Forgotten heroes
Randeep Wadehra

Indian Prisoners of War in Pakistan
Compiled by Nafisa Ali et al
The Assn of the families of the Indian Prisoners of War &Trishul Publications
Pages: xvii+264. Rs 195

It’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
But it’s ‘saviour ‘ is country’ when the guns begin to shoot
Rudyard Kipling

When we idolise a soldier we rob him of all human attributes. We term him a sentinel, a saviour and expect him to lay down his life for us while we rest snugly in our homes. But a soldier is also a human being with expectations. He too needs to be assured that his family would be looked after well in his absence; that the government would come to his rescue if he became a prisoner of war; that in life and in death his dignity would remain sacrosanct. And these are the expectations that every self-respecting nation ought to meet readily.

Alas! The contents of this book indicate otherwise. Those who became POWs during the 1965 and 1971 wars "were abandoned" and are still languishing in jails in Pakistan. Their womenfolk in India had to do menial jobs to get two square meals. Worse, the babus shouted at them and shooed them away whenever they sought government’s help for locating and rescuing the missing soldiers.

Flouting the Geneva Convention Pakistan has not only retained the Indian POWs, but also treated them in an inhuman manner. Nafisa Ali and her team members have compiled heartrending details of the sufferings of soldiers and their kin while presenting indisputable evidence of the existence of Indian POWs in Pakistan and the apathy of successive governments. There’s a lot of angst and anger in the hearts of those interviewed for this eye-opener.

Ambedkar in Retrospect

Ed. Sukhadeo Thorat & Aryama
Rawat Publications and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.
Pages: vii+360. Rs 725

Ambedkar remains eminently relevant to socio-political discourse as well as reality obtaining in today’s India. A contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, he was an intellectual giant who was interested not only in law and constitution, but in sociology, anthropology, politics and comparative religion also.

As a nation-builder, devising constitutional means for the empowerment of Dalits is one of his enduring contributions. Although he sympathised with the leftist ideology and recognised that power flowed from private ownership of property, he wasn’t prepared to go along with the class-war theory.

He believed that, in the Indian context, caste was a more powerful tool for perpetuating exploitation and oppression. He was also a great votary of women’s emancipation. This book is a collection of erudite essays by scholars from India and abroad. These essays try to understand Ambedkar’s variegated role as a reformer, scholar and nation builder. A must read for all.

Ugly Duckling

by Amita Mukerjee
Revenge Ink, UK. Pages: 584. US$ 14.99

Pretty, intelligent and gifted Mia Makarand is an Indian-American who marries a Frenchman and comes to Paris to make a career as an interpreter. However, her low self-esteem plummets further when she faces snobs like Krup Hanselfolk, Henri Harcourt, Radha Kamathi etc. Life becomes difficult when bitchy colleagues do everything to put her down. Emotional over-reactions to attention-seeking, crazy, kinky-sex-maniac Graziella, arrogant, selfish, manipulative faux-artist Aphrodite and control freak Galina only add to her misery.

But her agent Claudie’s support and her own inherent toughness help her overcome the odds. This sardonic, verbose novel is peppered with epithets, invectives, metaphors and similes ranging from the banal to the brilliant while the focused, racy narrative makes it an enjoyable page-turner.