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India is a land of many charms. For centuries, it has lured outsiders to its rich coasts with promises of wealth and wisdom. The country has been ruthlessly invaded by many, and yet, India has found a way to welcome and include the foreigners in her fold. Among warriors and traders, India has attracted author and poets too. Seduced by the beauty of the land and its people, many a foreign author has made India their muse and home. Some were even born in India, belonging to a generation of colonized outsiders, who came to have a bittersweet identity conflict with the Indian soil. Here is a list of our favorites:
James Edward Corbett is one of history’s best known hunter, tracker, conservationist and author. The Irishman was born in Nainital to a father who was posted as a postman in the hills, after retiring from the army. Jim Corbett himself served as a Colonel of the British Indian Army and was often engaged by the then United Provinces to protect the people from man-eating cats. His accounts of those encounters have been memorialized in the famous books Man Eaters of Kumaon and Jungle Lore, among others. While Corbett is better remembered as a hunter, thanks to his books, the second half of his life was dedicated to a movement to conserve India’s wildlife from extermination. The Hailey National Park was later renamed after him, Jim Corbett National Park, to commemorate his work for the country’s wildlife. Corbett famously dedicated his book, My India, to “..my friends, the poor of India”.
Rudyard Kipling was born in the campus of the JJ School of Arts in Bombay (his sculptor father, Lockwood Kipling, was the principal at the time) , to parents who considered themselves Anglo-Indians. He wrote of Bombay:
Mother of Cities to me,
For I was born in her gate,
Between the palms and the sea,
Where the world-end steamers wait
As was customary, he was sent off to a boarding school in England, an experience that he has narrated to be one of horror and torture. He returned to India with a small newspaper job that his father secured for him, in Lahore, having failed to meet the academic brilliance that was expected of him. The man went on to spend much time in the hills of India, an experience that kept reflecting in his work throughout. His most famous children’s work, The Jungle Book, was based loosely on Indian characters.
Kipling’s reputation in modern India is controversial. While Khuswant Singh considered his work, ‘If..’, ‘the essence of the message of Gita in English’, R.K. Narayan believed that Kipling understood animals in the jungle better than the average Indian psyche.
Mary Margaret Kaye, not unlike Kipling, was born in Simla and educated in England. She wrote her first book, Six Bars at Seven, just to make enough money to return to the love of her life, Simla. Her slightly troubled love-life took up her early life in India. But, finally, after the birth of her second child, Kaye went back to writing, penning one of the most beautiful historical epics of India, Shadow of the Moon. Kaye is best known for her novel, The Far Pavilions, a meticulously researched historical novel about the 19th century India. Kaye is also known for her children’s literature, most notably, The Ordinary Princess.
William Dalrymple, a cousin of the outstanding Virginia Woolf, is a Scottish historian, educated in Cambridge. He first visited India in 1984, and since 1989 has lived in the country for most of his life. Indian history remains the most significant focus of his life’s work. While he has chronicled masterpieces on the interactions of the Mughals and the British in India, his 2009 non-fiction book, Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, was a fascinating showcase of his understanding of the nuances that make India. The book went on to become a non-fiction bestseller in the country.
Gregory David Roberts
This Australian heroin addict and convicted bank robber, escaped from the Pentridge Prison in 1980 and fled to India. Roberts was known as the Gentleman Bandit because he would rob only institutions with sufficient insurance and did so in a three-piece suit. In 1990, he was captured in Frankfurt and extradited to Australia, where he finished his prison term and started writing Shantaram. Roberts returned to Mumbai after the success of his novel, and set up a charitable foundation to assist the poor with healthcare coverage. In 2009, he was named the Zeitz Foundation Ambassador for Community for his relentless work in India.
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