An unremarkable journey (albeit one of 5000 miles) to a remarkable city, where my #Indiabooktour for #MajorTomsWar will both begin and end.
Chandigarh is quite a modern state capital, replacing Lahore which was severed from the rest of Punjab in 1947 during Partition. The new city was planned by the French (notably by the architect Le Corbusier) in numerical sectors (think arrondissements in Paris) and this is clear from its central spacious tree-lined boulevards and generous public gardens. I have come as a guest of its prestigious military history book festival.
The past is very much present in this part of India but standard military history does not tend to relate how people thought or felt at the time of the Great War. I have the impression of travelling back in time as well as thousands of miles from home. So little is left in the way of personal family memories of these times here. I will be returning knowledge of the Indian Army’s actions in #WWI to a generation which will now cherish them as I have. I think/hope Tom would approve of my actions.
I am staying with Major Shivjit Singh Shergill, retired from the Central India Horse regiment and his wife Preet and their son Farid in a comfortable house with a lovely garden and terrace.
Their home just bulges with erudition and heritage – family portraits of military forebears, fearsome weapons on the wall, books filling the shelves. It is very good to have a base while I am here and Shiv and Preet are treating me as one of the family.
My twin interests in food and heritage readily combine in their home as we swap family stories over the dinner table. Here is Farid trying on some WWI era specs like Tom’s to see how it might have felt to wear them.
Preet cooked an English lunch just to break me in gently but last night was my first taste of authentic Indian cooking. We had a dark lentil dal, dal makhani, paneer cheese cooked with onion and red chillies and my favourite, Preet’s pea curry. This was made with a reduced sauce made of ginger, onion, tomato and chilli to which the gently stewed peas are added, separately cooked until soft. Mental note: be braver with ginger in the kitchen!
These tasty dishes were served with small round breads called pulka made by one of the maids. Like a fool I was too bug-eyed to photograph these wonders but I did come to my senses enough to record this sumptuous creme caramel, steamed on the hob, not baked in the oven, which changes its texture from firm to silky. Something about its shape and wobble made me think of those lionsmane jellyfish which occasionally get stranded on Rosemarkie Beach at home. A good deal more appetising however!
Very close to the handsome city centre lie what Preet referred to as the ‘villages’. She drove me gallantly, along a hair-raisinglyly bumpy and rutted road, past much more crowded living areas.
Lines of bright washing festoon houses and trees like tinsel on last year’s Christmas tree. Dogs and cattle – sometimes buffalo – amble about everywhere, which can be quite dangerous, according to Shiv.
We went to my first Indian bookshop where I met Ajay, its proprietor. It had a fantastic selection of books and I bought this one, which will keep me entertained while on the move. I love the phrase rude food!
My next blog will be a retrospective view my visit to the heritage festival in the ancient city of Sangrur. Do join me and share this post with others, the more the merrier!