while his status as a novelist seems to protect him from intrusive literary flourishes.
Deb grew up in northeastern India and only left the country in his late twenties to study in America. This book, therefore, is not a returnee’s quest for lost roots, but a personal enquiry that holds immersion and detachment in a fine balance. The stickiest part of the book is the introduction, which seems to be about to launch us into post-colonial liminality by raising the question of real and fake ‘identity’; but the threat soon recedes and the rest of the book is admirably grounded, telling stories of ‘the collateral damage of progress’ and giving us a stark vision of the filth, clutter and sheer lawlessness of much of everyday India. Deb is as willing to describe a pile of rubble as a picturesque landscape, and has no apparent interest in romanticising either India’s past or its present.
The book highlights just how few Indians have been enriched by the software boom – a million or so out of a billion. Around a quarter of the population still remains deadeningly poor, despite working extremely hard to survive. Deb is interested in migrant factory workers, aspiring call-centre wallahs and management graduates, and makes no attempt to flatter anyone, even himself. He willingly confesses his own weaknesses,
recounting how he became unexpectedly jealous of one young apprentice tycoon, and how easily he could be tr icked on occasion. He also manages to maintain his moral neutrality through complex storylines, especially concerning the plight of farmers ruined by fluctuations in the pr ice of the red sorghum they had grown under contract.
Deb, like Guha, is short on answers, but the insights he delivers into India’s current social and economic make-up are, refreshingly, based on pukka history and therefore that much more valuable. He shows us that India’s new economy sits squarely on top of the old, with today’s technical education based on the old Nehruvian system. And while computer boffins may be the new Brahmins, many of them are actually the old Brahmins. Such points are generally overlooked by those keen to promote the newness of the new India, and Deb generally offers a shrewder, more humane perspective than most travelogues. Neither of these mosaics yields a full picture of modern India – the tesserae are sometimes ill-matched and too f ar apart. But the ant’s-eye view of the present assembled by Deb has rather more to teach us about India than Guha’s bird’s-eye view from the past. To order these books, see LR bookshop on page 16
P R I Z E
C R O S S W O R D ACROSS1Butler’s novel Japanese drama used to receive
backing (7) 5 Clerical worker’s principle (5) 8 Shade escaped from Hell (5) 9 Boast about volume presented to relative (5) 10 Hardy heroine’s leading article on play by Jean
Giraudoux (5) 14 Container for water in cafeteria (7) 16 Rapid force (5) 17 Girl crossing river for sacred object (5) 18 Some expeditions make issue (7) 22 Develops some discolouration, we hear (5) 25 Picture one wise man (5) 26 British poet passed port around university (5) 27 Airy spirit, one involved in Lear, oddly (5) 28 Choose artist to portray complex character (7) DOWN 1 Onomatopoeic nymph silenced by Hera with one
This month, Penguin are generously offering a copy of BritainandIreland’s BestWildPlaces:500EssentialJourneysby Christopher Somerville to each of the five winners of the competition. Send your entries to 44 Lexington Street, London W1F 0LW by 15 June. Last month’s winners, who will each receive a copy of InSearchofaMasterpiece:TheArt Lover’sGuidetoGreatBritainandIreland, by Christopher Lloyd (Thames & Hudson), are: Mrs D Pope of Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex, Mrs Judy Aitken of Lancaster, Chris Wallace of London, Peter Baird of Southwell, Nottinghamshire, and Karen Carpenter of Maidstone, Kent.
SolutiontotheMaypuzzle: ACROSS: 1 Teach, 6 Pantheon, 7 Helm, 9 Rue, 10 Spam, 12 Abroad, 13 Foetid, 15 Thomas, 16 Libido, 18 Flog, 20 Lev, 21 Alph, 22 Atheists, 23 Let on. DOWN: 1 The Heart Of, 2 Calm, 3 Anne of Cleves, 4 Chaste, 5 Goya, 6 Paradise Lost, 8 Largo, 11 Midlothian, 14 Trial, 16 Magnet, 19 Lute, 21 Acme.
