The Great War hardly means anything to most people who grew up in the 90s Madras. At best, it results in vague recollections of Treaty of Versailles, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Armistice Day and a yellowing NCERT text book for Class X. History was not the favorite sport of Madras. Given that the books were also written by Marxists who never liked to admit having read badly written erotica, how bad the teacher was became immaterial.
Until I read Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, I had forgotten something called World War I even took place. That I assume is true of most Madras boys who treated History in Class X like the wonderful Felix’s Western Music hour in Class V. That we form a generation with no sense of history and often lack perspective even on personal ambition shouldn’t be our fault. I digress.
I do know one person who served with the British Army during World War II. However, I have not come across a single story or person, from this land of unending resources to the British Empire, who fought in World War I. On Armistice Day yesterday, when Radio 4 mentioned Indians having fought the war, one could hardly escape the thoughts: Who were these people? Are there official accounts? Is there a single work of fiction on them? They could not have been fighting on the Western front, so there were other fronts? And America took another 30 years to enlist Black men?
 — That is why it’s called a World War, stupid.
 — I am pretty sure Faulks forgot to have sex when he was researching the minutest detail of World War I. For 5 years.