through to Madrid and Barcelona. Finally making her weary way to the polo club to meet up with my father, who had come to join her and play in a tournament, she was all but finished off. After the match my parents went straight to their suite at the Ritz. In the early hours of Friday, 19 April 1929, my mother awoke with severe contractions. I was on my way.

Despite my father’s best efforts, the hotel could only find an ear, nose, and throat specialist to help them. In desperation my father telephoned his cousin Queen Ena, in Madrid. She was away, but King Alfonso answered. “We’re having a baby,” exclaimed my father. The king, a great womanizer, got the wrong end of the stick and replied, “Oh, my dear Dickie, I won’t tell anyone.” “Tell everyone!” implored my father. “It’s my wife. Edwina’s having the baby.” “Leave everything to me,” said the king, and rang off. Within half an hour the Royal Guard had the hotel surrounded. In the meantime a doctor had been found and dispatched to the local hospital to secure the necessary equipment and an English nurse, who appeared “like an angel” and administered chloroform to deaden the pain my mother was experiencing. Downstairs, the doctor had returned from the hospital with an ominously large bag, but he rushed with such steely determination towards the entrance of the hotel that he was promptly arrested by the Royal Guards.

My mother was by now hemorrhaging, so was unaware of the events that began to unfold beyond the hotel walls with the slapstick absurdity of one of my father’s favorite Buster Keaton movies. As the commotion in and around the hotel reached fever pitch, in Nice my parents’ great friend Peter Murphy had been roused at dawn by my father’s anguished phone call. He grabbed his driver and set off immediately. They drove nonstop for twenty-four hours, Peter telling endless stories to keep his driver awake, something that eventually began to tax even his brilliant skills as a raconteur, not to mention his driver’s ability to remain attentive for so long.

In the early hours of the morning Peter and his driver finally entered Barcelona at such speed that they crashed, yards from the hotel, into a tram. Panting and bleeding, Peter hotfooted it up the stairs of the Ritz and burst into the room, shaken but triumphant. As heads turned away from my mother, someone shouted at him to “get off the carpet.”

Then all eyes turned back to me. I had arrived safely and was wrapped in a beautifully embroidered layette that had been brought in by some local nuns. I lay in a crib made from a little dog basket: a solitary, happy presence, blissfully unaware of the noise and tumult of the family life into which I had just been delivered.

Also Received
Rahul Apte’s thriller with terrorism as the backdrop, is seen through the eyes of Lieutenant Jamshed Hyatt Khan. According to the synopsis: “Just when Lieutenant Jamshed Hyatt Khan, lovingly called Jimmy, begins to feel that he can leave his tormented past behind and acquire some semblance of normalcy; a demonic machination of fate throws his life into irrevocable chaos. The heinous terror attack of 26/11 bereaves him of the love of his life and his family. Reeling with a grave sense of loss and helplessness, the enraged soldier vents his anger on a terrorist sympathizer in Kashmir, where he is posted. The extra judicial killing turns him into a pariah in the eyes of the Indian Army and a golden catch for the RAW; the Indian intelligence agency, which in the wake of 26/11, has received a secret mandate straight from the top. Devoid of reasons to live and stranded both personally and professionally, Jimmy is convinced by the RAW to undertake a covert surgical strike deep inside Pakistan. Initially annoyed at his systematic trapping, he gradually realizes that after four wars and decades of failed diplomacy, for Indians like him, a covert mission is the only way to secure justice. Thus, Lieutenant Jamshed Hyatt Khan dies and a coldblooded, lethal assassin is born, one who is driven only by revenge and has nothing to lose. Will he succeed in his mission and secure justice for his nation as well as for himself? Meandering like a spy thriller, with its fair share of realistic twists and turns; 'The Talion Tale' is a cry for justice. It is also a tale of love, loss and the vengeance that is born out of it.”

The Talion Files
By Rahul Apte
Published by Leadstart
Pages:  408

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