A memoir of the author’s teenage years in India during WWII. Rau and her older sister grew up in London, but returned to Bombay with their mother when their diplomat father was stationed in South Africa. (They tried living in South Africa, but her mother packed them up when she went to a movie theatre and found a sign reading “Indians, natives, and dogs are not allowed.”)
It’s hard to review this in a way that differentiates it from the many other books about people grappling with cultural identity and loyalty during a return to their homeland after a long separation. I did particularly like this one, though. It’s not primarily a comedy, but there are many funny bits, often involving her deadpan sister and a grandfather who reinvents Descartes via musings on the existence or nonexistence of the Indian sweet on his plate. Rau’s ear for dialogue is as sharp as her observation of a country and cultures she’s more or less encountering as a newcomer, as she had left India when she was six.
Unsurprisingly, she gets involved in the political scene. Her mother is a friend of the politician and poet Sarojini Naidu, who comes across particularly vividly, reigning over a dinner party in a blouse printed with the cover of her favorite book! She also meets Nehru a couple of times. Rau captures the excitement of the political scene, as friends often call up to apologize in advance for missing dinner parties, as they’ve decided to get arrested for civil disobedience instead.
The book was published in 1944, when Rau was about 21. It feels very immediate, with little mediation by hindsight. Her thoughts on politics and identity are honest and serious: you can see her growing up intellectually as the book progresses.
But though the content is weighty, the touch is light. It’s a quick, easy, enjoyable read. I was not surprised to learn that Rau became quite a successful writer, author of a number of books and the film version of A Passage To India.
View on Amazon: Home to India (Perennial library)