Making of my novel “Spy from Unaula” – Forgotten soldier ‘Bhagwati’
It was in late seventies when our village house was undergoing small renovation work. I was very young and do not remember much of it, but my aunty who was illiterate village lady had to tell a lot about something I still recall. It was the discovery of my uncle’s old army trunk that was left unnoticed in one of the rooms for almost twenty-five years.
Those days, most of the villages did not have electricity and most of the rooms in the houses did not have windows. Therefore in most of the rooms the light would only come through the doors in daytime. On top of it, most of the rooms used to have large earthen containers to hold grain and rice that was produced from the farms. Behind one such big grain pot in a dark room, my aunt discovered the box and brought it out for inspection.
The trunk was black in color and had ‘Lance Naik – Bhagwati Prasad , 18 Gurkha Regiment’ written on it. When the trunk was opened, my aunt found neatly folded pair of uniform, a pair of shoes, a water bottle and at the bottom of the trunk, a file. My aunt being absolutely illiterate had little understanding what was in the file opened it up and found a postcard sized photo hidden in between several papers. She put the papers back along with everything back in the trunk and took the photo with her. The photo was a group snap of several soldiers with my uncle in it.
It was this photo that I laid my hands on several years later when I found it in her village home, carelessly put in one corner. It was for the first time that I had an opportunity to see my uncle. I had only heard about him so many times but never could think of a face. Behind this photo the address of the studio where the snap was taken was stamped. ‘Bright Studios, Batu Road, Kuala lumpur, Malaya.’ It was that day that my aunt described to me some war stories her brother told the village on his return from the war. The stories were sketchy and she could only tell me a few things like fighting on some place called ‘Red Hill’ and my uncle acting like a dead man to avoid enemy detection while crossing the enemy lines.
Armed with only these few inputs, his rank, battalion, my aunt’s story and the place the photo was taken, I researched for more than a year to dig out the complete story. The red hill description matched with the war against Japanese in Imphal that took place at a place known as red hills. I even travelled to Batu Road that is today known as Jalan TAR in KL in search of this studio, but the place with its name has changed completely. It is that story that probably no one else knows, have been written in the second chapter of my novel ‘Spy From Unaula’.
My uncle was one of the millions of young village boys who had so much life and must have wished to live a good long life. He died young at an early age of twenty seven. He was amongst thousands who have been completely forgotten after sixty five years of his death. He did not even live long to enjoy the fruits of the benefit the government gave to the ex-soldiers like him. The illiterate village folks did not understand anything about the file that was in the box and remained there for another twenty years before my father accidently discovered it. It was the papers of ten acres of land in Nanital (a hill station in north India) that was allocated to him as compensation by the government.
I was amazed at the fact that when my father was dying, one of the people he remembered was his elder brother. He must have been someone great to be remembered even after more than fifty years after his death. I wish I could have seen him and experienced why he was so much loved by my father.