Difficult, assuming prior knowledge of Indian politics and history I noticed the people who have given this book 4 and 5 star ratings are all Indian I wanted to like it and could have been very good I was very interested in the subject matter. This one book fills a lot of gaps in bringing out the hidden history about the forgotten battles of the world war 2 Amazingly researched and poignantly written, this book is going to be a milestone for years to come This also seeds opportunities for writers and researchers to dig out stories and facts from the war and bring out books, TV shows, web content in the genre of pop history and non fiction, given the current penchant for a clearer and non agenda driven history of India.That said, there are some shortcomings in the book especially considering its classification as History The book s organization reminded me of typical Bollywood movies in which the first half just exists to build up events for a fast paced climax Though very relevant to the whole story, I felt there was an overt focus on the backgrounds and bringing up of Bobby and his sisters Also, classifying this as History as opposed to Historical Drama might have been better I felt other books in the same genre like Paths of glory in English, Chikaveera Rajendra, AavaraNa in Kannada have dealt their respective themes in a better way.But let me not take away the credits and recognize the hard work of the author A must read. A Brilliantly Conceived Nonfiction Epic, A War Narrated Through The Lives And Deaths Of A Single FamilyThe Photographs Of Three Young Men Had Stood In His Grandmother S House For As Long As He Could Remember, Beheld But Never Fully Noticed They Had All Fought In The Second World War, A Fact That Surprised Him Indians Had Never Figured In His Idea Of The War, Nor The War In His Idea Of India One Of Them, Bobby, Even Looked A Bit Like Him, But Raghu Karnad Had Not Noticed Until He Was The Same Age As They Were In Their Photo Frames Then He Learned About The Parsi Boy From The Sleepy South Indian Coast, So Eager To Follow His Brothers In Law Into The Colonial Forces And Onto The Front Line Manek, Dashing And Confident, Was A Pilot With India S Fledgling Air Force Gentle Ganny Became An Army Doctor In The Arid North West Frontier Bobby S Pursuit Would Carry Him As Far As The Deserts Of Iraq And The Green Hell Of The Burma BattlefrontThe Years Might Be The Most Revered, Deplored, And Replayed In Modern History Yet India S Extraordinary Role Has Been Concealed, From Itself And From The World In Riveting Prose, Karnad Retrieves The Story Of A Single Family A Story Of Love, Rebellion, Loyalty, And Uncertainty And With It, The Greater Revelation That Is India S Second World WarFarthest Field Narrates The Lost Epic Of India S War, In Which The Largest Volunteer Army In History Fought For The British Empire, Even As Its Countrymen Fought To Be Free Of It It Carries Us From Madras To Peshawar, Egypt To Burma Unfolding The Saga Of A Young Family Amazed By Their Swiftly Changing World And Swept Up In Its Violence Review of Farthest Field An Indian Story of the Second World WarBy Raghu KarnadRating 5 starsI, along with my wife, was at her friend s wedding in Mumbai I had just come back on leave from Congo for a week and for most of my wife s friends, I was an enigma, or in desi terms, a fauji, an armywallah Her friends, most of them from the business community had never ever interacted with an army officer before So predictably they were excited In their exuberance, one of the innocent ones asked me a simple question How many Indian soldiers are there in Congo as part of the Peacekeeping force Valid Question , I thought and replied that as per my approximation, it would be around 5000 men, give or take a few hundred.The girl was shell shocked forgive the pun She exclaimed, If 5000 of you guys are there in a foreign country, then who is going to protect us This anecdote serves as an example of a significant gap that exists between the armed forces of our country, a minuscule percent of the population, and the vast majority of civilians This review is not meant to denigrate anyone but is of an overview of the transitionary nature of the armed forces of our country, as this is what the author, Raghu Karnad has done Through the personal stories of three Indian officers in his family, all of them sacrificed in the meat grinder of the Second World War, Raghu tells us the story of India, the blanked out pages of our history books that fail to mention anything about the largest volunteer force in the world at the time But on that later.The Indian armed forces, especially the land component, the Indian Army, is an enigma for most It comes to the fore only in times of war, Kashmir, North East and nowadays floods, earthquakes, footbridges, Commonwealth Games and tubewells The combat fatigues, the haphazard crisscrossing pattern of olive green and autumn leaf yellow colour, now duplicated by almost all the paramilitary forces have been the most recognised uniform in the country But do people understand the Army I am afraid not Due to inadequate research and cliched notions of stiffness, the typical armyman was caricatured as an Colonel or Brigadier saab with a beautiful young daughter, an over mustachioed stickler who prefers everything in a drill like manner, who likes to take his many dogs for a walk and always keeps a shotgun handy, just in case.The Indian Army is not the Ship of Theseus yet Its halfway there, with its mishmash of antiquated and now mostly ceremonial Barakhanas, Quarter Guards, Kotes and Dinner Nights and pure bred martial regiments commingling with and mostly replaced by all India mixed class and brand new equipment The Viceroy