Americans and Indians, Selves and Others
I’m in love with the country. I find the heat and smells and oils
and spices, and puffs of temple incense, and sweat and dark-
ness, and dirt and lust and cruelty, and above all, things won-
derful and fascinating and innumerable.
That was what we were taught—the lower classes smell. And here,
obviously, you are at an impassable barrier. For no feeling of
like or dislike is quite so fundamental as a physical feeling.
—George Orwell, The Road to Wigin Pier
No single book about India written for adult Americans had more influence than Katherine Mayo’s Mother India. Statistics tell part of the story: by the mid-1950s the book had gone through twentyseven American editions and sold well over a quarter of a million copies in the United States alone. When Harold Isaacs asked 181 prominent Americans their impressions of India in 1954 and 1955, forty-six of them mentioned Mayo’s book as a source of their views, and many more offered opinions about the country that could hardly have come from another source. Only the collected stories of Rudyard Kipling were cited by Isaacs’s subjects more often than Mother India.1
In 1927, when Mother India was published, Katherine Mayo was a reasonably well known muckraker who had made her reputation with books exposing corruption among the New York state police, investigating alleged YMCA mismanagement of the army canteen in France during the World War (That DamnY), and criticizing the U.S. administration of the