Sahibs and nautch girls

Pran Nevile is versatile. Having finished with diplomatic assignments and globe-trotting he’s got down to putting his reminiscences on paper. His first love is Lahore, the city in which he was born and educated. So he writes a nostalgic Lahore: A Sentimental Journey. Of Lahore, his most vivid memories are of its red light district Heera Mandi known to locals as Tibbi. It has survived onslaughts of puritanical mullahs and dictatorial regimes and continues to flourish. Many students of his alma mater Government College, which is a few minutes walking distance from Heera Mandi, continue to happily surrender their virginity there as they did in his days. I raise a toast to Tibbi Bazaar.

As he aged, Pran Nevile went in from whores to nautch girls and courtesans who entertained British rulers and rajas. So he wrote books about them. Now that his appetite has mellowed a little, he has come up with a profusely illustrated coffee tabler: Marvels of Indian Painting: Rise and Demise of Company School (Nevile Books). There is really nothing very marvellous about Company School paintings executed between 1775 and 1890. By and large, they are static with more attention paid to dress, jewellery drapery, borders, uniforms with most characters looking sideways. You cannot discern any animation or expressions on their faces: no smiles, frowns or sadness — simply dead-pan blank stares.

They were not artists but craftsmen. That is why their drawings of birds like kestrels, hawks and kites are more lifelike in the style of Audbon prints of birds than of humans. For good measure, but without excuse, Pran Nevile has inserted a few paintings from Ajanta and earlier times. It is a good coffee tabler to establish your cultural pretensions.