This afternoon I got a call from an old, old friend . She is 95 and full of beans.She told me of her ideas about changing the national symbol to reflect, not the wheel of Ashoka, but the wheel of the rath of Krishna.Not murderous Ashoka but gentle Krishna.We have forgotten, she said, that Ashoka killed his siblings to become king. Krishna was not murderous. He did his duty. Karma yog was the answer. Work without anticipation of reward.
It was good to hear her . She wanted to share her vision that the wheel at the centre of the flag could mean more to most Indians..
She also talked to me about her husband who died last year. He was interned in a POW camp in Germany, after being caught in Cairo during the Second World War, and suffered greatly, like so many Indian officers and soldiers, who remain, like the Australians, the unsung heroes of the Allied army.
How many people know what Indian regiments did during this war?
8th Indian in action. Italy 1944
With movies and literature glorifying the deeds of other countries few realise that Indian officers were among those who faced Rommel in the desert, who were among the first to enter Rome, in the race for that honour between the British and U.S. army across Europe , and who died in horrifying circumstances in the Battle of Monte Cassino, in the south of Italy.
The few who survived that battle walked into Rome to guard many of Italy's national treasures- singers from the National Opera. For whom the grateful artists gave a concert that left not a dry eye in the room.
How do I know this? My father was there.
Back to my friend. Her husband kept a cookery book in the German camp, which she now wants to publish. In it are jewels of recipes . How to make do without several ingredients and still make a great meal. It occurs to me that he was not the only one to remember, in complete detail, the tastes of his youth and how to reconstruct the best of them even in his mind.And what power this had to make him survive (think of "In Memory's Kitchen", recipes collected by inmates of the concentration camp at Terezin.)
(I am sure that even in this age of globalisation, where regions are defined by availability of ingredients, most of which cross all borders, except perhaps those which require absolute freshness, his book would do well with the adventurous. After all, courage today is also defined in culinary bravado.Witness Bourdain, our modern day culinary warrior.)
Yesterday I saw a snippet on TV about a few living veterans of World War II .
Soldiers, villagers, who had been part of the British Indian Army in Burma , who were told to go home after the war, without a penny to live on and who, even now, receive pathetic pensions of Rs 900 i.e. $20 for their part in the wars of the British army. Wizened yet dignified, they had the courtesy to attend some ceremony organised by the UK high commission, to be at the receiving end of a dozen cameras and a hand out of cheques of $30 apiece, for being some of the bravest of the brave in those bloody battles . They were assured, by some British boffin, that people in his country would "continue to raise money for them as long as they lived!"
At least the British left in 1947, with, besides much else, our curry. Worth a lot more than 30 quid would you say??