Commissioned Officers VCOs and the King s Commissioned Indian Officers KCIOs have been long replaced with Junior Commissioned Officers JCOs and Commissioned officers of the Indian Army, with the President of India s Commission A pseudo science of martial classes that included, at the time of India s 1857 Mutiny, Punjabis, Pathans, Gurkhas over time cemented and was vindicated by the training, mechanisation and trial by fire of Indian soldiers in the First and the Second World War Today these regiments have histories going back almost three hundred years and with battle honours such as Gallipoli, Malakand valley, Mesopotamia, Greece, Italy and North Africa Most of us remember the Second World War by its single most spectacular event D Day or the Normandy landings The Saviors of Paris The stand at Stalingrad Rommel Patton Montgomery How many of us have heard about Field Marshal William Slim, the most able Allied Commander of the Second World War What about the Fourteenth Army, an army which had started calling itself the Forgotten Army even before the end of its campaign The British Indian Army, which started its campaign in Eritrea, Somaliland then the deserts of North Africa, the Italian campaign found itself clashing with the Japanese in its own backyard North East Frontier Agency NEFA , current Manipur, Nagaland This is the story of the Fourteenth Army which sacrificed so many in the mosquito and leech infested jungles of India s North East, Indians, British, Nepalis, West and East Africans, Gambians everyone has its story to tell But this specifically is the story of India, an unformed nation at the time and the army that made it into a state.Raghu Karnad weaves the Indian army campaigns in Eritrea, North Africa and Burma into a seamless whole by taking three protagonists of his story Bobby, Manek and Ganny and weaving a tale of action, adventure and death around it Raghu Karnad is Girish Karnad s son and an excellent journalist This is his first book Here he takes his Parsi ancestors Raghu s mother was half Parsi half Kodava, and tell their story He talks about his grandmother Nurgesh or Nugs, her two sisters Subur and Kosh and her only brother Bobby He also hints at the ostracism faced by his grandmother when she married outside the community ie Gannny or Ganapati Kosh marries Manek who is a pilot in the fledgling Indian Air Force Through the eyes of Ganny we see the North West Frontier Province and the role of the RAF in bombing civilians in the frontier areas He dies there due to asthma Manek, part of the IAF, moves to the Eastern Theatre and while coming back from a bombing mission over Burma, runs into a hill and is killed instantly It is through the eyes of Bobby that three quarters of the book is written and seen.The Indian Army acted as an occupation force both during and after the war It was considered a mercenary force, composed of boys who would fight for the goras to earn money and receive ration and rum This was in huge contrast to the Quit India movement launched by the Congress and its persuading the entire country to boycott Britain s war effort Despite this, the British assembled the largest volunteer force in the world at the time 2.5 million men under arms This army proved itself in all the campaigns it fought in But it was only during the Burma campaign when the spectre of a Japanese flag flying over the Viceroy s Palace in Delhi raised its head, the Indian army dug its heels and defended the territory the boys had started calling home Most historians including the NCERT attribute India s independence to the Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi, glossing over the subcutaneous nation building that was in its full force during the defence of places such as Kohima, Dimapur and Imphal The Indian Army also had to face the Subhash Chandra Bose led Indian National Army INA , an force of 40,000 soldiers made mostly of POWs of Singapore and Malaya and trained by the Japanese.Finally it boils down to the question of loyalty towards an Empire which had sucked and ravished every inch of land, resource and humanity for its own good OR towards the promise of an independent utopia but accompanied by the horror of treachery and subjugation As Raghu writes in the epilogue of the book The real ideological fissure did not run between the INA and the Indian Army, but ran through them both together the dilemma of choosing loyalty or liberty, subordination or treason. I won a free copy through a GoodReads giveaway.Frankly, I may not have been in the right mental space for this book, but I couldn t get motivated to finish it.It s an interesting moment in time and an under represented perspective, talking about WW2 from the point of view of Indian nationals serving on behalf of the Allies, even while the tide of nationalism is pushing against the British colonialism of the time.There are two problems that I have with it One is that the reader needs to already have a pretty thorough grounding in Indian history right before this period, and while I have some, a lot of references just slipped past me The other is that this text straddles the line between fictionalized recreations of people s thoughts and feelings and historical fact evidence It s a similar approach that Jeff Shaara used in his Civil War book about Gettysburg, Killer Angels, but Shaara was much clearer about what he was doing. For most of us, the early 1940s was a period during which our nationalist movement peaked with the Quit India resolution being passed and the Raj beginning to to crack The lesser known fact was that this was also a period when close to 2 million men chose loyalty over patriotism and enrolled in the British Indian Army and fought in