Documentary channel

In documentary ‘Farewell My Indian Soldier’, plush hospitals, kind women and lasting ties

Vijay Singh’s film revisits the experiences of Indian troops who served the British and French armies during World War I.

“This is what history looks like from below,” remarks a voice-over in Farewell My Indian Soldier. “Not from the perspective of those who write it, but from that of those who create it.”

Novelist and filmmaker Vijay Singh’s 2016 documentary follows Paloma Coquant, a French citizen on a quest to learn more about the identity of her great-grandfather. He was an Indian soldier in the French army during World War I and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Over a million Indian troops served the British and French armies in the war, a majority of whom never returned home.

In the case of Paloma’s great-grandfather, there is no official record of his stay in France. One historian remarks that it would be nearly impossible to find any information on him after all these years.

Farewell My Indian Soldier casts a micro-level gaze on the friendships and relationships that bloomed during the war, rather than focusing on its brutality. In Britain, injured Indian soldiers were kept in lavish hospitals – one soldier described the hospital as “paradise on earth”.

The 61-minute film offers many amusing insights into what it meant to have Indian soldiers fighting a war that wasn’t their own. At least nine different cooking departments had to be run during the war because of different dietary rules among the Indians. Their resting resorts were houses in the countryside, which were run mainly by women. It was here that Paloma’s great-grandmother met the Indian soldier, who was sent back to fight the war soon after he had recuperated.

While the soldiers were given respectful treatment, they were not allowed to mingle with white women due to racial bias. While Indian soldiers in the British hospitals were allowed to occasionally step out to meet their grateful admirers, many of whom were women, they were almost always accompanied by white officers. It was due to this bias that Paloma’s great-grandmother and her infant son were outcast by society.

Vijay Singh. Courtesy Farewell My Indian Soldier Facebook page.
Vijay Singh. Courtesy Farewell My Indian Soldier Facebook page.

Farewell My Indian Soldier is an oddly structured film. While Paloma seems to be the central character, there is practically no arc to her journey. At one level, this seems unavoidable because hers is possibly an endless quest. But the film sets her up as the protagonist and goes nowhere with it.

The documentary is at its strongest when it takes its many diversions in the form of anecdotes narrated by various people, ranging from historians to descendants of the war veterans. One scholar says that the fact that the houses in the French villages were run by women made quite an impact on the Indian soldiers. Short summaries of some of the letters sent home by the Indians were officially recorded. In one such letter, a soldier urges his family to send his daughter to school so that they wouldn’t have to seek an outsider’s help in reading his letters.

From a handwritten diary, we learn that a British soldier fought and won a court case for his Indian counterpart because the latter was denied the right to live in Britain after the war. A passage is dedicated to Gabar Singh Negi, a recipient of the prestigious Victoria Cross, in whose name a fair is held in Chamba every year.

Towards the end, the film returns to Paloma and her mother, Monique Soupart, praying at their house. In an earlier scene, we see a warm, informal chat between Paloma and a Sikh man at his house in England. There is a lovely moment when Paloma shows him that she knows how to tie a turban. She may never find out who her great-grandfather was, but even a century after the war ended, new friendships continue to be forged.

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Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.