Father India: How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West
by Jeffery Paine

Collectible, Signed by the Author

Hardback, First Edition, 324 pages

GT3003-Book $35.00 + Domestic shipping only via Media Mail (& Taxes in California) 

ISBN 0-06-017303-3



Over the past hundred years, India has held an enormous fascination for western intellectuals and artists. Father Indiaexplores the life-changing influence of the subcontinent on western ideas and modernity by narrating the curious, spellbinding stories of a succession of twentieth-century Europeans and Americans--including Annie Besant, E. M. Forster, Carl Jung, William Butler Yeats, V.S. Naipaul, Christopher Isherwood, and Martin Luther King Jr.--who acted out their most secret dreams in India. Gandhi's answer to the question "Why now?" as he observed one westerner after another come to his own ashram, is telling: The contemporary West had misplaced its soul,and pilgrims to India were on a mission to retrieve it. In the process, their unconscious assumptions about politics, religion, and identity in their own cultures were turned upside-down and laid open to question. Father India tells the story of those people who attempted to comprehend or even to perfect western civilization through India, and of how their successes and failures retunred to the modern West a changed understanding of itself.

Excerpt from Chapter One

On the third Friday in May, 1923, George Curzon left London for his country house in Somerset to await--curiously--a telegram from London that would demand his immediate return to the City. Not just any telegram; this telegram would make the wrongs of a lifetime right. Its sender would be Lord Stamfordham, the king's private secretary, proposing a meeting in London, and at that meeting Stamfordham would on behalf of His Majesty request Curzon to form a government in which he would become Prime Minister of England. That history would conform to this plan not only Curzon but practically no one in England doubted.

Because of illness the old Prime Minister, Bonar Law, had resigned unexpectedly. In service, in ability, and in preeminence, Curzon simply had no rival to be his successor within the Conservative Party. In his Somerset villa, as the lights illumined the great columned halls and cast a subfusc golden pallor over the exquisite furnishings and priceless paintings, Curzon reined in his impatience, waiting for the business of government to resume on Monday and the telegram to come. Becoming Prime Minister was the second great ambition of Curzon's life. When the first, to be Viceroy of India, had been fulfilled--though perhaps this was not the weekend for that analogy--everything jinxed and cursed had ensued, as in a fairy tale where misfortune follows from the wish fulfilled.

While he awaited the telegram, Curzon may well have returned in reverie to those glory days, those soul-trying days in India two decades before. Certainly no other Englishman ever coveted the viceregal crown so fervidly, none served as Viceroy of India longer, and if any viceroy isremembered today it is Curzon. Nor, as for that, did any other match his vision, for Curzon instituted massive reforms in India that--while they would have brought the country neither democracy nor independence--might have achieved the streamlined economy, the administrative efficiency, and some of the prosperity that other Asian countries like Singapore or South Korea achieved nearly a century later. "For the rest of his life," the newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook observed of Curzon's tenure as Viceroy, "Curzon was influenced by his sudden journey to heaven at the age of thirty-nine and then by his return to earth seven years later, for the remainder of his mortal existence."

And yet as in a mirage, the harder he worked in India, the more his vision receded from fruition. His policies, meant both to maintain the British in India and to benefit the Indian populace, had the uncanny effect of alienating both. When Curzon went to India in 1899, everyone predicted that, as surely as day follows dawn, the new viceroy would return to England to become its Prime Minister. When seven years later he did return, his chances for that high office were, in fact, reckoned in permanent ruin. But, confounding all expectations, Curzon emerged from purgatory, from his years in the wilderness, when he had grubbed for minor and unworthy offices. His iron will and paramount abilities were unstoppable, and by 1923 he had held nearly every major office available to an Englishman, most recently Foreign Secretary (equivalent to the American secretary of state) and leader of the House of Lords. Every major office except Prime Minister, and on Monday that would be his.

If during that May weekend Curzonneeded further proof that fate had finally turned favorable, he had only to glance across the room at his wife. Grace Duggan, his second wife, resembled his first: both were American, both alluring beauties, and both rich beyond reckoning. But Curzon's first wife had adored him and made her life one long, unbroken service to his needs. Grace Duggan adored Curzon's social position, and having married him for it, she appeared hardly to require him further. When he pleaded for her to join him at Kedleston, his cherished ancestral home, she replied that, home being where the heart is, she "would rather not go at all." When Curzon mildly reproved her for not even inquiring about his health after a serious illness, she replied that no good could come of such charges and they should attempt to spend more time amiably apart. But now that her "dear Boy" was about to become Prime Minister, all that was changed, and she had dashed back from Paris to be at his side and make it clear that at his side is where she would ever remain.

Monday came round. Curzon's old-fashioned sense of grandeur had not permitted that newfangled contraption, the telephone, to be installed in his home, and as luck would have it, the telegram delivery boy was on holiday. But the local policeman surmised what the telegram portended, and he puffed and panted on his bicycle all the way out to Curzon's estate to deliver it. Not only the policeman, but all England seemed to know. The newspapers were talking of little else, and Curzon's progress to London, after receiving Stamfordham's message, was lined solidly with curious gawkers and well-wishers cheering and photo-cameras recording for posterity every stop made along theway. When Stamfordham arrived at Curzon's London house, punctual to the minute, he began formally by recounting that the king's decision had been delayed because he had not been informed in advance of Bonar Law's intentions. On behalf of the king, whose new Prime Minister he was to be, Curzon grew incensed that His Majesty had had to learn of Law's resignation from the newspapers. Quick as Curzon's mind was, however, he was slow to take in Stamfordham's delicate message that he had been passed over, and someone else, a lesser politician Curzon considered a nonentity, junior to him in service and inferior to him in abilities, had been selected. Curzon--who had suffered pain every day of his adult life because of a spinal injury, who had traveled the world on horseback and worked twenty-hour stints in physical agony, and never breathed a word about it--broke down and hung his head and wept. Being Curzon, though, he recovered immediately and in rotund periods lectured Stamfordham about the monstrous injustice and ill logic of the choice.


"Intelligent and lively..Cultural history with flair. Its prose is stylish, its anecdotes fascinating." (--Newsday)


"I don't quite know how Jeffery Paine has done it--except by subtle and provocative genius--but Father India is an utterly surprising and indispensible book....Learned....lively.... It renders Jeffery Paine's vast knowledge intimately. Father India is a splendid achievement."(-- Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist)


"Jeffery Paine's Father India is a work of extraordinary scope and quality....Imaginative and unusual....Its pages breathe with the perceptive intelligence of a very good writer and a masterly critic."(-- John Lukacs, author of A Thread of Years)