February 5, 2015

“The long Indian day…”

Churchill’s regiment, the 4th Hussars, arrived at Bombay Harbour and then travelled by train to Bangalore in southern India. In My Early Life, he wrote, “If you like to be waited on and relieved of home worries, India thirty years ago was perfection. All you had to do was to hand over all your uniform and clothes to the dressing boy, your ponies to the syce, and your money to the butler, and you need never trouble any more. Your Cabinet was complete; each of these ministers entered upon his department with knowledge, experience and fidelity… No toil was too hard, no hours too long, no dangers too great for their unruffled calm and their unfailing care. Princes could live not better than we.

A typical day began with reveille at 5:30 am., “a dusky figure with a clammy hand adroitly lifting one’s chin and applying a gleaming razor to a lathered and defenceless throat. By six o’clock the regiment was on parade, and we rode to a wide plain and there drilled and maneuvered for an hour and a half. We then returned to baths at the bungalow and breakfast in the Mess. Then, at nine, stable and orderly room till about half-past ten; then home to the bungalow before the sun attained its fiercest ray. The noonday sun asserted his tyrannical authority, and long before eleven o’clock all white men were in shelter. We nipped across to luncheon at half-past one in the blistering heat and then returned to sleep till five o’clock. Now the station begins to live again. It is the hour of Polo. It is the hour for which we have been living all day long. As the shadows lengthened over the polo ground, we ambled back perspiring and exhausted to hot baths, rest, and, at 8:30, dinner, to the strains of the regimental band and the clinking of ice in well-filled glasses. Thereafter those who were not so lucky were caught by the Senior Officers and made to play a tiresome game then in vogue called Whist. I sat smoking in the moonlight till half-past ten or eleven at the latest signalled the end. Such was “the long Indian day” as I knew it for three years; and not such a bad day either.”

But Churchill wrote to Lady Randolph on 12 November that “nice people in India are few and far between. They are like oases in the desert. This is an abominable country to live long in. Comfort you get—company you miss. I meet few people worth talking to and there is every tendency to relapse into a purely animal state of existence.” His discontent was based on his frustrated political ambitions. He wrote his mother that “If I can only get hold of the right people my stay here might be of value. Had I come to India as an MP—however young and foolish—I could have had access to all who know and can convey.

He lamented that he was in India during a by-election in a friendly constituency in England. “Had I been in England I might have contested it and should have won—almost to a certainty. Instead of being an insignificant subaltern I should have had opportunities of learning those things which will be of value to me in the future.”

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Although he looked forward to leaving the army, he thought a campaign in Egypt would enhance his political prospects. He pleaded with his mother to arrange for him to accompany Kitchener’s advance up the Nile. “I should not have forgiven myself if an expedition started next year and I felt it was my own fault I was not there. I revolve Egypt continuously in my mind. Two years in Egypt my dearest Mamma—with a campaign thrown in—would I think qualified me to be allowed to beat my sword into a paper cutter and my sabretache into an election address.”

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