The Raj on the Move: Story of the Dak Bungalow
by Rajika Bhandari
Publisher: Roli Books, October 2012
Long-listed for the 2013 Economist Crossword Book Award
Established in the 1840s by the peripatetic British, dak bungalows forever changed the way officers of the Empire and their families traveled across the subcontinent and got to know the real India. With most of the British Raj perpetually on the move, whether on tour or during the summer migration to the hills, dak bungalow travel inspired a brotherhood of sorts for generations of British and Indian officers, who could recount tales of horrid dak bungalow food, a crazed khansama, and the time their only companion at the bungalow was a tiger on the loose. Today, too, PWD-run circuit houses and dak bungalows continue to occupy an important place in the lives and imagination of India’s civil servants.
In The Raj on the Move: Story of the Dak Bungalow, Rajika Bhandari weaves together history, architecture, and travel to take us on a fascinating journey of India’s British-era dak bungalows and circuit houses, following, quite literally, in the footsteps of travellers who stayed in these bungalows over the past two centuries. Her search takes her from the early-19th century memoirs and travelogues of British memsahibs, to travelling the length and breadth of contemporary India, from the original colonial outpost of Madras in the south to the deep interiors of Madhya Pradesh, the heart of British India. Evoking the stories of Kipling and Ruskin Bond and filled with fascinating tidbits and amusing anecdotes, the book unearths local folklore about these remote and mysterious buildings, from the crotchety khansamas and their delectable chicken dishes to the resident ghosts that still walk the halls at night.
Praise for the book:
“The Raj on the Move: Story of the Dak Bungalow…is often an arresting social history of British India, or at least of those who were allowed to take shelter under its red roofs.” –Mint/Wall Street Journal
“Bhandari drinks deeply from old travelogues and literature of the Raj…and justly reclaims the dak bungalow’s place in the Raj’s cultural imagination…Particularly delightful are the observations, verses, stories and even recipes (from Edward Lear, Dickens, Kipling, and other chroniclers spread over a century and a half).”–Outlook Magazine
“Rajika Bhandari’s book has a novelty as there has probably been no detailed work on the subject. The book has anecdotes about various khansamas of present and past…such tales make the book extremely amusing and colourful. Tinged with nostalgia for things old and lost, the book is a great record of little details that need to be preserved for posterity. It has a strong personal touch which endears it to the reader who is quite a part of the emotional journey from the dak bungalows of the mid-19th century to the circuit houses of today.”–The Pioneer
“If you have been thinking of Dak Bungalows as boring and haunting government run buildings of past then you need to explore them more for a stint with furious ghosts and delicious chicken treat, says Rajika Bhandari who has archived the dangers and delights of Dak bungalows in her book.”. –Deccan Herald
“Dak Bungalow (or Bangla) cuisine, sadly, is a near-forgotten culinary treasure that survives among a few remaining khansama families and Anglo Indian households. Rajika Bhandari’s The Raj on the Move retraces some of these flavours from sooty kitchens served for the ‘Sahib’ and the ‘Mem’.”–Mid-Day
Rajika Bhandari, writer and researcher, is the author of the book, The Raj on the Move: Story of the Dak Bungalow. Her nonfiction writing has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Passion Fruit: A Women’s Travel Journal, India Currents magazine, Man’s World magazine, InCulture Parent, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Rajika is also the author of four books on international education. Originally from New Delhi, India, she currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.