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A Review of John Masters "Bhowani Junction"a Picture of the Raj From an Anglo Indians Eyes

MG Singh- early retired Air warrior who is PG in management and law.


John Masters

There is no better man than John Master to write a stirring tale during the period of the Raj.He brings out the plus and minus points of the Raj with clarity. John Masters (1914-83) was an Anglo Indian writer who wrote prolifically about his association with India and the Raj.

Masters had a long association with India. His grandfather came to India and the family never went back to England. John Masters had his training at Sandhurst and like his ancestors joined the Indian army. At that time it was known as the British Indian army. He has given a graphic account of his life in the army in his book "Bugles and the tiger." Masters was from the Gurkha rifles and he had great admiration for them as soldiers.

Masters saw action in Mesopotamia and returned in 1946, to see India becoming free from the British yoke. Despite his family having spent over 100 years in India, he felt out of place and migrated in 1947 to Kenya and later to the USA

Masters wrote at least dozen books and "Bhowani Junction,"is his most famous book. It was made into a film by Hollywood and starred Stewart Granger and Ava Gardener. He wrote the book in 1952 and it was a best seller. Other famous books of Masters are "Venus of Konpara, "and "Night runners of Bengal."

Bhowani Junction

Bhowani Junction has captured the imagination of the public for the last. many decades.The novel is a swan song on the last days of the British Raj. It encompasses a very volatile period of Indian history from 1945-47 when the British had decided to leave India. It was a traumatic time as just a decade earlier the British were sure they would rule India for another 100 years. Hitler so emaciated the English that they lost the will to rule India as the army, the instrument of their reign had become suspect.

The book is eminently readable and has a grip on the reader. Incase you are a fan of the Raj and all things connected with that period, this is one book that just cannot be put away. The book is about the fears and apprehensions of the Anglo Indian community at that time. They were Protestant unlike the mass of other Indians who were Catholic and that further added to their insecurity.

The Anglo Indian population has greatly thinned. Thousands feeling insecure left India for the "mother Country-UK" or Australia. One thing stands out from the book is the attitude of the English. Though they were their offspring, yet they never gave them an equal status, though they put them on a higher pedestal than the locals.


Anglo-Indians and the Book

Its worth getting to know something more about the Anglo Indians. They were a result of cohabitation between the English and local Indian girls. The Anglos 'prided themselves on their white pedigree but the British rarely gave them an equal status.

They followed British culture and habits and to an extent were out of place in Gandhi's India. I recollect that at Podunar, a place close to Coimbatore which was the abode of a large number of Anglo Indians the Anglo girls fraternised freely with the cadets and I remember many a dance with these girls.

Masters novel is the picture of Anglo-Indian life. He makes no bones about the way the Anglo Indians evolved. He brings this out when the father of Victoria gives a long monologue about their origin which was by a union of the English masters with maids and servants.

The forte of masters is his delineation of the character of VictoriaJones the heroine of the book. The girl is an Anglo and she is unsure of her place in society. The English don't want to marry her and Indians consider her too sophisticated and unsuitable to Indian ethos.

Victoria is 28 year old, beautiful and restless. She looks for an Identity by dating a Sikh. He is a fine man but she feels a void when he doesn't kiss her. To her a kiss is a natural expression of love but her lover Ranjit is staid and not dynamic. Despite going to a gurudwara and meeting the mother she decides the Sikh cannot be a part of her life.

She rebounds into love with an English army officer. He is Lt col Savage, commanding the local Gurkha battalion. This relationship has lots of sex thrown in from the waiting room to the first class compartment of the train but all this only bewilders her more.LT Col Savage maintains a aloof and superior air. Masters faithfully portrays the character of most Anglo girls and brings out the girls were treated by English as sexual objects. Though many Indian from the higher classes desired Anglos but their family forbade it. There were exceptions and I recollect my Squadron Commander had an Anglo wife but his offspring migrated to England.

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Last word

Masters brings out the dichotomy of the Anglo Indian who felt he was superior to a native. The writer creates the Indian revolutionary, political leadership and how it was dominated by the higher castes.
He portrays an excellent scene when the Congress party leaders squat on the rail line and refuse to go away. Col Savage is called by the DC and he has a simple solution. He asks the Gurkhas to bring some sweepers ( untouchables) and throw some faeces on the track. The agitators seeing the untouchables just melt away as they wanted nothing to do with the lower castes.

Masters English is clear and simple. The book is easy to read and I dare say one can finish it in one sitting. There are a few erotic paragraphs but they gel with tale and help bring out the sexuality and power of Victoria.The writer captures the imagination of the reader. The book for me is unputdownable, maybe because I have nostalgic feelings about the Raj. My Grandfather always said the Raj was better. The book is available on line and one can down load the film from You Tube. Its a great way to get introduced to India and the Raj.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 29, 2020:

I like his books in particular 'distant drums' and 'bend in the Ganges.'

tom on September 28, 2020:

i have read all books of manohar ,he died few yeras ago

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 28, 2020:

Lt Colonel John Masters, is one of my favourite writers and I have read all his books and one may not agree with him but he certainly knew India. As per Khushwant Singh India was in the blood of John Masters. Two of his books I find outstanding, in particular Bhavani Junction and Venus of Konpara. reads bugles and tiger is wonderful. The only Indian writer in English language who I feel is equal to Masters is Lt Col Manohar Malgankor.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 18, 2019:

Thank you Manatita, this shows your humility and greatness.

manatita44 from london on November 17, 2019:

Thank you! I feel humbled. Still, I sat at the feet of a Master (Satguru) for 37 years! Hari OmTatSAT!

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 17, 2019:

Pamela.sweet of you to have commented. I am sure you will like the book. After this you must read "Rukamani" by the same author.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 17, 2019:

Dear Manatita, Your comment brings out your inherent spirituality. Reaching this stage is quite an achievement. Thanks for commenting

manatita44 from london on November 16, 2019:

Being a fan of James Stewart, I saw the film, but you have done such a masterful job here, that I feel like seeing it again. It amazes me how you and Ralph of the U.S not only knows a lot but manages to put them down so quickly and succinctly. Bravo!

P.S Both of you puzzle me, because both show evidence of Spirituality and yet are so involved with political work. God has many colours indeed!!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 16, 2019:

This sounds like a very good book and I imagine the movie was good. I doI would enjoy reading this book.

Your well-written article about this book and some information about the author, Masters, was very interesting. Thank you for this good information as I will add this book to my list of books I would like to read.

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