My grandfather was the backbone to our lives. I remember small ‘tasks’ he would set me, standing tiptoed on a chair pushing his shoulders back hard against a stone wall “harder child, harder” he would yell, or tickling a blade of grass across his upper lip, as he snoozed in the afternoon, “softer child, softer” the indomitable yet gentle giant, until one sunny August day in Ireland the clouds descended on that childhood forever.
It is hard for me to imagine my grandfather, only a few years older than I am now, being asked to dismantle an empire. Unimaginable was the responsibility of stemming the tide of violence and controlling cities that were committing suicide. It is not hard, however, to imagine that from the moment my grandparents arrived, they rejected all the raj stereotypes and looked towards the job with open minds. It is also understandable that despite his royal ties my grandfather was a tough-minded realist, committed to those liberal principles which made him acceptable to a labour party. Ghandi, the soft-voiced archangel of India’s independence, sensed my grandfather’s warmth and responded to it, as he had been unable to do with any previous Viceroy.
Criticism over the damnable haste in bringing British rule to an end has never softened. The blunt fact is that no one foresaw the magnitude of the disaster, and their failure to do so would baffle historians in later years. The Leaders themselves, Nehru and Jinnah, each made the grave error of underestimating the communal passions which would inflame the masses of their sub-continent, but it was the relative newcomer in their midst, the Viceroy, who took the blame from the rest of the world.
I have travelled my way around this great country, who’s name I so proudly carry, staying in youth hostels, occasionally sickened by the unexpected glimpse of India’s timeless miseries or staying in Government houses of considerable magnitude, lavished upon by luxury, but never once during my numerous visits have I ever encountered an Indian, within India, who had any other reaction than speak in admiration about my grandparents.