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E. M. Collingham, Imperial Bodies: Language and Sources


The great majority of the passage is taken directly from Collingham’s sources. Central to these is the extended passage she quotes from John Masters’ 1951 account of life in India Bugles and a Tiger. To judge from his language, Masters is writing to fascinate, horrify and amuse his audience, especially those who have never been to India. He takes care to disabuse his readers from the outset of any misconceptions that an Indian toilet might resemble the sort of toilets they are used to. He lightly mentions the idea that openings for water could also let in snakes (readers might think he was joking, but in fact this could and did happen) and the ending of the passage leaves everything to the imagination: the sahib (master) might adjust his dress and leave without a further thought; we know, however, that the menial servant he has summoned will then have the distasteful task of emptying the ‘thunderbox’. Masters invites us to smile at the sahib’s conduct, but no more; the tone remains one of wry amusement.


Collingham refers extensively to her sources, either directly or indirectly. Most of these are memoirs, though she also quotes from a biography of Lord Curzon, the viceroy. She has used the sources to isolate passages and passing references to bathing and going to the toilet, turning the sources very much to her particular purpose. The passage from Masters dates, as she points out, from a much later period than she is writing about, but she offers it as evidence on the basis that little had really changed. This is a perfectly legitimate use of source material, as long as the assumption it is based upon – that the evidence is still relevant to the earlier period – has taken into account any changes that had taken place in the interim.

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