The Raj at War by Yasmin Khan. A "people's history" of India and Pakistan during WW2. It uses letters, journals and interviews with ordinary people as sources; combining them with accounts of what the more famous people were up to. It covers a lot but has a focus on the relationship between WW2 and indepence
It's a fairly short book on a very big topic. It leaves you wanting more information on a lot of things which could fill books on their own right. The battles fought by Indian troops could easily be a book: there are a few chapters on the battle of Keren where the first Indians got VCs in a close fought back and forth mountaintop struggle with Italian troops in Africa. At the time Imperial propaganda said "it is possible that history may mark this as one of the decisive battles of the world. It is a battle honour which aqll units, British and Indian alike, will treasure with particular pride in centuries to come". In practice after the war an Indian Indepedent saw little to celebrate in a battle for their old master, and the British largely rewrote the war into a story of a plucky Island Standing Alone, conveniently forgetting the millions of Commonwealth troops.
The Bengal Famine of 1943 could also be a book in its own right. The destruction of boats, failure to anticipate problems and then endless stalling and refusal of requests for help caused a vast number of avoidable deaths. It also seems another case where individuals are important as the new Viceroy Archibald Wavell at least made more attempts than his successor. In an early example of burying bad news, the official report on the famine was carefully released on VE Day. The accounts of armed guards repelling starving people from trains full of food at places where they were forced to slow are pretty haunting.
The war caused severe disruptions. The Japanese threatened invasion and actually occupied the Andaman Island so air defences had to be put in place, and boats around the coasts were forcibly destroyed (another big contributor to the Bengal Famine). India was a staging route for the war for Burma and South East Asia: the "Man a Mile" road was constructed with great hardship. There was severe economic disruption with rising prices. Unlike in Britain where the war was funded largely by bonds, India bought those bonds by raising taxes. There were also a lot of allegedly oluntaray contributions to the "War Fund" that were in practice extracted by force: the Raj actively punished those who would not contribute. Many in the Indian diaspora fell under Japanese rule and were affected or inspired by it. Indian troops served all over the world, and made up a large fraction of the merchant navy. Draconian laws gave the Raj extreme powers, and collective punishment was used against rebels, protesters and the indepedence movement.
Midway through the war the British imprisoned Congress en masse, believing that would end resistance to the war. The reverse happened: the young were far more anti-war and the more populist "Quit India" movement encouraged resistance and sabotage. A new generation of activists like Aruna Asaf Ali went into hiding.
Opinions on the war were divided across India. The princes generally supported the war, believing that they would be rewarded for their loyalty afterwards, and tried to supply troops and money. Some prospered in the war, from businessmen with contracts to farmers who found military pay much better than subsitence farming. The demands of the war meant that Britain had to end its policy of keeping manufacturing in Britain: they allowed Indian entrepeneurs to start ship and plane building. Manye thought that the struggle against fascism was an urgent priority. Others saw the war as an external struggle India had been dragged into. Others saw the Japanese as potentially better than the British.
The war certainly increased the pressure for Independence. It was a lot harder to believe in British caring or competence afterwards. Many Indians had been exposed to a wider world, either serving abroad, interacting with American troops in India, or inspired by the Japanese.
Overall, a fascinating book, though it only scratches the surface of complicated topics.
What I'm Reading 2
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jeminisin. Final volume of the "Broken Earth" trilogy set in a tectonically unstable world where certain people can control geology. I loved this series and I thought this brought things to a satisfying conclusion. Things fit together neatly, though perhaps a bit predictably.
Overall though I think this series lives up to its reputation. The complexity of the characters and the level of invention and world-building make it one of the best series I've read in years.
Well worth reading. Be aware that it's a single continuing story which absolutely has to be read in order.
What I'm Watching
Saw Atomic Blonde. A female agent is sent to Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin War who fights to retrieve information. Found this very fun to watch: lots of Eighties nostalgia with a great soundtrack, some very good action scenes like the stairwell fight in a Eastern apartment block. Thought the ending was a bit of a letdown as they try to cram too many twists in: suspect there's been some meddling or changing of minds there. Overall though worth a look.
Bought a second hand Kindle Paperwhite. I was very reluctant to get into ebooks at first as I fear the monopoly power of Amazon. But I've ended up doing most of my reading on my phone for the convenience. On holiday I really wanted to be able to read without worrying about using up the battery, so I've given in to the inevitable.
I like it a lot. Easy to use, easy to read, battery lasts, has an internal light so I can read in the night. Doesn't have any functions outside reading (and buying books) which is a bonus.
I've been getting concerned about being always online, so now I'm trying to park my phone after dinner time every day and just read books, no Internet. I can wait till the next morning to find out what horrible things have been said and done in those few hours. Have kept it up for a week or so and feel generally better.
Have finished the weight loss programme, now trying to get a bit fitter by taking up some running again. I gave up last time with knee pain so this time I'm trying to be ultra-cautious: bought decent shoes, do all the stretches, have been ramping up speeds and distances very gradually. So far it seems to be working: little pain which has receded instead of getting worse.
I'm running every two days in the morning for a couple of weeks. I do the first part of the 5BX exercises (running has always been an acceptable substitute for the second part), then some running, then the dumb-bells. Feeling fitter already: can much more easily keep up with the toddler when he dashes away. My last run was 7.27km at 5:28 minutes per kilometer: not astounding speeds or distances but hopefully doing me some good.
Socioeconomics. Six global banks join forces to create digital currency, Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Cryptocurrency Boom. British farms learn to work with fewer seasonal migrants. Portugal and austerity.
The Myth of The 30 IQ Point "Communication Range".
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The tech of "Terminator 2":
we interviewed some peopleAn Oral History.
juice peel pile in a national park.
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