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Koi Hai?


N.S. Jagannathan

GENERAL J.N. CHAUDHURI: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
By D.K. Narayan
Vikas, New Delhi, 1978, pp. X 207, Rs. 45.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 2 September/October 1978

As the old song does not have it, old soldiers never die nor fade away, but write memoirs. But let us grant it to them, they usually make a much better job of it than old civil servants. At least General Chaudhuri does. The book is written in crisp and cultivated English, which I at­tribute less to Sandhurst and the lesser English school he went to earlier but to his mother—Newnham and Sorbonne graduate eighty years ago—who read aloud to him as a boy all the more interes­ting classics and made him memorize a good deal of poetry, which came in handy much later when General Chaudhuri wanted an old saw or a modern instance to gar­nish his conversation with. A slightly less orthodox education was provided by his uncle's library, which had such suitable material for young minds as Havelock Ellis' Psychology of Sex, with its tantaliz­ing case histories that had a fair sprink­ling of Latin in an otherwise Anglo-Saxon text. The General did not probably ac­quire his Latin from them, though, like many others before and after, he must have tried hard to construe these passages! His latter-day taste in erotica was, as in the case of most of us, different: Lady Chatterley's Lover, to wit, a copy of which he lent (why?) to a brigadier's daughter, who never returned it. That is how one's library gets depleted, but that is another story. The book is no formal memoir, porten­tous and dull, full of reasons why the general did not win the wars he lost or of opaque descantation on strategy or defen­ce organization. There is a certain amount of the latter in the second—and lesser—­half of the book, which is clearly eked out. Here the anonymous military cor­respondent of the Statesman takes over from time to time and holds forth on India as the natural arsenal of West and South-East Asia, the necessity to study ‘Insurgency and the value, to developing countries, of the infantry man, ‘the cat-burglar, gunman and poa­cher’ of Wavel1's definition. All this is somewhat scrappy and much less interest­ing than the first half of the book, in which the young 'Koi Hai' was in the making. It is agreeable anecdotage to the author and the reader alike, a case of looking back with nostalgia not so much ...


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