By any other name

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  • Publicado : 1 de diciembre de 2011
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By Any Other Name by Santha Rama Rau “By Any Other Name” is a beautifully written memoir about the author’s childhood world. The piece is vivid in its exotic details, and touches us with its subtle description of how British culture in India reached into the private lives of two sisters. The childhood memoir, written by this upper class observer, gives the reader a sharp portrait of socialinequality. The clear and simple writing is filled with a child’s wonder, and the ending is so satisfying that we can only love this tale.

About the Author Santha Rama Rau was born in Madras, India. She attended Wellesley College in the United States, and graduated with honors in 1944. She became an instructor at Sarah Lawrence College and a free-lance writer. She has written many travel books. Shelives in New York, New York.

Historical Background to the Story What do you know about India, or about Bharatavarsha, as its people refer to it in the Hindi language? India is located in South Asia and is the second most populous country in the world, with more than one-sixth of the globe’s total population. India is a subcontinent, separated from the rest of Asia to the north by the Himalayanmountain range. During its history, India endured partial “conquests” by Arab, Turkish, and Persian invaders. But when the British navy achieved supremacy during the nineteenth century, India fell completely to the British.

By 1858 the British ruled the country, with Queen Victoria also proclaimed Empress of India. British culture was entirely different from that of India. But India was a richcenter of trade, and that mattered most to the British. The British made contributions to Indian society, but they transformed the Indian economy and Indian industry to suit the needs of the British Empire, using the wealth of India to benefit England. Even upper-class, wealthy Indians were treated as second-class citizens in their own country. Eventually Indian political movements gave way to moreactive struggles, with no success and little change. Then, Mohandas Gandhi led a national non-violent protest movement during the 1920’s and 30’s. Various boycotts began. Indians were to give up British titles or honors. They were to stop wearing British clothes. They were to stop paying taxes. During these years thousands of Indians were imprisoned. Although many Indians served with the Alliesduring World War II, India, as a country, refused to join the war effort. They did not want to be associated with the British. It took until 1947 for India to finally achieve independence.

At the Anglo-Indian day school1 in Zorinabad2 to which my sister and I were sent when she was eight and I was five and a half, they changed our names. On the first day of school, a hot, windless morning of anorth Indian September, we stood in the headmistress’s study and she said, “Now you’re the new girls. What are your names?” My sister answered for us. “I am Premila, and she”—nodding in my direction—“is Santha.” The headmistress had been in India, I suppose, fifteen years or so, but she still smiled her helpless inability to cope with Indian names. Her rimless half-glasses glittered, and theprecarious bun on the top of her head trembled as she shook her head. “Oh, my dears, those are much too hard for me. Suppose we give you pretty English names. Wouldn’t that be more jolly? Let’s see, now—Pamela for you, I think.” She shrugged in a baffled way at my sister. “That’s as close as I can get. And for you,” she said to me, “how about Cynthia? Isn’t that nice?” My sister was always less easilyintimidated3 than I was, and while she kept a stubborn silence, I said, “Thank you,” in a very tiny voice. We had been sent to that school because my father, among his responsibilities as an officer of the civil service, had a tour of duty to perform in the villages around that steamy little provincial town, where he had his headquarters at that time. He used to make his shorter inspection tours...
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