In Indian Voices of the Great War, British historian David Omissi collected letters written during WWI by Indian soldiers. One soldier asks for charas, another for ladies shoes, and yet another for a flute not because he needs it but because he has ‘great longing for a flute to play’. The reader can only imagine his request for a musical intrument, for music, and what that means to him amidst trench warfare. One soldier writes about his four year abcense and so allowing his wife to remarry according to vedic rites for the dignity of the family, another writes about the real reason he wants the ladies shoes which is not because he is having an affair, and yet another sends home a picture of an American female aviator so Indian women can see what they can aspire to.
Balwant Singh (Sikh) to Pandit Chet Ram (Amritsar, Punjab)
24th October 1915
The ladies are very nice and bestow their favours upon us freely. But contrary to the custom in our country they do not put their legs over the shoulders when they go with a man. [Deleted]
read letter excerpts in Caravan: A Journal of Politics and Culture
Novelist, artist, translator Daisy Rockwell brings her many hats to her interview with the equally multi-hatted Amitava Kumar (though Rockwell does not open the ‘authenticity’ door 🙂
“In his new book A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna, author Amitava Kumar writes about his hometown, Patna, in Bihar, India. Not meant to be a comprehensive history, it’s a slim volume that attempts to capture not just the spirit of a city, but also Kumar’s ambivalent relationship to Patna, as an emigré with pangs of guilt for having left. I found the book was witty, thought-provoking, and eminently readable, but I still had many questions for the author, and so I contacted him for an interview, and he graciously accepted.
Your hometown of Patna, in India, is the kind of place that people want to leave, if they can, and have trouble feeling proud of. Is there an equivalent city or region in the United States that would help American readers get an idea of what Patna is like?
You remember what James Carville said about Pennsylvania? It has Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle. When I heard that remark, I was living in State College, PA. At first I chuckled, and then I stopped. I began to wonder, if he’s saying this about State College, PA, what would he say about Patna.”
read rest here
* on an added note, I’m looking foward to reading Rockwell’s translation writer Upendranath Ashk’s short story collection “Hats and Doctors.”