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Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War Hardcover – 5 Jul 2015
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About the Author
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.
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In the Indian context we have two epics based on wars – however, both the 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata' have mythical elements in them and have now become imbued with religious overtones.
Generation spanning sagas like 'Battle Cry', 'Topaz' by Leon Uris; 'Winds of War', 'War and Remembrance' by Herman Wouk; the grime, sweat and brutality of 'Matterhorn' by Karl Marlantes; satire like 'Catch 22' by Joseph Heller and Wouk’s 'Caine Mutiny'; espionage novels like 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' by John le Carre are missing from Indian writing in English.
We have some inane films like 'Border' and 'LOC' that have more song and dance than the raw emotions, horrors and futility of war.
Filling in this gap is the commendable effort of Raghu Karnad’s 'Farthest Field'. It traces the journey of a family, particularly three individuals, caught up in a war which had no relevance for India. Vast in scope – indeed it has to be if it is about a World War – the book captures the agony, anger and frustration of a British Colony shanghaied into a war on the other side of the planet.
It is a well written narrative with no needless verbosity. The research is impeccable and thorough (except for one glaring error mentioned below). For a more detailed study, the Notes and Appendices offer enough reference material to consult for anyone interested in that direction.
One can read about individual heroism, cowardice, ineptitude, sheer waste of lives and material, cruelty and all sorts of adversities faced by the protagonists.
Here is a sentence depicting the gruesome reality of combat, “the only difference between the Indians and the Japs was what grew on them: fungus on the winners, maggots on the losers.”
Another from the scorching arid desert of Iraq, “most soldiers' hands were bandaged, burnt on parked vehicles or canteens left lying in the sun.”
The sheer misery of soldiers was not just restricted to the battle field. “Death was even louder there (in a divisional hospital), and packed in. Scrub typhus, septic sores, malaria, dengue fever, jaundice and jungle rot gnawed on men’s bodies beneath their stained sheets; that was not counting combat wounds.”
This unknown facet of Indian History and the contribution of tens of thousands of young men has been ignored for too long. The book is a must-read for members of the armed forces, historians and anyone truly interested in Indian history.
A surprising, but major inexcusable error is found in the Afterword where it is claimed that Sankaran Nair was the first chief of RAW. It can be seen even in Wikipedia that R. N. Kao was the first chief; Sankaran Nair succeeded him. Such a faux pas tends to raise a question mark on the veracity of all the previous research done by the author.
I have an issue with the format of the book. What should have been printed as foot notes at the bottom of every page are compiled at the end of the book. It is a pain turning back and forth looking up each reference - the rhythm of reading is rudely interrupted. A formatting solution could have been found in the most basic of word processing software.
Thanks Amazon for shipping the book so speedily; and I got a bargain - the hardcover for a mere Rs 385 - the advantage of pre-booking, I presume!
However I have one small request to the author. The English skills exhibited in the book are definitely not for ordinary readers. It would be helpful if Mr. Karnad could tone down his lingual brilliance to a commoners level. Then perhaps this book and other future publications could be readable for the general public.
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