campaigns around the globe and also played a sterling role in defending mainland India Sadly, they are hardly remembered today and the much smaller Indian National Army of Bose is what remains in public imagination Three sepia tinted photographs adorn the cover of the Farthest Field According to Karnad s own admission, while these were known to be those of his grand father, his grand uncle and their brother in law, they were seldom mentioned or spoken about Years later, unsatisfied to let them pass into oblivion, Karnad explored their lives, studied the battles they fought and in the end came up with an immortal tribute in the form of this book With an impressive mix of historical fiction and military history and through the microcosm of one Parsi generation that was settled in Calicut, Karnad makes us experience what living in India and fighting on the fronts meant during the Second World War Real life characters as varied as General Thimayya, Air Marshal Arjan Singh, Lakshmi Sehgal and most interestingly Verghese Kurien appear through out the narrative.While the first half was spent in fleshing out the lives of the three protagonists their passions, love, career decisions the second part moved the spotlight to the various theatres of battle that Indians fought in From the deserts of Libya, the groves of Gaza, the bleak NWFP to the jungles of Burma, Karnad takes us through the hardships, heroism and plain fear of ordinary Indians who fought the war only to be forgotten in the larger narrative of the world war.Beyond the story, some of the points that struck was his argument that it was the Second World War that converted a mercenary force of the British into a great institution called the Indian Army.There s still a bit of ambivalence on whether or not the war played a direct role in India s independence But for sure, imperialism and the Raj became untenable after fighting for the cause of the Singaporeans, the Burmese and the Chinese. For a young Indian trying to understand the most recent world war and its implications on our present and the future, farthest field comes across as a shocking revelation of the extent to which India played a role in it even though the war was never ours Sidelining the general discussion that revolves exclusively around Europe, US, Russia and Japan when it comes to the second world war, Raghu Karnad beautifully illustrates the significant roles played by the much smaller and unimportant Asian and African colonies by using the life stories of three of his own ancestors It is this personal and familial touch that lends this Non fiction piece a strong and unique emotional heft, making us connect with the Ravages of war with surreal depth and intensity And finally, Starting from Madras and going all the way to the far reaches of Africa ,this book tells the story of a forgotten Indian army that thrived and evolved under the British Rule and how their actions invariably led to an early Independence for India Must read. Brilliant but I take issue with his use of forensic He never defines it, but it seems to mean reconstructive without proof,as in his description of the characters inner thoughts, or stray sights from a train,limited only by never disagreeing with facts established by other means.That is exactly what a good historical novel does, and he does it well,and sheds great light in the process.But forensic first meant legal, and then came to be associated with forensic science establishing what can be known, by external evidence where a bullet came from, how long a person has been dead, etc.To turn it around like this, applying it to things that could easily have been otherwise,is a misappropriation of language. This is an extremely important book Not a single book has covered the Second World War from the point of view of participations of Indians in this great detail Not a single book has covered the Second World War, the war which was never ours and still it reached and affected us, the war India was fighting in its own courtyards and in its neighbourhoods Our history curriculum never showed us that truth which this book uncovers in great details This is why it is such an important book to read.This is an extremely good book Well researched, finely crafted, and brilliantly written Raghu writes about the individual, Raghu writes about the family, Raghu writes about the conflicts, Raghu writes about the events happening around the lives of the actors and impacting them Raghu writes about the great war, its complexities, and the causes and impacts And Raghu writes simply great It is amazing to see such a good book as the first book Raghu Karnad has arrived.I am extremely happy that I picked this book. I believe there is a worthy story in this book however, the writing style didn t work for me Unlike many other non fiction books I have read on WWII where the author diligently researches historical events and weaves them into a cohesive flowing plot, Karnad s prose is stilted I appreciate Karnad s intrigue of three young Indian men Bobby Mugaseth, Manek Dadabhoy and Ganny GP who were soldiers in the war The men are deceased yet Karnard speaks of them in first person He doesn t know what they said nor thought The rest of the book is comprised of facts and details Karnad needed to make this either a historical fiction book or purely non fiction not imposing on the reader what deceased people were thinking.
Raghu Karnad is an award winning writer and journalist who lives between Bangalore and New Delhi, India His essay detailing the origins of this book was described by Simon Schama as nothing short of brilliant Farthest Field is his first book.
- 320 pages
- Farthest Field
- Raghu Karnad
- 22 May 2018 Raghu Karnad