| LETTERS FROM THE FRONT: The cover of Forever Forty
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
Colonel Vasanth Venugopal, commanding officer of 9 Maratha Light Infantry, wrote more than 400 letters home to his wife before he was killed in an encounter with extremists in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on July 31, 2007. He was awarded the Ashok Chakra.
India, unlike Britain, hasnt had much of a tradition of war poetry or novels but Col Vasanths letters form the basis of a book, Forever Forty, by his widow, Subhashini, and his cousin, Veena Prasad, which is soon to be published in Britain by Peakpublish.
This is a relatively new publishing venture set up by an Indian, Sridhar Gowda, and his wife of 17 years, Geraldine Rose, an English woman he first met on a train between Mysore and Bangalore in 1993.
Col Vasanths story has universal appeal, says Sridhar, who normally lives in a village called Calver in the idyllic Peak District in England.
Forever Forty is a celebration of life and love, adds Sridhar, who is currently in Bangalore with his wife to set up an Indian branch of Peakpublish. He had always wanted to join the army.
In one letter, Col Vasanth told Subhashini that he couldnt wait to be back home in Bangalore. He wanted to spend time with her and their daughters, Rukmini and Yeshodha, order pizzas and hot chocolate fudge, drive my own car and go to a restaurant. More poignantly, he wanted to walk without a weapon in my hands (and in civilian clothes) and not have to keep eyes wide open while moving, searching for likely ambush positions.
When Subhashini complained about his long absences, he admitted: I really do not have a satisfactory answer. It is a question that I often ask myself, as indeed I did last night when, cold and hungry, we surrounded a house with a cornered militant.
Col Vasanth might well have appreciated the sentiments expressed by Wilfred Owen, in Dulce et Decorum est, taken from the Latin in an ode by Horace, in which Britains best known war poet sought to dispel the lie that war was glamorous: To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori (it is sweet and right to die for your country).
Wilfred was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre in France on November 4, 1918, a week before the First World War ended. He remains forever 25.
There are similar echoes in another of Col Vasanths letters: You have left a void in me that cannot be filled. There is an aching loneliness in my belly. It has never been like this, Shubha, my love. I have not been the same after leaving your arms. I want to weep, but the tears dont come. But Im crying deep down, somewhere inside. This house has too many sweet memories.
| LOST IN ASSASSINATION: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condoling the murder of Salman Taseer
Children of the fallen
There is a now a growing club of eloquent and good looking young Pakistanis who have one thing in common — all are children of murdered politicians.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called a meeting at the Pakistani High Commission in London to voice support for the assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Behind him was Benazirs portrait.
Taseers half Indian son, Aatish, had gone into print stressing that despite differences with his father, I do mourn him, for whatever the trouble between us, there were things I never doubted about him: his courage.
Another of Salmans son, Shehryar, who had been preparing to celebrate his 25th birthday when his father was gunned down, spoke to the BBC in Pakistan with equal passion.
With sister Sara bravely by his side, he vowed the family would not be cowed despite extremist threats. The Taseers dont run, he declared.
To produce such children, Taseer must have been a giant of a man.
Going to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London last week to attend a panel discussion on involving David Miliband, the man beaten by his younger brother, Ed, in the fight for the Labour Party leadership, I learned that Fatima Bhutto is now a SOAS ambassador.
It was at SOAS that she began the dissertation which led eventually to her book, Songs of Blood and Sword, in which she blames Benazir for her father Murtazas murder.
So who among them is the voice of the future? Shehryar, who probably considers himself his fathers real heir, wont appreciate being upstaged by Aatish, while there are no diplomatic relations between first cousins Bilawal and Fatima. Those who choose to be active outside Pakistan risk being marginalised, while inside Pakistan, none is safe.
Ok, this is your Oxbridge entrance essay: explain in not less than one page why what is bad for India is good for India?
Usual rules apply: no cheating, no conferring, no ringing a friend, no biros, fountain pens only, your name at the top.
The answer for those who still havent got it is simple: think Jaguar, official partner of the England cricket team.
The Tata-owned luxury car company, which signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and England cricket team last summer, has rushed gleefully into print with full-page ads in every paper I can think of: Congratulations to the boys on winning The Ashes.
What a fantastic performance, it purred in a not-so-subtle reference to its own Jaguar limousines.
The folk at Tata Motors are in what Indian management types call a win-win situation this summer when India tour England.
English cricket has been transformed in recent times, and like Jaguars range of XF, XK and the new XJ, they are regularly beating the best competitors in the world, the company gloats.
Skipper Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook (766 runs with scores of 67, 235 not out, 148, 32, 13, 82 and 189) certainly deserve their top of the range models, perfect for ferrying round muddy boots.
Mark Shand, travel writer but now introduced as the younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is kind enough to tell Tatler that Indians are the most hospitable people in the world.
His best restaurant? Trishna, the best seafood restaurant in the world, in Bombay.
And his best hotel is an unassuming little place — the Malbazar Tourist Lodge, in a tea planting area in West Bengal…it serves the best fish curry…A large sign outside proclaims, Cold Beer, Sold Here, Here Sold, Beer Cold. The Bengalis are famous for their poetic prowess.
Now that financial problems have been overcome, the 23rd James Bond movie, starring Daniel Craig as 007 and directed by Sam Mendes, will be released on November 9, 2012.
In the past, speculation about Aishwarya Rai, Shilpa Shetty and Freida Pinto being taken on as the first Indian Bond girl remained just speculation.
The handful of actresses the producers might consider wont do what Bond girls are expected to do and the many, who are more than willing to do the needful, are not wanted.
As always, a number of Indian actresses will strenuously deny they have been approached to be a Bond girl, hoping Indians wont believe them.
On such occasions, we should.