Published by Vitasta Publishing
Nayana Goradia started her career writing short, catchy articles for newspapers. Her book is a collection of these articles—which appeared in a column called The Middle—in Indian newspapers such as The Statesman, The Times of India and The Hindustan Times. Her book also contains excerpts from Fly Me to the Moon, written by her husband, Prafull Goradia.
Most of the articles date from 1963 to 1985, but cover a wider historical period. Many of them are personal. Goradia grew up in the princely state of Jamnagar in a colonial-style mansion with “echoing corridors” and domestic staff, “hermetically sealed off from the nationalist upsurge outside”. She writes about her grandparents: her grandfather was a surgeon and physician, and her grandmother a force to be reckoned with. Goradia’s vivid evocations of the past are my favourite parts of this book.
In The Middle, we learn about Goradia’s childhood in Sri Lanka where she moved with her parents. She was educated at Washington State University and Girton College, Cambridge. After her marriage, she moved to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in the mid-1960s, a time of change in the city. In the book, her husband describes the lingering “imperial hangover”: many firms in Kolkata continued to have British names and were controlled from the UK. Some, however, had been bought over by wealthy Indians, and the clubs that had once been the preserve of the British were taken over by the city’s young people.
When Goradia moved to Kolkata—which was once the capital of the British Raj—she came to know about George Nathaniel Curzon, who was Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. Curzon was a controversial figure. He launched projects such as the Archaeological Survey of India, but was also responsible for splitting Bengal along religious lines. Goradia has written a biography of Curzon, on which she draws for some of the articles in The Middle.
There are a few laugh-out-loud moments. In a piece entitled The Weary Go Round, Goradia describes a series of incompetent workmen called in for a small job in her apartment, which had me in splits.
I do have a couple of gripes, though. Goradia is dismissive of the women’s liberation movement, saying she was quite happy not to be liberated. But the fact is that she was able to attend university and work as a writer. This was the sort of freedom that many women did not have at the time—and in some cases, still don’t. Women’s lib provided opportunities that had not been there before. So I find her dismissal a bit facile.
Second, it would have been helpful if Goradia had referred to the years she was writing about.
This is a collection that is perfect for dipping into. The articles do, however, reflect the attitudes of the time they were written in, which Goradia acknowledges in her introduction. I did enjoy the time travel that this book took me on, and the many photographs that illustrate each article.