Listen to this piece read by the author

Ah the Raj! Our mother-incarnate
Victoria Imperatrix rules the sceptred
sphere as she oversees legions of maiden
‘fishing fleets’ breaking the waves
for the love of a ‘heaven-born’ Etonian!
Smoke from cheroots, fêtes on lawns,
dances by moonlight at Alice in Wonderland –
no the viceroy – the viceroy’s ball!
Lock, stock and bobbing along on
palanquins to gothic verandahs where dawn
Himalayas through Poobong-mist,
the 12-bore or swagger stick topi-and-khaki
bobbery shikar, Tally ho! for the boars
in a dead-leaf hush and by Amritsar
what a bang!bang! bagging the flamiest tiger!
Jackals, panthers, leopards, blackbucks
and swanny bustards, pig-sticking, Kipling,
Tatler, Tollygunge, High Jinks and howdahs
for mansion-whacking banks, and the basso
profundo of evensong, frog song, poppy pods,
housey-housey and hammocks under the Milky Way …

Tromping home trumps – here come the cummerbund
sahibs tipsy with stiff upper lips
for burra pegs of brandy pawnee,
pink gin and the Jaldi punkawallaaahhhh!
on six-meal days with tiffin and peacocks
and humps and tongue and the croquet and polo
and yaboos, oh Ootacamund, and the sabre-
curved moustachios twirling for octoroons
panting in gunna-green fields and ayahs
akimbo and breathless zenanas behind
bazaars where the nautch and the sun never sets
when mango’s the bride-bed of lingam-light,
in a jolly good land overflowing with silk and
spice and all the gems of the earth! Er
darling, it’s not quiiite the koh-i-noor
but would you … (on a train that’s steaming
and hooting on time through a tunnel) Ooo darling
a diamond! You make me feel so alive.

shikar a hunt
burra large
pawnee water
gunna sugar cane
zenana women’s quarter
nautch dance performed by young girls

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences