Joanna Lumley has returned to the land of her birth to celebrate India and walk in her ‘family’s footsteps’. But does her series overlook British oppression in the former colony – and her own ancestors’ role?
The trouble with Joanna Lumley’s India, currently showing on ITV, is that despite the promise to “celebrate” modern India and “walk in my family’s footsteps”, this isn’t the full story of Joanna Lumley’s India, and certainly not her family’s. Within minutes of the first episode, there is an omission. Strolling through Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, she points out the British-inspired architecture. But she fails to mention that St John’s Church, the first Anglican cathedral on the subcontinent, was built by James Agg, her great-great-great-great-grandfather and the first of her ancestors to arrive in 1777.
Perhaps she isn’t aware of the lineage. But it is not hard to trace it back. Or maybe it’s because of those four chilling words: British East India Company – the trading corporation turned “aggressive colonial power”, as the historian William Dalrymple put it, whose activities brought the word “loot” (from the Hindustani lut) into the English dictionary, and from which Agg seems likely to have made his fortune.