In Spite of Everything

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If anything, my experience with James Cameron’s book An Indian Summer (1974) demonstrates the need for magazines like Slightly Foxed. In the 1980s I was working in India as the British Council’s books officer and reading everything I could find about the subcontinent: V. S. Naipaul’s sober tomes; Forster and Ackerley on the Maharajahs; Eric Newby on negotiating the Ganges in a small boat; Sarah Lloyd’s An Indian Attachment, about her affair with a young Sikh. Because of my job I was ideally placed to find the right stuff, yet it was only during my fifth year in India that I discovered what was – and still is – the best book I’ve read on the subject.

An Indian Summer opens in striking fashion. Cameron is in a serious road accident on the border of what is soon to become Bangladesh. The jeep in which he’s travelling is embedded under the bonnet of a bus. In its front seat the driver on one side and a Colonel on the other – both fatally wounded – loll, bleeding profusely all over him. The jeep’s horn blares non-stop. Monsoon rain sheets down. On the mud track hundreds of gaunt refugees trudge past, indifferent to Cameron’s plight. At which point the author switches into flashback, only revealing the denouement of his story 200 pages later.

Cameron was a Scottish journalist newly married to an Indian woman. In 1972 he’d taken a year out in a country he already knew well, and described what he saw. Here he is walking at dusk by Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate:

There was a time they called the cow-dust hour. The term came from the villages, as everything in India does, but here . . . anywhere round the perimeter of the Delhi walls, it just meant the vague blue haze through a hundred trees, the smoke of a thousand evening mealtime fires, a thousand Indian wives crouching over chapattis and dhal on mudbrick stoves, the scent of burning fuel-dung, the spect

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About the contributor

David Spiller last visited India three years ago, summoned by his wife Gaynor Barton to test out the second revision of her guidebook, Old Delhi: 10 Easy Walks.

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