Bhowani Junction is a 1954 novel by John Masters, which was the basis of a commercially successful 1956 film. It is set amidst the turbulence of the British withdrawal from India. It is notable for its portrayal of the Eurasian (Anglo-Indian) community, who were caught in their loyalties between the departing British and the majority Indian population. The Anglo-Indian characters in the novel, like many members of their community, are closely involved with the Indian railway system.
The film was directed by George Cukor, and was shot partly on location in Lahore, Pakistan. It starred Ava Gardner as Victoria Jones, an Anglo-Indian who has been serving with the British armed forces, and Stewart Granger as Colonel Rodney Savage, a (British) Indian Army officer.
The book is set in 1946/1947, shortly before India gained independence. Victoria is an Anglo-Indian, the daughter of a railwayman. Patrick, also an Anglo-Indian, considers himself her boyfriend, but her feelings towards him have become ambivalent since her experience of British Army culture (see below).
In vigorously defending herself from a British army officer who is attempting to rape her, Victoria unintentionally kills him. She is persuaded not to report the matter by a subordinate of Patrick's, a Sikh, Ranjit, who hopes to marry her and whose family and friends help her to avoid detection.
As presented in the novel (though rather simplified in the film), Victoria had earlier decided to escape the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Anglo-Indian community by joining the British Army during the Second World War. With the war's end and her return home, however, she is confronted with the problem of her identity all over again. She decides to get engaged to Ranjit in an attempt to become assimilated in wider Indian society—since British rule is visibly on its way out—but then she realises that such a marriage would require her to give up her name (and, essentially, her identity).
She runs away from the Sikhs and literally into the arms of a dashing British officer, Rodney Savage (commander of a Gurkha battalion), becoming both his lover and his unofficial adjutant in the last hectic days of British rule in India. But in the end she realises that she cannot escape her origins, and—rejecting both the Indian man and the British one—chooses Patrick, an Anglo-Indian like herself.
Rodney Savage recognises that he is losing out to his social inferior, but realises that he is powerless to prevent it. Patrick for his part begins to realise that, in the new India, his children might have a chance of becoming anyone they want to, rather than having to stick to the Anglo-Indians' traditional role of working on the railways.
In the film version of Bhowani Junction, Patrick dies heroically, rather than surviving to win Victoria as in the novel. In the film, it is Rodney Savage who gets the girl. The change was presumably required because the book's conclusion was in contradiction to the conventions of Hollywood, in which dashing European officers, played by leading movie stars like Stewart Granger, are not expected to lose out to gauche, mixed-race railway-workers played by less-established actors (as Bill Travers was in 1956).
The central theme of the novel, epitomised by Victoria's own dilemma between her competing suitors, is the conflicting pressures upon the mixed-race Anglo-Indian community as Independence approaches, not confident of "fitting in" either in a Britain most of them have never seen, or in an independent India that will be governed by the majority population.
Another important theme in the novel is the significance of the developing Cold War for post- colonial India. The British are resigned to leaving the country, but are desperate to have an influence on India's future, in particularly by averting the threat of a Communist takeover. The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny had been a stark reminder of Communist mutinies in the October Revolution and in post-World War I Germany.
Throughout the book the British are shown striving to support and sustain the Congress Party and its leader Gandhi, who for so long they had vilified and imprisoned. In one passage the British character Rodney Savage reflects upon the irony of his being charged with protecting Gandhi against a terrorist assassination attempt.
According to Masters, writing in the Glossary to his earlier novel, Nightrunners of Bengal, Bhowani is an "imaginary town. To get a geographical bearing on the story it should be imagined to be about where Jhansi really is - 25.27 N., 78.33 E."
The book is one of a series of historical novels written by John Masters, set in India and involving several generations of the fictional Savage family. It has particular connections to Nightrunners of Bengal, the first novel Masters wrote in the series (though not the earliest in terms of its historical setting), which dealt with the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Both novels were set in Bhowani and its environs. Some locations, such as the Tree of the Silver Guru, appear in both novels (although the railway, which has a major role in Bhowani Junction, was in the earlier book a metalled road). In both books the protagonist is named Rodney Savage, and the WWII colonel is the direct descendent, almost a hundred years later, of the East India Company officer Rodney Savage from Nightrunners of Bengal.
Savage returns in a sequel, To the Coral Strand, where he undergoes a deep personal crisis which ends with his staying on in independent India rather than returning to Britain, and coming to terms with the new reality.
- Danish: Bhowani-expressen. [198-]
- German: Knotenpunkt Bhowani; Deutsch von Susanna Rademacher. München: Goldmann, 1988 ISBN 3-442-09116-0
- The book was published in London in 1954 by Michael Joseph. The American edition of the novel (also 1954) was published by the Viking Press, New York.
- Masters, John. Nightrunners of Bengal. (London and New York, 1951). Glossary.