Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Sunday Read: Amitav Ghosh Talks About Personal Narratives of Indian WW1 Soldiers and Its Pertinence for Politics Today

Award-winning writer Amitav Ghosh’s most recent project involved the translation of the rare personal narratives of two Indian soldiers who were prisoners in Ras Al-Ain, a city on the border of Turkey and Syria, during World War 1.

In an Antique LandRiver of SmokeSea of PoppiesThe Glass PalaceThe Calcutta Chromosome

In an interview with Emily Mkrtichian for Guernica Magazine, Ghosh discussed the soldiers’ denunciation of patriotism and nationalism and said that it is as if they were “able to see what was going to happen in the Indian subcontinent, which has really been torn apart by nationalism of various sorts; it is a legacy we live with until this day”.

The Shadow LinesThe Hungry TideThe Circle of ReasonIncendiary Circumstances

Today there are refugee camps for people fleeing the conflict in Syria in the same place where the soldiers were imprisoned during WW1. “What we see in Syria is very much the continuity between today and the past,” Ghosh says. He attributes the conflict to the attempt to create nation states and unitary identities in places that are extremely diverse.

Ghosh also talked about climate change and how stubborn nationalistic ideals are preventing the USA and Australia from committing to environmental policies and practices that will benefit the whole world.

Guernica: During your Keynote address for the “Strategies of Un-Silencing” conference here in Yerevan, you shared that you have been translating the personal narratives of two Indian soldiers from the First World War. Why have you referred to them as some of the “most remarkable” texts of the 20th century?

Amitav Ghosh: In the first place what makes them so unique is that they were written by Indian military—actually paramilitary—personnel. Written accounts by Indian military or paramilitary personnel are very rare; in the whole First World War, we really have just three or four accounts of it from the Indian point of view. And these two texts are actually very, very little known; I came to them through the work of a literary critic and I became fascinated by them. Most of all because it was very interesting to see the Middle East refracted through the eyes of these guys from my own city, Calcutta, to see what their responses were and how they went through these terrible situations.

Book details

Image courtesy The National


Please register or log in to comment