Lata Mangeshkar’s epic song – ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon’ – reminds us of the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers in protecting the nation. Today we are all living on the shoulders of their pain and suffering. The song asks us to shed a tear in respect of their valour – and remember how they were so far from home and family in their dying days.
Europe was a major stage for the two World Wars and two and a half million Indians (combatants and non-combatants) volunteered to fight for the sake of peace. Sadly, the pace of modernity is such that we have so little time to stop for history. The song demonstrates the vast diversity of Indian cultures who offered themselves for this battle – Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Marathas – the whole diversity of India was united in sacrifice. Duty is common to our heritage, and requires us to rise to hardship and stay loyal irrespective of the personal consequences. In the past, jobs were considered a call of duty, and on the first day one would go to the boss and say – I have turned up for duty, Sir. Such was our respect and loyalty.
The Chattri Memorial near Brighton & Hove is one of the places where people gather every year to remember. The Royal Pavillion in Brighton, a Mughal-style Palace built for King George IV, was one of three hospitals converted during the First World War for Indian soldiers, where many were rehabilitated, and some died between 1914 and 1915.
Today, Brighton & Hove is a bustling city on Britain’s southern coast, with a large and growing Indian diaspora. It is not far from London’s Gatwick airport and the vast number of Indians who live in south London. Director of the Royal Pavillion, Dr Hedley Swain, is keen to connect with the community and help them understand their own history and sacrifices which are often forgotten when Britain’s immigrants are marginalised and discriminated against.
Suffering is as normal as life. If we are lucky not to experience it ourselves, we see so many around us who experience it and often have so little resource to adapt and cope. Our happiness and joy could be channeled to be a support and boon for others less fortunate. That is what was in the minds of these Indian volunteers over a hundred years ago. History is what has shaped our present, and if we forget the lessons of history, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. As I write this, there is a major war going on in Europe, and tensions in many parts of the world. We need to find ways to dialogue and peace, but at the same time be ready to fight in the presence of threats.
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This is a tough balance to strike, and reminds us of the risk that is life, something we forget in our day to day lives. In history, faith has given humanity huge strength and courage in coping with risk, and these are times to restore our faith, and remember that life is much larger than any one of us. Dharma gives us inner courage and resilience, and a community of believers who help us in times of hardships and share the joys of life with us in our festivals. Its an experience of interdependence rather than independence. Dharma is social capital without any obvious currency or measure. Selfishness has never been the sustainable Dharmic philosophy. We should not wait for war to unite us in our brotherhood. I am always touched when I see good examples of this in work or in our neighbourhoods and communities. As Parmukhswami had said, in the joy of others, lies our own.
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All are welcome to the Chattri Memorial on June 12 to remember the fallen and their sacrifice. Chair of the Chattri Group, Davinder Dhillon, has personally championed the annual memorial gatherings for many years and people from all over come on this day.
If you are unable to come, join us in private prayer from wherever in the world you are. We can extend this hope for peace not only for humanity, but with all living beings and the Universe. India has always been magnanimous. We should all strive to live with this compassion and generosity.