Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie’s concerns about India’s depiction in a television series in the 1980s about the British Raj were brushed aside by then Indian leaders, according to UK Foreign Office papers released today.
Rushdie felt ‘The Jewel in the Crown’, that hit UK screens in 1984 as a fictional take on the last days of the Raj, “grotesquely overpraised” the British empire.
Writing in the ‘Observer’ at the time, Mumbai-born Rushdie – who had won Booker Prize three years earlier for ‘Midnight’s Children’ – described the drama and Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film ‘Gandhi’ as examples of “Raj revisionism” and the “artistic counterpoint to the rise of conservative ideologies in modern Britain”.
But according to a memo sent in April 1984 by India-based British diplomat Ronald Nash and released by UK’s National Archives this week, the Indian government did not agree with this view.
“It’s not my impression that many here share the Rushdie view. If anything people seem slightly flattered by all the attention,” Nash wrote.
He quotes then deputy press secretary at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Tarlochan Singh, as saying that “the Indians – implying officially – were very pleased with the series and films on India based on various novels”.
“He dismissed the Rushdie romanticising-the-Raj thesis. He said Indians today were of a new generation and were no longer nervous of such harkings-back to the past which represented no threat,” the then diplomat at the British High Commission in New Delhi wrote in reference to his conversation with Singh.
‘The Jewel in the Crown’, a reference to India within the British Empire, was first telecast on Britain’s ITV channel in 1984 and remains one of the most well-known works of fiction on the Raj.
It had a largely English cast but also included Indian-origin actors such as Saeed Jaffrey and Om Puri, apart from Pakistani-born British actor Art Malik.