A journal of Ackerley's stay in the Indian province of Chhatarpur during the 1920s, "Hindoo Holiday" records and mocks the muddled morality and intellectual immaturity of both slothful Indian rulers and equally pampered British colonialists. After Ackerley returned from India, he spent several years touching up his diary for publication; he changed the names, toned down the sexual content, and removed passages that might be considered libelous. This recently published version is the first unexpurgated American edition, with all the cuts restored.
Ackerley's intent was to be mischievous and outrageous and comic; and his book became both a critical hit and, to everyone's surprise, his most commercially successful work. The book is at its best in its humorous depictions of the Maharajah, his private secretary Babaji Rao, and the contingent of valets, including the endearingly sweet Sharma and Narayan. For the most part, Ackerley's portraits are nonjudgmental and fond; he reserves his venom for the British guests and, to a lesser extent, for his sycophantic tutor, Abdul, and clumsy servant-child, Habib.
Throughout "Hindoo Holiday" there is a disconcerting, even creepy, undercurrent that revolves around the sexual despotism of the Maharajah, whose predatory advances are directed towards the "Gods"--his name for the boys in his employ. "Boys" is Ackerley's term; at least one is identified as being twenty and several are married, so it's possibly more accurate to call most of them young men. But, whatever their age, these youngsters are compelled to have sexual relations with the Maharajah--and with his wife while he's watching. Complicating this issue is the subtly hinted possibility that the ruler is suffering from the advanced stages of syphilis. (The paternity of the palace's heirs is a great mystery, as well.) Only a few of the youths seem able to withstand his advances, and Ackerley often must come to the defense of Narayan, one of the "Gods" who refuses to comply.
Ackerley reports these incidents with disquieting aplomb. His own role in these matters is rather innocent; according to biographer Peter Parker, he limited his affections to kissing and holding hands: "If he had sexual relations whilst in India, he left no record of the fact." (And Ackerley was not known for being shy about such matters in either his journals or correspondence.) Nevertheless, intentionally or not, the goings-on in the palace are emblematic of the corruption, indolence, and decadence of the British Raj.
Most modern readers, then, will find much of the tone and material and humor in "Hindoo Holiday" a bit dated. Yet Ackerley's memoir is still an accurate portrait of the time--and there are moments of brilliant hilarity.