Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Indian Summer

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Indian Summer

The Secret History of the End of an Empire

by Alex Von Tunzelmann

Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2007, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 448 pages

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Indira Gandhi
was the first and only female Indian Prime Minister to date. She served three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977, and a fourth term from 1980 to 1984. Many people assume she is related to Mahatma Gandhi (mahatma is Sanskrit for great soul) but in fact she is the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. In 1937 Indira Nehru married Feroze Ghandhy who, during the 1930s, started to spell his name Gandhi - a small change which would be of "inestimable value to his wife's future career".

Louis Mountbattan, known as "Dickie", a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, was born into the House of Battanburg in 1990, making him cousin to almost every king, prince and grand duke in "the monkey-puzzle family tree of European royalty". His father had lived in Britain since 1868 and served in the British Navy since he was fourteen, but with the outbreak of World War I, there were too many Germans visible in high places in Britain, not least of which was King George V of the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who was largely German and was married to Princess May of Tek who was entirely German. In 1917 George V ordered a mass rebranding of royalty - Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was dropped in favor of Windsor and other relatives were de-Germanized - with Prince Louis of Battenburg becoming Louis Mountbattan.

The famous wartime movie In Which We Serve was written by "Dickey" Mountbattan and Noel Coward. After a series of misadventures involving Mountbattan's command of the HMS Kelly, the destroyer was sunk in 1941 with half the crew lost. Mountbattan stayed on deck and went down with the ship but managed to bob to the surface. Within a few weeks he and his old friend Noel were busy working on a script based on his experience, but with a 'quite ordinary' man cast in the role of Mountbattan. Against fierce opposition from The Ministry of Information, who felt that a film about a British ship being sunk would be bad publicity, In Which We Serve premiered in 1942 to rapturous reviews!

Jawaharlal Nehru (known as Panditji, meaning scholar, or Pandit), India's first prime minister, was not a religious person, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, first prime minister of Pakistan emphatically did not want Pakistan to be a theocratic state. In 1948, in the face of resurgent Islamic nationalism, Jinnah continued to emphasize that "Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission." Sadly, Jinnah died within a year of partition.

Nehru's will stated, "I wish to declare with an earnestness that I do not want any religious ceremonies performed for me after my death. I do not believe in any such ceremonies and to submit to them, even as a matter of form, would be hypocrisy." His wishes were ignored.

This article was originally published in August 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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