A salutary reminder of the empire's pernicious legacy (UK/Exhibit)





In a summer largely distinguished by floating Taj Mahals, Bollywood extravaganzas and empire-nostalgic television, a new exhibition at the British Library offers a more thoughtful commemoration of the 60th anniversary of independence for India and Pakistan. Countdown to Freedom chronicles the turbulent centuries from the arrival in 1608 of the East India Company to the fabled midnight of independence. Though small, the display succeeds in evoking the historical ties that bind Britain to the subcontinent.

While the end of British rule was a crucial historical moment for four subcontinental nations, current celebrations focus largely on contemporary India. This is less a tribute to history than canny courtship of that nation as a lucrative trading partner. Celebrating the end of imperial rule also sits oddly next to calls to take pride in the British empire as integral to "Britishness". At a time when most Britons have only a vague understanding of empire and some young Indians are quick to shrug off the economic and moral lessons of the freedom struggle, the exhibition offers some salutary reminders....


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