Book recalls India's contribution to First World War
New Delhi: A new book looks into the experience of combatants, non-combatants and civilians from undivided India in the First World War and their sociocultural, visual and literary worlds.
Around 1.5 million Indians were recruited of whom over a million served abroad.
In India, Empire, and First World War Culture: Writings, Images, and Songs , Santanu Das draws on a variety of fresh, unusual sources - objects, images, rumours, street pamphlets, letters, diaries, sound-recordings, folksongs, testimonies, poetry, essays and fiction - to produce a cultural and literary history, moving from recruitment tactics in villages through sepoy traces and feelings in battlefields, hospitals and POW camps to post-war reflections on Europe and empire.
Combining archival excavation in different countries across several continents with investigative readings of Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, Muhammad Iqbal, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindranath Tagore and others in this imaginative study opens up the worlds of sepoys and labourers, men and women, nationalists, artists and intellectuals, trying to make sense of home and the world in times of war.
Among the several people who Das refers to in the book, published by Cambridge University Press, are Jogen Sen, Mall Singh, Mir Mast and Kishan Devi.
Sen was part of the West Yorkshire Regiment and died in action on the night of May 22-23, 1916 in France. Singh was a Punjabi prisoner of war in the Halfmoon Camp at Wiinsdorf outside Berlin.
Devi from Punjab was the daughter of Havildar Sewa Singh of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers serving in Egypt. Mast served in the 58th Vaughan's Rifles (Bareilly Brigade) at Neuve Chapelle. His brother Mir Dast obtained a Victoria Cross for his performance in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.
Why do these people matter so much?
Jogen Sen's glasses, Mall Singh's voice, Kishan Devi's letter (to her father) and Mir Mast's diary are not just fresh and tantalising sources but open up new ways of reading' - and writing - life, and particularly colonial lives, in times of war, Das writes.
At an intermediate level, they confront us with the role of the sensuous, the material and the contingent: they force us to weave together a narrative of fugitive fragments, the flotsam, jetsam and lagan of life wrecked by war; they point to the importance of relicts as zones of contact between warm life and historical violence, he adds.
Das, a professor of English Literature at King's College London, is the author of the monograph Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (2006) and the pictorial history Indian Troops in Europe, 1914 1918 (2014).