Farthest Field – Raghu Karnad – Book Review


FarthestFieldGoodreads blurb: A brilliantly conceived nonfiction epic, a war narrated through the lives and deaths of a single family.

The 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 battlefront.

The years 1939–45 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 War.

Farthest 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.

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While I have read more than enough Commando comics in my teenage years to claim a reasonably decent knowledge of World War II, the fact remains that my knowledge was limited to information that is readily available in public domain and most of that restricts itself to the role of the British, Americans and to a lesser extent the French armed forces. With this background, when I read the blurb of this particular book Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to know more about the Indian armed forces’ involvement in World War II. And, trust me when I tell this, this book was more than quite a revelation, at least to me.

The author uses an interesting narrative and point of view to take readers through the entire theatre of war from the Indian armed forces perspective. Starting with how the three main characters, Bobby, Manek and Ganny join the armed forces to their postings with their units in geographically diverse locations such as the North-West Frontier Province, Persia and the north-eastern parts of India, the book takes us through various occurrences and incidents that the Indian armed forces had to face during the course of around half a decade or so.

Bobby Mugaseth’s gradual transformation from a carefree engineering student at Guindy, Madras to a battle hardened sapper on the north-eastern theatre of war as part of “The Forgotten Army” forms the canvas on which the author paints the story of wide sweeping changes in the world including the renewed vigor of Indian freedom fighters who use the war as an excuse to accelerate the process of breaking away from the colonial yoke of Britain, the Indian armed forces using the war to come into their own as a formidable fighting unit capable of taking on any armed force in the world, brief snippets into Japanese imperial ambitions to become a colonial power of the East and various other important but overlooked historical events of the world in those years.

In a nutshell, this book is a good read for all enthusiasts of history in general, and the history of the Indian armed forces in particular.

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

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