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Rishi Srinivasa Iyengar

By Raghu Karnad
Fourth State, an Imprint of HarperCollins, Delhi, 2015, pp. 300, Rs. 550.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 2 February 2016

Seventy years after the end of World War II, memory has become a central concern for many. New tides of racism and anti-semitism sweep over Europe as the neverto-be-forgotten fades with the passing of the last survivors. What, then, of those who were not remembered in the first place? The British Indian Army fought in theatres ranging from the deserts and mountains of North Africa to the jungles of Burma and India, to the murderous slog through Anzio. But its soldiers had no myth-makers and storytellers in the West to anoint them with dubious sobriquets such as the ‘Greatest Generation’. In India, militant patriots captured our historical imagination, even if they served wretched tyranny while claiming to fight against it. It is a product of those times that the armies which fought for the British are barely remembered, while the INA, which was an offshoot of those armies, has been appropriated into the narrative of anti-colonial struggle. Despite this, there has been a recent surge of works on the ‘forgotten armies’, accompanied in reviews by solemnly quoted facts: 2.5 million, the largest volunteer army ever known; the biggest land battle fought against the Japanese; and so on. Raghu Karnad adds to the list, in the form of the Farthest Field, although he denies any claim to scholarship, as well as any aspiration of its being a ‘traditional’ biography. He writes instead what he describes as ‘forensic nonfiction’, piecing together the story of three lives from shards of memories, written evidence, unit histories, scholarly works, and what is generally believed to be fact. The immense effort which must have gone into the background research is never flaunted, although flashes are seen in obvious references, such as a casual mention of a ‘road of bones’,1 and glimpsed more indirectly through remembrances woven into the stories. Karnad chooses telling detail to pack into this short book; from the delicacies of social hierarchy in Calicut to the harrowing of mules during the reclaiming of Burma. ‘People have two deaths: the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely.’ The three boys around whom Farthest Field is centered—Bobby, Manek and Ganny—had almost quit this world when their descendant (Karnad) decided to revive their memory. They ...

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