Indian Summers, a recent PBS drama from Masterpiece has good bones. I’m talking about heritage here, as in its dramatic predecessors. Nothing more.
In 1924, E.M. Forster penned his classic novel A Passage to India. The setting was India in the era of the British Raj in the 1920’s. Passage to India was made into a film in 1984 that was directed by David Lean.
The Raj Quartet was a series of books authored by Paul Scott. He began writing them in 1966 and he completed the series in 1975. Once again the subject was the British Raj in India, with the first book beginning in 1942. This book was called The Jewel in the Crown. In 1984, a mini-series, based on all four books aired on television.
Now, in 2015, Masterpiece has produced and aired on PBS a 10 episode series called Indian Summers. The story takes place in 1932, and the location is an Indian Hill Station called Simla (Shimla) where the senior British government officials, and their staffs, collectively known as the ICS (Indian Civil Service) moved their operational headquarters during the summers. Simla is in Northern in India. The Himalayan mountains form a backdrop to the location.
Easier to govern once one has escaped from the summer heat in New Delhi – was the idea.
This series can be described as A Passage to India and The Jewel in the Crown meet Downton Abbey. After my recent (and continuing) immersion into Downton, I was eager to see Indian Summers. I had read the Scott and Forster books, and had watched the movie and the tv series that each had spawned. But that was 30 plus years ago. So I had high expectations for Indian Summers.
I am happy to say that expectations were met. This may have been 1932, and the British would stay on for sometime. Mr. Gandhi’s Quit India movement would not launch until 1942. Mr. Nehru would not give his Tryst With Destiny speech (announcing India’s independence) until almost midnight on August 15th 1947:
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.
But as I said, we are in the late spring and summer of 1932. The colors are amazing. Be they the hanging wisteria that adorned the home of the Private Secretary to the Viceregal of India in Simla.
Or the lush greenery of the tea growing plantations.
Or the meticulous gardens of the homes of the British
This was an India of pomp and circumstance, of customs and traditions. The air was filled with heat, and dust, and rain. The place had its fabrics and textures, its colors, and its pace. But it was both and more and less than the surface appearances would lead you to believe.
At the front gate of the Royal Simla Club a sign was posted. Have a look.