Apurba enjoyed reading Farthest Field, a book by Raghu Karnad, Girish Karnad’s son. Incidentally, Girish Karnad the veteran writer passed away today as I write this post.
Farthest Field is a nonfiction epic that tells the little known story of India’s role in WWII. There were over 2.5 million men who served in the Indian Army and though the war in Europe was fought on principles like freedom, there was a lot of hypocrisy on show. The Indian soldier who laid down his life was given a raw deal. Raghu Karnad had dismissed the pictures of three soldiers that hung on the wall of his ancestral house. It was only after his grandmother, a potential source of narration, had passed away that he learned about the lives of the characters, Manek, Ganny and Bobby, within that frame. The stories of these characters also weave the stories of Europe, North Africa, West Asia and Indo-China in those heady days of war.
“I couldn’t help thinking about the Bengal Famine too, in around the 1940s, and the discrimination that soldiers of color faced in the American army,” Apurba said about the marginalization that was the norm back in those days. She also advised us to go on historical walks like the Bangalore walks.
Watch Raghu Karnad speak about his book here.
Another book that was mentioned in connection with the war was Panther Red One: The Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot by Air Marshal S. Raghavendran, a member of the small group of future fighter pilots who joined the Indian Air Force in 1947. Jaya spoke about a book called The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Dr. Yasmin Khan, again a book about the largest volunteer army in history, the Indian army in pre-independent India. In this book, the reader learns about how the world war created seismic changes in the subcontinent. Another book this reminded me of was Narrow Road to the Deep North, a horrifying story of the building of an impossible railroad.
Diwakar was particularly impressed by the sweet book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a memoir detailing twenty years of correspondence between the author from New York and Frankie, a bookseller in London. In days like these when writing letters is almost impossible and postal services, which were once reliable, have now fallen into disuse in many parts of the world, a book about letters has its charm. Shanina mentioned how she writes letters to her little niece as their own secret way of communication, a charming story in its own right.
Helene Hanff was a scriptwriter with financial problems. She started writing letters to Frank in her quest for antiquarian books. It was the post World War scenario and UK was battling food shortages. Hanff began sending food packets to her new found friends. The letters are unique as they move from the breezy American style to the formal British one. The book was wildly popular and Hanff made a fortune when her book was adapted to radio, theater and a movie. It was her royalties from the book that helped her visit the UK for the first time. She has chronicled this in her second book- The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.
Sticking to the World War II theme, Diwakar spoke about another interesting book that gave a new perspective of the war. Most books feature the Allied perspective and this one called First and the Last by Adolf Galland is a book from the Axis point of view. In a very dry and meticulous manner, Galland talks about war as nothing but statistics being raked up. Even personal loss means just another number in the war. Galland looks at how genius war strategy went horribly wrong.
Sushmith spoke the book Seven Years in Tibet, a memoir by Heinrich Harrer about his brilliant escape across the Himalayas and into Tibet. He was in the Himalayas when World War II broke out and then he was imprisoned by the British. He fled to Lhasa, the forbidden city and became friend and guide to the Dalai Lama who was then just a child. The book has been adapted into a movie too.
Read more about this unique friendship here: https://tricycle.org/magazine/born-tibet/