Welcome to the Eden Gardens blog tour!
Published: 21st April 2016 (Headline Review)
Synopsis: Calcutta, the 1940s. In a ramshackle house, streets away from the grand colonial mansions of the British, live Maisy, her Mam and their ayah, Pushpa. Whiskey-fuelled and poverty-stricken, Mam entertains officers in the night – a disgrace to British India; all hopes are on beautiful Maisy to restore their good fortune.
But Maisy’s more at home in the city’s forbidden alleyways, eating bazaar food and speaking Bengali with Pushpa, than dancing in glittering ballrooms with potential husbands. Then one day Maisy’s tutor falls ill. His son stands in. Poetic, handsome and ambitious for an independent India, Sunil Banerjee promises Maisy the world.
So begins a love affair that will cast her future, for better and for worse.
Just as the Second World War strikes and the empire begins to crumble…
This is the other side of British India.
A dizzying, scandalous, dangerous world, where race, class and gender divide and rule.
Skirts and scoundrels: how Maisy and her Mam survive their Calcutta
White prostitutes worked in British India. Although they were rare, and only a few dozen were recorded officially in Calcutta at any one time, their impact was out of all proportion to their number. They were an embarrassment and undermined the prestige of the British.
In the early days of British rule, most white prostitutes were the wives and widows of British soldiers. Later, most came from Eastern Europe and Russia, and many were said to be Jews fleeing poverty and persecution. It was unusual to find British women in brothels, in part because they were often deported. The threat that ‘loose’ British women posed to racial superiority was thought so bad that, in 1902, the Government of Bengal prohibited white women from working as barmaids, and gave existing ones free passage home.
Mam probably didn’t think she was a ‘real’ prostitute; she didn’t solicit in the street or work in a brothel. After her husband died, Mam and Maisy could have gone home to Leeds, but Mam must have thought the shame of returning home as a failed migrant was greater than the shame of selling sex. She stayed in India because being a prostitute in Calcutta seemed better than being a factory worker in England.
About the author:
Louise Brown has lived in Nepal and travelled extensively in India, sparking her enduring love of South Asia. She was a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Asian Studies at the University of Birmingham, where she worked for nearly twenty years. In research for her critically acclaimed non-fiction books she’s witnessed revolutions and even stayed in a Lahore brothel with a family of traditional courtesans. Eden Gardens is her debut novel.
Louise has three grown-up children and lives in Birmingham.