note (6) 2 Editor adding note to a collection of Norse poems (4) 3 One entertaining crowd (4) 4 Seven sons ne’er involved with lines from Lear (8,5) 5 Spanish wine’s ok in France... (4) 6 ... where we show common sense? (4) 7 Where cricketer practises catches (4) 11 Latticed cover for RoomAtTheTop(5) 12 Ornamental groove in champagne glass (5) 13 Tragic priestess showed her love (4) 15 Area of ancient city in Israel (4) 19 Fantastic location for one to come out of the closet? (6) 20 Enthusiastic return for opera singer (4) 21 On reflection, I’d accepted the French surrealist (4) 22 Ringer for Brontë? (4) 23 Peter’s unharmed (4) 24 Novel diet found to be correct (4)
LITERARY REVIEW June 2011 BIOGRAPHY
Bu i l d i n g J e r u s a l em i n t h e Home C o u n t i e s OCTAVIA, DAUGHTER OF GOD: THE STORY OF A FEMALE MESSIAH AND HER FOLLOWERS
convinced that she herself was that child. Surrounded, like so many Victorians, by death, Octavia sought in Southcott a way of living on earth without suffering. She mounted a l i felong campaign to persuade the Anglican bishops to open Joanna Southcott’s locked box of secret writings – but the box remained firmly closed. Octavia trained herself in the spiritualists’ technique of automatic writing, enabling her to take down daily messages from God, which she passed on to her followers. Arguing that a woman (Eve) had caused the Fall, she insisted that only a woman – more precisely, Octavia herself – could bring the Millennium and restore the Garden of Eden. Octavia didn’t agree with the suffragettes, though many of her followers did; but she reconfigured the doctrine of God to include God the Mother (an uneducated working-class woman, her onetime home help, was promoted to this post) as well as herself as God the Daughter. Her dead husband was supposed to be Jesus.
By Jane Shaw (Jonathan Cape 398pp £18.99)
TOWARDS THE END of the First World War, a fifty-something vicar’s widow living in Bedford declared herself to be the Daughter of God. Her name was Mabel Barltrop, but thenceforth she took the name Octavia, and became the charismatic leader of a new religion. From her leafy Edwardian villa, Octavia dedicated herself singlemindedly to the task of building a community, composed mainly of respectable middle-class women l ike herself . They called themselves the Panacea Society, and soon Octavia had recruited twelve female apostles and many more resident members, establishing a religion with its very own Garden of Eden in the streets of Bedford.
Octavia disciplined her followers by a process she called ‘overcoming’. Members had to r id themselves of their personality and sense of self in order to prepare for immortal life. This involved all sorts of rules about etiquette. They were forbidden to annoy other s by making a noise while e a t i ng t oa s t . They were encouraged to spy on each other. Octavia had an autocratic, controll ing personality, and she suffered from OCD (she could never walk more than seventy-nine steps away from her house, and grew stout in consequence), but she was also witty and full of good sense.
There’s something oddly comic about these ladies, who never freed themselves of their class attitudes. Octavia insisted, for example, that members of the Society should use the word napkin, never serviette, and she held strong views on cakemaking (plenty of sugar). She suffered from mental illness, diagnosed as melancholia, and her relig ious awakening took place while she was a patient in Northampton asylum. She claimed that her illness was part of God’s purpose, but it could equally be argued that she was delusional.
Octavia: strong views on cake-making
Claiming to possess healing powers, Octavia took to blessing water, which she insisted gave it healing properties. This enabled the Panaceas to become a global movement. They
Jane Shaw is a priest and religious historian. She discovered this little-known religion ten years ago, and when she visited the last survivors of the cult she found them living in a faded time warp in Bedford’s suburbs. It would be easy to mock them, but the strength of Shaw’s book lies in her ability to take Octavia seriously as a religious figure. Rather than r idicule the Panaceas, Shaw analyses them as a religious movement. Octavia’s inspiration was the prophetess Joanna Southcott, who died in 1814 claiming that she was pregnant with the daughter of God: Octavia became devised a way of healing by mail order – small squares of linen upon which Octavia had breathed were posted to thousands of customers all over the world, with instructions to add water.
Sex, as Shaw explains, was the ‘switching point’. Like the early Christians, the Panaceas distanced themselves from the world by following celibate lives. As with that other early twentieth-century new religion, Theosophy, this meant that sexual scandal was always a danger. The Society almost broke apart when Octavia’s best fr iend Kate, who was a founder member, fell for a man thirteen years younger named Leonard. Kate spoke out against Octavia and accused her friend of living off her money and then marginalising her in the Society. It was all true.
LITERARY REVIEW June 2011