Nariman Karkaria, a young Parsi from Gujarat, had always wanted to see the world. So he left home as a teenager with fifty rupees in his pocket to do just that. After working in Hong Kong and Peking for a few years, in 1914, when war was in the air, he decided to volunteer for the British Army. Passing through China, Manchuria, Siberia, Russia and Scandinavia, he reached London early in 1915 and managed to register as a private with the 24th Middlesex Regiment. He was now a Tommy.
Incredibly, Karkaria saw action on three major fronts in the next three years. In 1916, he was in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme. After convalescing from an injury, he was sent off to the Middle Eastern Front where he fought in the Battle of Jerusalem in 1917. He was then transferred to the Balkan Front in 1918, where he served in Salonika. After being discharged, he returned to India and wrote a book in Gujarati about his years of travel and adventure, which was published in 1922.
Karkaria's war memoir is truly one of a kind. And in Murali Ranganathan's brilliant translation, this astonishing story comes alive with rare immediacy and vigour.
The First World War Adventures of Nariman Karkaria is in every sense a unique work, in the story that it tells, in the swashbuckling manner of its telling, and not least, in the excellence of Murali's translation, which conveys the writer's spirit so vividly that one can almost hear him reminiscing aloud to enthralled listeners at the Ripon Club in Mumbai, or the Meherjirana Library in Navsari. - AMITAV GHOSH