This is the best book I've read so far for this year a memorable biography of a starting woman of her age who is remembered unfortunately for her love affair with Jawarhalal Nehru rather than for the immense amount of work she put into whatever she undertook.
Edwina was an heiress of the highest order. The grand daughter of one of the richest men in Europe who sought even at his death to do everything to protect his beloved grand daughter, she was related to half the crowned heads of Europe. Married into the royal family and very much part of the inner circle of Royalty of England, she should have had a life literally paved not just with gold but with rose petals. It was never smooth.
Ignored for years from the time of her birth by her mother who treated her as an adult - her letters to her daughter when she remembered that she had one were unbelievable. It was as if she was writing to one of her friends of the current events or what she was doing at the time. The fact that Edwina did not turn into a psychopath was a wonder and it was the grounding provided by her grandfather, aunt and to a lesser degree her father who adored her that made Edwina what she was.
Edwina marriage to Lord Mountbatten was a mix of the bizarre and the normal. He wanted to maintain even a facade of a marriage - specially to the outside world but he also seemed to be genuinely in love with his wife and always turned a blind eye first to her numerous love affairs in England and Europe and then ignored the deep relationship that existed between his wife and Nehru and which lasted for thirteen years until her death. On her side it seemed as if she never found the passion that she found with others and specially the almost spiritual relationship she had with Nehru,with her husband. She certainly liked him but there was friction and tension always in their marriage.
The energy and spirit which moved Edwina to tackle whatever project she was involved in with her entire being should have been what Edwina must be remembered for. In England it was the Red Cross, the nurses and so much connected with the War. In India she blossomed. From improving the state of women in the field of nursing, to the refugee camps, from education, to literacy, from the state of the troops in India to entertaining officials by the hundreds all for the furtherance of British interests and the sake of peace, from her abiding love and respect for Gandhi to her attempts in every way to prevent bloodshed between warring communities in India, Edwina worked herself to the bone.
What Edwina did in India was huge. Tackling projects which were simply gigantic and trying to move mountains against a backdrop of purdah, women who were conservative, men who were even more conservative and improving the lot of a people who were not her own against overwhelming odds of lack of communications, extremely bad weather (temperatures over 100), sectarian governments who used whatever they could to their advantage would have been an obstacle for most women who would have given up. Not so with this one. Indefatigable, pushing herself beyond endurance, falling ill constantly (never having been blessed with good health) she nevertheless did it all. She fell in love with India and India with her. She felt herself Indian and when she returned to England she felt out of place and lived for her annual trips back to Delhi where she was more at peace than anywhere else.
This was a brilliant book for me. I very much enjoy reading about the British in India. Some of the reads make you realise what was done in the name of colonization and just empire building but then you come across a book like this and you understand that along with the bad was an immense amount of good.
Some photographs of Edwina Mountbatten for my readers.