India and World War II @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for farthest fieldApurba 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.

Image result for 84 charing cross road bookDiwakar 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.

Image result for seven years in tibet amazon bookSushmith 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:


Closed Doors and Serial Killers @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 5)

Now for some non-fiction.

behind-closed-doorPujan got a non-fiction book called WWII Behind Closed Doors by Laurence Rees. For a war buff, this book is a treasure trove as the author delves into classified data with panache. The choices made by leaders like Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin are unraveled. While the war was being fought and soldiers world over sacrificed their lives, the political games leaders played catered to a very different reality. Roosevelt, for instance, was not overly fond of the idea of the British Empire and minced no words with Stalin about this. To understand more about those troubled times, check this out:

The conversation veered to the whole idea of empire and whether the British leaving India twenty years later, had Churchill stayed on, would have made any difference. The book Farthest Field  by Raghu Karnad was mentioned. The Indian army was the largest volunteer army that fought the World War and now their service is an embarrassing memory for both sides.

Sankharshan was immersed deep in the work in progress of a friend that revolves around the Indian constitution. He came across some interesting discoveries. It’s easier to get books about Ambedkar the man than writings by him. The conversation moved to politics in the US and the impressive political TV series Veep.

serial-killersSunny, the host of the party, got a book called World Famous Serial Killers by Colin Wilson and Damon Wilson that delves into the psychology of serial killers. The book has been written by two police officers who present various case studies in an objective manner. Sunny spoke about many horrific cases of unsuspecting murderers, including a child murderer. The descriptions were scintillating for Criminal Minds fans but disturbing for others. A brilliant book Lolita was mentioned. The strange thing about the book is that the writer Nabokov’s first person narrative is so bewitching that the reader so easily slips on the shoes of the wrong doer and forgets the criminality of the protagonist.

On that dark note, the party came to an end.