The Bombay Prince | Sujata Massey #INDcosycrime

“Well done.” Perveen Mistry spoke aloud as she slid the signed contracts into envelopes.

The Bombay Prince is the third book in Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry Murder Mystery series. Although the Australian cover declares the series as a murder mystery, Allen & Unwin classify it on their website under historical fiction (you can also read the first chapter there). As a reader, it is a delightful mix of the two. A murder certainly begins this story and gives it focus, but it is the historical fiction details that keep this particular reader intrigued.

Most of the Australian reviewers make the connection between this series and the Phyrne Fisher series. I would also add the Maisie Dobbs books. Curiously all three are set in the 1920’s – a time when women around the world were exploring some of their newfound educational and political freedoms, including opportunities for careers formerly dominated by men, as well as sexual and romantic affairs. The Rowland Sinclair series is another example, although the main protagonist is a man in Sulari Gentill’s stories.

I refer to these four series as cosy crimes.

The crimes are not described in graphic, grisly detail, although gruesome deeds are sometimes done, and our protagonists often face grave danger. The crimes drive the story, but it is the relationships at the heart of the books that attract most of the readers. That, and all the marvellous historical detail unearthed by the authors.

The Bombay Prince is centred around the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales to India at the end of 1921. His visit sparked a series of hartals and riots in protest of British rule in India.

  • Hartal – (in South Asia) a closure of shops and offices as a protest or a mark of sorrow. In India it became a term meaning general strike or protest, first used during the Indian Independence Movement. It is a Gujarati word, the language spoken by Mahatma Ghandi. It is one of the 198 methods for non-violent protest as listed by Gene Sharp.

This was an event in history that I knew absolutely nothing about. That is, I knew about the non-violent protests led by Ghandi and the general issues of concern, but I did not know about this specific event/visit.

The protests against British rule, quickly became sectarian, resulting in Ghandi calling off the action and pleading for calm and unity.

“We have no grudge against His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,” said Gandhi, “but our ideas are against him as a symbol of oppression. We can show the world that such non-cooperation is just the reverse of the European doctrine of the sword. Let us act in accordance with the holy prophets of old. Non-cooperation without violence is the battle of the brave.”

…On November 17, 1921, the Prince of Wales landed in Bombay.

Loyal stooges of Britain went to greet the royal visitor. Those who were observing nonviolent non-cooperation did not stop them. However, religious and political hatreds fanned the flames. Riots started, many were killed, much property was destroyed. There was panic in the city.

Gandhi was in Bombay, and he rushed to the scene of disorder to stop the rioting. Order was finally restored. “Every man has the right to his religion and his own political opinion. Satyagraha will never succeed until man understands that,” Gandhi announced bitterly.

Indo American News
  • Satyagraha – a Sanskrit word coined by Ghandi is a non-violent form of protest. It combines two words that mean ‘truth’ and ‘politely holding firm’. Ghandi saw it as the ‘Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence’. After coining this word, Ghandi stopped using the phrase ‘passive resistance’.

On October 26 1921, Edward, Prince of Wales left Portsmouth to begin a tour of the Indian Subcontinent and Japan that covered 41,000 miles, lasting 8 months. Prince Edward spent four months in India, travelling from Bombay to Calcutta and then from Madras to Karachi. As the British Empire’s Ambassador, the Prince visited India on behalf of his father King George V, to thank the nation for the essential role it had played during the First World War. Moreover, the visit was intended to strengthen links between Britain and its Empire at a time of increasing calls for Indian independence.

Royal Collection Trust

I found very little online about Prince Edward’s visit to India that wasn’t glowingly pro-British and pro-colonial, so I admire Massey for unearthing materials that depicted the ‘darker side of India’s reaction to the imperial visitor.’

On 28 July 1921, the Indian National Congress decided to boycott the upcoming visit of the Prince of Wales (who would later become King Edward VIII) in November as part of the Non-Cooperation Movement…

…The visit of the Prince of Wales in November 1921 was marked with demonstrations, hartals and political meetings marred by scenes of mob violence and police atrocities in Bombay.

This also led to large-scale clashes in Mumbai, which disturbed Gandhiji greatly, who postponed his plans for the Civil Disobedience Movement.

This Day in History

At the beginning of this post, I referred to the relationships that make this story and this series so cosy. Perveen’s family are her foundation, her friendship with English woman Alice Hobson-Jones (and their careers) adds the feminist element, but the possibility of a love interest with Colin Sandringham in this book (and book two), provides the romantic spark that the first book was missing.

I’m very curious to hear what Cirtnecce @Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses & Prejudices has to say about this series. The history, sense of time and place and the local details feel genuine to someone who has not yet visited India. A local may beg to differ though.

Title: The Bombay Prince 
Author: Sujata Massey
ISBN: 9781761065248
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Published: June 2021
Format: Trade Paperback

3 thoughts on “The Bombay Prince | Sujata Massey #INDcosycrime

  1. I’m a Phryne Fisher fan and I don’t mind Maisie Dobbs, but you can have too much of a good thing. The last Maisie Dobbs I read got carried away I thought with the Hist.Fic. aspect of disfigured men after WWI. Greenwood has a much lighter hand, and although she is very familiar with 1920s Melbourne and Victoria, she doesn’t pretend that Phryne is a typical, or even possible, woman of the times. What Massey is saying to me is that I need to read more about Ghandi (by Indians).

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    1. I should warn you them that the Maisie Dobbs only get ‘heavier’ as they go along, so heavy, I almost abandoned ship at one point. But Phryne is fun from first to last.

      I can highly recommend Rabindranath Tagore. I’m not sure he writes a lot about Ghandi, but he was alive and writing during quite a bit of this time period. Cirtnecce hosted a readalong for The Home and the World a few years back, which is how I got started.
      His wiki page – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabindranath_Tagore

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