Archive for July 20th, 2012

At Home and the World in Iraq 1915-17: part 2

July 20, 2012 in At Home and the World in Mesopotamia | Comments (0)



The tension between the voices of the grandmother and the military historian runs through the length of Mokkhoda-debi’s Kalyan-Pradeep. It is reflected even in the form of the book: the sections are numbered in the manner of a military dispatch.




Here is Mokkhoda-debi the military historian, writing about the expedition’s departure:









8. On October 7, 1914, A.D., the Government of India appointed Brigadier-General Delamain[i] the commander of the expeditionary force for the invasion of Iraq and sent him these instructions: ‘When ‘A’ Force departs for Europe from Bombay on 16th October, ‘D’ Force must leave with them. Your orders are to part company with ‘A’ Force while at sea and to sail on to the Persian Gulf. When you reach the British-controlled islands and territories of the Gulf you and your forces are to make inquiries about the Turkish forces and their readiness. You must use your own judgement. Another force will soon be dispatched to reinforce you. You orders are to safeguard British rights and interests in the Persian Gulf; the Shaikh of Muhammara is our ally, you must support him. When the fighting starts, you must take every measure for the protection of Basra.’ (p. 227)

9. On 10th October a special messenger carried these orders from the Military Department in Simla to General D in Bombay. On 16th October twelve large troopships departed from Bombay as ordered, carrying ‘A Force’ and ‘B’ Force; D Force was secretly mixed in with them. The forces were escorted by British warships.

     Three days out to sea another British warship was sighted. Now at General Delamain’s command, the troops and equipment of D Force were separated from the others and moved to four ships. The next day it was announced that their destination was the Persian Gulf island of Bahrain. Upon their arrival two days later it was learnt that a transport ship and a warship had been sent from Karachi carrying the rest of their equipment. (p.228)



Indian Cavalry Regiment in Mesopotamia









And here is Mokkhoda-debi the grandmother describing Kalyan’s departure:


7. In March (1915) it was more or less decided that Kalyan and Dr. Puri would go to the port of Karachi with their regiments  – he was to leave Kolkata  by train as soon as the date of his ship’s departure was wired to him. So he decided to await his orders in Kolkata.

8. One by one Kalyan visited all his friends and relatives, taking his leave and seeking their blessings. At this time he stayed mainly with his mother and did his best to console her. One day he said to her: ‘Ma, aren’t I your loving son? Look, if God brings me safely back from the theatre of war then the womenfolk of Bengal will regard you as the mother of a hero. Just think how proud you will be. Don’t make yourself sick by crying and falling into despair. In your mind you must hold on to hope.’

9. Dr. Puri came to Kolkata from Kohat on March 10 and after that he and Kalyan spent most of their time in Fort William. They would come home late in the afternoon.




            A wire came ordering them to leave on March 13.  I went to see Kalyan the day before his departure, in the late afternoon. Binota [Kalyan’s daughter] was then as cute as an English doll.  Her hair was all curly-curly and there was always a smile on her face. But when she saw me she became quite sombre. Kalyan tried to make her smile by playing with a handkerchief and some orange peel but this had no effect on Binota. Then Kalyan said: ‘You see Grandma, she’s going to grow into a grim-faced woman – was I like that when I was her age?’ I understood then how much he loved his daughter.

10. I spent a long time with Kalyan that evening, with his daughter on my lap. Then I blessed him and went home. That was my last meeting with him. I didn’t see him on the day when his yatra began, but I prayed constantly for his good. I did not think that I wouldn’t see him again. (p. 209-11)



[i] General Walter Sinclair Delamain

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