Soldiers and, for that matter, engineers, do not always make good writers. MK Paul who retired as a Major General in the Indian Army, judging from his two-part volume, surely is an exception. Born in a middle class family in the early thirties in Sylhet, now part of Bangladesh, he grew up in the tense political atmosphere of the times, an extremely sensitive lad for his age, going through several hardships, par for the course for one belonging to a large and extended family. By any account Manab, as his parents named him, was a remarkable child. He was physically short but intellectually tall which partly explains the title of the book, but he made it to the Army after graduating from Jadavpur University in engineering. His height bothered him. When an indirect reference was made to it during the selection process for admission to the officers’ cadre in the Indian Army, he even committed a faux pas by telling his interviewer that “tall men had less intelligence”.
Luckily for him, the interviewer himself was not much taller than him and that probably saved the day for Manab. He joined the Army and starting with the Madras Sappers he served his country in many capacities and this book is a record of all that he went through, which in itself makes fascinating reading. There is no such thing as a dull life. What one needs is a live heart to accept whatever happens with tranquility, and Manab, it is apparent, has been blessed with one. His qualification as an engineer took him all over the country, to Punjab, Nagaland and inevitably the North East Frontier Agency as well. He served a stint in an Armoured Formation, held a tenure in the Indian Navy, served in the Indian Air Force Academy, and finally retired as Chief Engineer in the rank of Major General-a remarkable achievement for a ‘little man’ with big heart.
Part II consists largely of his views on the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, of the politics of the then largest political party, the Indian National Congress and its charismatic leader, Mahatma Gandhi and especially the role played by Subhas Chandra Bose in the cause of fighting for Independence. Gen Paul, it is apparent, has strong views on each of these subjects. For him the Sepoy Mutiny was in no way “the first war of Independence” but was “more a defensive action against discrimination, rapid inroads Christian missionaries were making in India and a generalised fight against western interference. As he put it, “if one calls it the First War of Independence, then there were more worthy ones in the past” like the Anglo-Sikh War of 1846. Even stronger are his following remarks. “To me it appears to be a case of utter intellectual bankruptcy to even imagine that the uneducated, illiterate and totally subjugated sepoys without any worthwhile leadership support, declared a War of Independence”. Gen Paul obviously does not realise that the illiterate are sometimes more patriotic than the highly literate. The General is critical of Gandhi. Many are; some for understandable reasons and some for no understanding of the times in which Gandhi lived.
There were leaders like Rajagopalachari who were opposed to the Quit India Movement but at that particular period of Indian history Gandhi was more machiavellian. Gen Paul is unkind to the Mahatma. The General’s last chapter on Incredible India is praiseworthy. But by and large the second part of the volume is provocative. Perhaps his intentions to raise the interests of the young reader in a period long gone and almost forgotten. But one gets the impression that the General’s comments are based on pre-conceived notions, unworthy of a historian. All the subjects that he has dealt with need better and more objective treatment.
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