Review by Dr Premen Addy

2003 book review on India: The Peacock's Call by Dr Premen Addy (Author, Tutor of Modern Asian History at Oxford and political columnist of the London-based India Weekly)

This short book of 142 pages is a delightful read. It is an elegiac account of a journey through remembered parts of India by Aline Dobbie, the daughter of a British colonel, a member of the famed Jat Regiment centred in Bareilly. Aline Dobbie, who now lives in Edinburgh with her husband Graham, has dedicated her work to the memory of her late father Frank Rose, whose name is recalled affectionately headquarters by his Indian successors today. Old and valued traditions of honour, hospitality and chivalry are alive and well, and they blend with discipline, loyalty and the enduring courage and skills that characterise the best soldiers. The Jats belong to the top league, as this daughter of a Jat officer makes abundantly clear. India - Bharat, she calls it - was the land of her birth and much of her early life and fondest memories are entwined there.

Not simply a travelogue

This is not simply a travelogue concerned with locations and place names. It is a seamless robe of observation, comment and memoir, skillfully embroidered with historical fact and anecdote; and always present is the warmth of human contact and the renewal of childhood friendships. While the past means much to the author, she is keenly sensitive to the present. Hers is no sentimental wallow in the history of the Raj but a sympathetic understanding, warts and all, of the complex realities of present-day India.

She makes room for Sir Hugh Rose, a revered forbearer who became commander-in-chief,  but also evokes the beauty and silence of Raj Ghat and the significance of Gandhiji's life and work. An encounter with Jawaharlal Nehru and his grandsons is affectionately recalled and there are numerous instances when shared values are based on shared history less familiar names are made flesh through events of long ago.

Britain and India entwined

Aline Dobbie is a reminder of how deeply Britain marked India and India marked Britain, a point which Martin Bell makes in his foreword. One recalls a Geoffrey Moorhouse statement that Indians "should know that their country haunts the British still, as nowhere else ever did, as no other place in the future possibly can". The bonds of history are strong and enduring, transcending temporary irritations of political difference and much else besides. Shared values are based on shared history and a mutual affection, deeper for being often unstated. So Aline Dobbie quotes the great American writer Mark Twain's reaction to India, which clearly finds a lasting resonance in her.

"...the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels.. of tigers and elephants... the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues... cradle of the human race, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition...."