Sunday, October 7, 2012

A present from India

My Island Bay correspondent has been to India, and she returned with this intriguing gift for me.  
It is a group portrait of the Baroda College XI of 1936/37.
Baroda was a self-governing city in Gujarat, in the north-west of India, ruled by its Maharajah, the head of the Gaekwad family. At the centre of the front row of this group is Shri Yuvaraj Pratapainbrao Gaekwar.  So kingly does he look, that the single-letter difference in name must be a typo. Alone of those photographed, he holds a hat (possibly a homburg). Besides Gaekwar, only the College’s principal, SG Burrow, and the Hon General Secretary, Professor SV Shevade, wear ties, though several cravats are sported. White shoes are worn only by Gaekwar and the equally regal looking Sirdar WN Ghorade. All this must mean something.
Curiously, Gaekwar is described as “Capt. Randle Cup”, while PK Pandit, three along on the front row, is simply “Capt”. This, and Gaekwar’s rotund appearance, suggests that his centre-front-row status is down more to his aristocratic lineage than to cricketing ability. This was common in higher levels of Indian cricket at this time. The Indian team that had toured England a few months before this photograph was taken had been led – nominally, at least – by the Maharajah of Vizianagram,  who scored 33 runs in six Test innings and did not bowl. He is always mentioned when nominations are sought for the title of worst player ever to play Test cricket, though it would be hasty to dismiss the claims of Geoff “Thriller” Miller in this regard.
There are further signs of the complex stratification at all levels of Indian society at this time. Those seated are each accorded an individual “Mr” in their title (obviously excepting the two titled fellows already mentioned). Those standing share the collective honorific “Messrs”.
Photographs like this would have been hanging on the walls of every public school in England at this time, and no doubt the ethos of Baroda College in the 1930s was to create Indian copies of the young Englishmen whose mission it was to keep as much of the map as possible coloured red.  Yet ten years later, India was independent and the Maharajah of Baroda’s feudal backwater was swallowed up in the new Republic.
A later Maharajah of Baroda (the old titles were retained, but not the power that went with them) was guest summariser on Test Match Special during India’s 1974 tour of England. The other commentators called him “Prince”, which was no doubt meant respectfully, but rather created the impression that somebody’s pet labrador had wandered in.
What happened to these young men? Did they spend the rest of their lives as anachronistic relics of the imperial past, or did they adapt, as Indians seem so able to do, becoming leaders in the new democracy? There is no clue on the internet; searches for Baroda College and a sample of the names on the photograph draw blanks. Baroda itself has been renamed Vadodara, though the old name lingers on in various contexts.
The Central College Cricket Ground is in regular use still, according to Cricket Archive, though it has not seen a first-class fixture since the Ranji Trophy final of 1947. It would be nice to think that one of those young men, at least, has survived into their mid-nineties and sits on the boundary’s edge, thinking of the time when he was in the XI, and put on his blazer and his cravat to have his photograph taken with the rest of the team.

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