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Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War by Raghu Karnad

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It is said that the news of the world war reached Calicut along with the morning eggs…..
The egg boy may have been told that rationing and shortages were expected, and eggs would be priced up as a precaution. But he couldn’t have explained about the Panzers in Poland, the craven declaration from London, or the Viceroy in Delhi already committing India and Indians to the fray……….

……………Bobby never imagined, any more than the egg boy, how the war would rise up around India, or how it would divide the country, divide the army that enlisted him, and even divide Bobby against himself. Or that he, his sisters and his new-found brothers, his countrymen and men from all over the Empire, would be drawn out onto roads that led very far from home, and did not all lead back……….” from Raghu Karnad’s Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War.

Every  photograph on the mantle, or the wall, or hidden between aged pages of albums, has a story to tell. Raghu Karnad had seen the three old photographs in his grandmother’s house, but never asked their names. The stories of the three men would have been lost with the death of his grandmother, had Raghu not worked backwards and pieced together the lives of Bobby Mugaseth, Manek Dadabhoy and Kodandera Ganapathy. The result of this painstaking task is a brilliantly documented historical saga, that honours not only the three brothers-in-law, who became brothers-in-arms, but also the countless Indians who were lost to the Second World War.

From movies to history books to novels, all tell the bone chilling tales of the concentration camps, the bloody battlefields in France and Russia, the Japanese Invasion and resilience of the Allied nations. Very few talk about how vital and game changing ,the Indian contribution was.While the nationalists used this ill-fated opportunity to voice out their disenchantment with the Imperial Rule and gain independence for India, there were those who fought valiantly to restore world order, as part of the British Army and Air Force. The Indian Army in the Second World War was the largest volunteer force the world had ever known. The Indian AirForce, formed in 1932, reigned the skies, protecting the eastern and western fronts of British India- The Jewel in the Crown.

With broken stories, anecdotes, and carefully collected evidence, Raghu builds up a poignant story of his family- their aspirations, their dreams, their failures and their losses. Intricately woven into this narrative, are glimpses of events that changed the course of history on a much larger scale. The account is not only heart wrenching, it is a valuable plethora of little known( or should one say…carefully withheld) facts pertaining to the Indian contribution towards a war that had nothing to do with the politics of India. Raghu’s ingenious and deft writing can be attributed to his successful career as a journalist. However, what makes this non fictional piece stand out and connect with the reader is his passionate emotional need to piece together reality!!!!

Definitely one of the best books I have read this year!!!!!

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