Anne de Courcy’s book is a delightful account of that well-known colonial sport, husband-hunting in India.
In a book that is well-written, informative, poignant and often times sad, Ms de Courcy tells us some of the stories of generations of young British women who went out to India to marry. Or not marry, as the case may be.
During the height of British colonial rule, there were very many more (British) men than there were (British) women in India. Generations of young men went out to India in search of adventure, of a prestigious career, and also in search of money (though that was often less of a motivator than prestige and a sense of duty, it must be said).
And generations of young women subsequently went out to India, in search of their own version of a career, i.e. a husband.
The British colonial authorities had strict rules on the age at which its servants could marry, and since affairs, let alone marriage with Indian women, were severely frowned upon, when the ships arrived in India, with their precious cargoes of carefully chaperoned unmarried young women, there was something of a feeding frenzy. The prize was a bride. Or a husband, depending which way you look at it.
Through letters and diaries, and accompanied by many glorious old black and white photographs, the adventures, loves and lives of these intrepid young women are told. They were young, ready to be romanced, and amazingly resilient. Some girls married and settled in cities, but some fell in love with planters or military men in far-flung corners of the country, so off they went to live lives of isolation, adventure and – seen from our cosseted perspective – often downright hardship.
Most of these fishing fleet girls loved their husbands, their lives and loved India. The biggest sadness in their lives usually centred around their children. In the early days, babies died so tragically easily, in the unhealthy climate, and lacking as they did medical facilities in the “mofussil” or countryside.
Those children who survived spent their early years cossetted and pampered, until that dreadful day when they were shipped back Home to school. These are the saddest moments of this lovely book. Little children are torn from their parents and the sunny, colourful, cherishing country of their birth to be sent away for years to a cold, grey, unfamiliar place called Home. Except that home is India.
Of course, many children of the fishing fleet couldn’t wait for their miserable English school days to be over, so they could head straight back Home, and thus the long love story with India continued.
A happy, upbeat read, which certainly made this Indian resident slightly ashamed of herself for her occasional moans about Delhi power cuts or poor internet connections. Decidedly un-fishing-fleet-y.
Published in 2012 by Hachette, the hardback costs Rs 750
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