Original date of publication: 1932
My edition: 2000 (NYRB Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox Books, Philadelphia, January 2012
Hindoo Holiday is an account of the time that the author, JR Ackerley, spent in india working as a secretary to the Maharajah of Chhatapur (jokingly changed to Chhokrapur, apparently meaning “City of the Boys,” for this book). The Maharajah is an eccentric old man who enjoys riddling conversations and the company of boy actors.
The setting is the British Raj, when Indian rulers had a fair amount of autonomy—but in the wake of peace, there was very little that the Maharajahs could actually do. So, in possession of vast amounts of wealth, according to the introduction to this book, these rulers spent their money on untold luxury. It was amidst this environment that this book is set, and the Maharajah Sahib of Chhokrapur is one of these.
The diary covers roughly six months in 1923 and 1924; apparently, the Maharajah, a great reader of Rider Haggard, had wanted a secretary similar to Olaf in The Wanderder’s Necklace. Ackerley rarely interjects his own thoughts into the pages of his diary, but he’s skilled at depicting the minutiae of the court he lives in as well as describing the people with whom he interacted. As such, the tone of the books seems a bit insulated, because Ackerley rarely discuses what’s going on in the larger world. Hindoo Holiday was an instant hit when it was published in 1932, primarily due to its salacious content (in fact, much of the original book had to be cut because of Ackerley’s references to homosexuality).