First World War Adventures of Nariman Karkaria

by Radhika Singha, at The Wire

[Original Article Quoted] Nariman Merwanj Karkaria served in four theatres of World War One, wrote about his experiences for the Gujarati paper Jame Jamshed and compiled these pieces into a book titled Rangbhumi par Rakhad (1922).

Murali Ranganathan is to be commended for translating this memoir into English, and placing it in the context of Gujarati travel writing. One notes, with a pang, that he had to excise two forewords, a note from the publisher, the photographs, and a list of those who subscribed towards the publication of the Gujarati edition.

Karkaria begins with an account of his hell-raising childhood, and the restive spirit which propelled him away from life as a Parsi priest in small-town Navsari and put him, at the age of 16, on a boat to China.  A second trip to China, at the outbreak of World War One, concludes in Karkaria’s decision to go to London to enlist in a British regiment. Journeying by train across China to Siberia, Petrograd, Sweden and Norway, Karkaria takes in the sights between changes of train, confidently setting out itineraries for other would-be travellers.

With his admission to the 24th Middlesex Regiment, the narrative shifts to drills, inspections and military camps. After trench warfare in the Somme, and desert and mountain service in the Sinai-Palestine theatre, Karkaria marches into Jerusalem in the ranks of Allenby’s victorious army. What follows is a chapter devoted to places of interest in this historic city, concluding with a nominal apology for diverging from his account of the campaign:

“Is it proper for a soldier on the battlefield to behave like a tourist? Let’s get back to camp!”

Nariman Karkaria, Rangbhumi par Rakhad (1922)

Click on the link below, to continue reading this fascinating account of what academic, author, and Professor at Oxford University, Santanu Das describes as “perhaps the only trench narrative we have from an Indian author, and one whose realist approach is closer to the writing of European soldiers, than to the letters composed by Indian soldiers.”