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‘Mother bows to you with her hands clasped’

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Centenary of Rare World War One Correspondence Marked in East London. In early 1916 an Indian village girl sent a postcard to her father who was fighting alongside British and other Empire troops in the Middle East…reports Asian Lite News

Mother bows to you with her hands clasped. Dear Father, please take leave and come to meet us. Please do come! We repeat again and again. Reply to our letter soon.’ 

PastedGraphic-1Kishan Devi’s 1916 postcard to her father is the centerpiece of event focusing on families from Undivided India split apart by The Great War.

The unique event at the Pictorem Gallery in Walthamstow on January 25th 2016, will mark one hundred years since the postcard was sent by the young girl on behalf of her family from Punjab in northern India, to her father, Sepoy Sewa Singh who was serving with the 23rd Sikh Pioneers as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force.

This postcard is possibly the only surviving example of this kind of correspondence sent from rural India by the family of an ordinary Indian soldier during World War One.

PastedGraphic-2The card is postmarked February 7th 1916, and is written in reply to a letter home from Sepoy Singh, who was serving with Empire troops in the Sinai and Palestine campaign against the Ottoman Turks.  Kishan Devi, who was from a Panjabi background, had recently learned to read and write.

 ‘Mother says you can write your innermost thoughts to us. I will read the letter. We do not rely on anyone to read the letters. I will read the letter.’ 

The postcard’s owner is <r Avtar Singh Bahra. He  will speak at the event and the contents will be read in English translation and in Panjabi by the actor Pia Khan.

Dominic Rai, the event organiser, will also speak about the four-year project, Salt of the Sardar, which tells the story ofover a million soldiers from Undivided India who fought for Britain in the Great War.

indian world war 1 soldiersLast year Salt of the Sarkar published a World War One centenary edition of Across the Black Waters, a classic novel by the great Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004) the father figure of modern Indian literature in English.

The novel follows the progress of the sepoys from their arrival by ship at Marseilles in September 1914 to the bloodstained wastes of the Western Front during the first winter of the War.

 

Postcard loaned for the duration of the Empire, Faith & War exhibition at Brunel Gallery London 2014.

Postmarked 7th February 191, the card carries a poignant note from Kushan Devi (including a heartfelt message from her mother) to her soldiering father, Sepoy Singh of the 23rd Sikh Pioneers, at the front line during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force (as indicated by the large green ‘E’).

The postcard written in Panjabi reads in full:

‘One Creator-Preserver-Destroyer, known through the True Guru’s grace. This is Kishan Devi writing to you. Here all is well. Dear Father best wishes to you. With God’s grace your letter has arrived. We came to know your situation. With the sight of your letter, I felt at peace.

Dear Father, Mother says that you can write your innermost thoughts to us. I will read the letter. We do not rely on anyone else to read the letters. Father, all the letters from you will be read by me.

I do not fight with anyone. My heart is yours. You are my everything, and I worry about you. Without you I am like a living dead. I am unable to live like this, even though you give me a lot of assurance.

Mother bows to you and with hands clasped.

Dear Father, please take leave and come to meet us. Please do come! We repeat again and again. Reply to our letter soon.’

(English translation from the original Panjabi by Baljinder Singh and Sukhdeep Jodha)
You can buy the World War One Centenary Edition of Across the Black Waters from Shalimar Books:

Across the Black Waters

You can buy the World War One Centenary Edition of Across the Black Waters from Shalimar Books:

http://www.indianbooksuk.com/product/across-the-black-waters/

For more details , please contact Ashok Ahir on 07771570572 or ashok@mela.cymru

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