A compelling and mesmerising account of India under a turbulent century of British rule, The Tears of the Rajas is a sweeping history of the British in India, seen through the experiences of a single Scottish family – author Ferdinand Mount’s ancestors, the Lows of Clatto.
It tells the story of three intertwined families: The Fife-born Lows, the Thackerays and the Shakespears, who held high office in 19th-century India and made their money under the East India Company Raj.
For a century the Lows survived mutiny, siege, debt and disease, everywhere from the heat of Madras to the Afghan snows. They lived through the most appalling atrocities and retaliated with some of their own.
Threaded throughout the book is the author’s own discovery of his grandmother’s family and of those parts of the history of the British in India which posterity has preferred to forget.
On the surface, John and Augusta Low and their relations may seem imperturbable, but in their letters and diaries they often reveal their loneliness and desperation and their doubts about what they are doing in India.
Each of their lives, remarkable in itself, contributes to the wider story of the fragile and imperilled – often shockingly oppressive and devious, but now and then heroic and poignant enterprise.
This intriguing account brings to life not only the most dramatic incidents of the Lows’ careers – the massacre at Vellore, the conquest of Java, the deposition of the boy-king of Oudh, the disasters in Afghanistan, the Reliefs of Lucknow and Chitral – but also their personal ordeals: the bankruptcies in Scotland and Calcutta, the plagues and fevers, the deaths of children and deaths in childbirth.
And it brings to life, too, the unrepeatable strangeness of their lives: the camps and the palaces they lived in, the balls and the flirtations in the hill stations, and the hot slow rides through the dust.
An epic saga of love, war, intrigue and treachery, this book is surely destined to become a classic of its kind. Mount, a prize-winning novelist, author of best-selling memoir Cold Cream and most recently the controversial The New Few, breathes life into the stories of the past. Here he has woven his ancestors’ memories into a powerful, mesmerising and informative wider history that sheds uncompromising light on the period.
The Tears of the Rajas – Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905, by Ferdinand Mount, published by Simon and Schuster, £25.