Sunday, February 20

Brown mem·sa·hib

Pin It
The inspiration for this blog comes from the book “Women Writing Home, 1700-1920: Female Correspondence across the British Empire”.  
“Women Writing Home assembles a wide range of women’s letters from the former British Empire and two major sections in this book are devoted to ‘colonial women’ in India.   
Transferred to India along with their husbands, these women were instrumental in constituting what could be called a ‘home away from home’, exporting as much as they could of their accustomed way of life in Britain and reinstituting it as far as possible in India, adapting to and accommodating the new and often ‘alien’ cultural contexts as they went along.
The letters reveal the many different ways in which these women perceived colonial society. Sometimes the new context offered opportunities unavailable at home but often these letter-writing women pined for what they had left behind.”
The book struck a deep chord and soon I was spending hours researching letters written by colonial women living in India. Reading their letters was like a soothing balm for my homesickness. I could relate to these women, for although our situation was the complete opposite the same mix of emotions twisted my heart into knots too. I could feel their heartache at parting with their family and leaving home to recreate life in a strange and alien land.
Some of these women were newly married like me and setting up home on their own, they felt deeply devoid of a supportive female network - mothers, sisters, cousins and girlfriends. Like them, I realised that a mother’s advice never feels as precious as when a woman is trying to set up home without it.
The only way they could fill that void was to write home extensively with detailed descriptions of all that they saw around them. These women were prolific; they maintained journals and diaries, wrote letters home, authored novels, cookbooks and penned their memoirs. These letters were to them the equivalent of a chat over a cup of coffee with their sister or best friend. It was the one vent for their loneliness and sadness at being far from home and their circle of friends.   

So, I decided to write home too, with details from my life in England as a reverse memsahib – an Indian woman living in England, wearing English clothes, eating English food and speaking English - I'm afraid I am living the life of a brown memsahib!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...