ABSTRACT

Anyone visiting Britain or India will find telling signs of the long and complex history of interaction between the two. It is estimated that restaurant-goers in Britain spend nearly £2 billion annually in Indian restaurants, and that the amount of mango chutney sold in the United Kingdom tops £7 million. That it has come to this was interestingly foretold nearly two centuries ago when a contributor to the Oriental Herald, a magazine established in Britain for returned Anglo-Indians, wrote in September 1828, ‘from the excellence of the dishes that the Indian condiments are capable of producing, coupled with the cheapness with which rice is now to be had in this country, we think it probably that at no distant period curry and rice will become one of the national dishes of England’. Chip shops in Glasgow offering haggis pakoras, the crossover success of bhangra music, and periodic bouts of imperial nostalgia as evidenced in the popularity of many Merchant and Ivory films attest to the grip that India continues to have on British culture. Yet the recent outbreaks of racial violence in northern British cities and the growing alienation of Asian youth suggests that there remains in Britain a strong undercurrent of the racism that became such a pervasive characteristic of imperial rule. There is, however, a danger in exaggerating India’s imprint on the lives of people back in Britain. Comparatively few served in India, slightly more might know someone who had been to India, Indian affairs only fitfully engaged Parliament, and, while the British consumed large amounts of Indian tea, it is difficult to sustain the claim that they necessarily connected what they were drinking back to the empire (though by the end of the nineteenth century advertisers were trying to get them to do that). At its peak, the number of Britons domiciled in India reached just over 185,000 (1911). Most of these were congregated in the larger centres where they could live lives that were insulated from their Indian surroundings.