In a tiny village on the border between Belgium and Lille, a town on the northern tip of France, residents are well acquainted by Khudadad Khan’s name. The infantry soldier from the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Baluchis regiment fought valiantly for British India during the First World War. He was rewarded with the first ever Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration given to a person of South Asian origin. A portrait of the man, wearing a turban and and one of his arms bandaged, occupies a part of the wall at the Twin Art Gallery in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
This photograph is among many which form an exhibition, titled “India and the First World War”, to commemorate the efforts of Indian troops fighting across different war fronts, during the First World War (1914-18).
To mark the 100 year celebrations of the War, Roli Books and the Embassy of France in India have put together the exhibition comprising over 120 images loaned from war museums across the world.
“Around three years ago, when the world was discussing how to commemorate the First World War efforts of different countries, I decided to look into the involvement of India under the Raj. This is when I met Vedica Pant and learnt about her efforts on a book on documenting the war efforts of Indian soldiers,” Pramood Kapoor, publisher of Roli Books, said.
A majority of images at the exhibition are part of a book by Pant titled ,“‘If I die here, who will remember me?’ India and the First World War”.
Another aspect of the exhibition is the collection of memorabilia from Indian soldiers, which includes utensils, toiletry, water bottles and cigarette packets. “There are roughly 70-80 objects on display, which belong to a French villager Dominique Faivre, who has been collecting and preserving memorabilia of Indian soldiers,” Kapoor said.
The images captures a diverse cross-section of life during the War, from how they fought in the trenches, wearing the first-ever gas masks used in battle, to their living conditions; getting treatment in hospital beds; interacting with soldiers from different countries.
The exhibition is on from January 13 to February 10 at IGNCA, Janpath.