Anyway, below is the text of my talk. Some of this may be familiar to all two of you who have read my Roadrunner, it's adapted from a section in there.
Here's a picture to hold in your mind for a few minutes. I'm up in the hills somewhere in Jammu and Kashmir. There are flowers and birds all around me. It's a beautiful July day, the sun is out but is isn't too warm. In front of me, mounted on elegant stands, are several panels of black granite.
Keep that image, as I said, in your mind.
Three years ago, I visited the Shiloh Military Park in Tennessee in the USA. This is a peaceful, pretty spot on the banks of the Tennessee River, so peaceful and quiet that I found it hard to imagine what had once happened here. Had I been in the same spot a century-and-a-half earlier, one day in April 1862, all around me would have been guns firing and smoke, blood and death.
The idea, in 2007 when I visit, seems almost mad.
There was a battle fought here during the American Civil War, when the states of the South tried to secede from the Union and form what they called the "Confederacy". Thousands of young men fought here, the Southern Armies came close to defeating the Northern or Union Army but were finally defeated, and 24000 men were lost on both sides. It was an important and venerated battle, but only because of the bloodshed. Nothing of any strategic importance was won or lost. All it was, was the bloodiest battle in American history, but only until later battles in the same Civil War.
And the Shiloh Park remembers those fallen men.
There's a monument to the men who came from the state of Iowa to fight on the Union side. It has an elegant lady writing words to commemorate the "loyalty, patriotism and bravery of Iowa's sons who fought to perpetuate the sacred Union of the United States."
Scattered across these fields are several more monuments like this, one for each sate that sent men here. Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania -- every state that fought in this battle, whether for the North or the South.
So here's where I begin to feel just slightly uneasy. In this Park, in this memorial, are monuments from States on *both* sides of this war, North and South. In one memorial Park, remembrances of patriotism of both sides.
The South lost the war, and so there's a melancholy monument representing a "Defeated Victory", the phrase itself a puzzle. It carries these words: "The States of the South sent to Shiloh 79 organizations of infantry and 10 organizations of cavalry. How bravely and how well they fought, let the tablets on this field tell. Let us remember those whose sacrifices hallow this field. Let us stand for patriotism, principle and conviction as they did even unto death."
Who do these words refer to? The South? Well, there are tablets on this field that tell how bravely the Northerners fought too (example: Iowa). They remember patriotism and sacrifice too. And if Iowa's men fought to "perpetuate the sacred Union", why, these men of the South were fighting to secede, to destroy that sacred Union: the very antithesis of patriotism. Yet if the Southerners stood for patriotism, the North must have stamped on it. So I've heard about patriotism.
What's a visitor like me to think? What does this do for my ideas of patriotism?
But then I walked up to the Missouri monument. Listed on it are the Missouri regiments that fought on the Union side. Listed below those are the Missouri regiments that fought on the Confederate side. The same monument. In fact, there's even a "1st Missouri" regiment that fought for the Union, and another "1st Missouri" regiment that fought for the Confederate side.
What happened here? Was Missouri hedging its bets? Being equivocal in its loyalties? Did one 1st Missouri fight the other 1st Missouri?
I mean, here's one monument, one stone face with words on it, that celebrates the patriotism of both sides, of mutual enemies, in this war.
Again, what's a visitor like me to think? What does this do for my ideas of patriotism?
It eventually made sense to me this way: this memorial to these two sides in a brutal fratricidal war may have been the only way a country could rebuild and move on. That could not have happened if the North had refused to pay attention to the emotions of the defeated South. There had to be a rethinking of the idea of the *United* States, to treat vanquished and victor alike.
And yet, wars are for demonizing the enemy, and that must have happened in this war as it does in wars closer to our homes. During the Kargil war in 1999, an AM Sethna wrote this in an article in the Times of India: "We are dealing with a country capable of extreme cruelty. In such hands officers and men may be skinned alive or horribly mutilated before being killed."
I have no doubt Pakistani writers were equally effusive and eloquent about India and Indians. It's what happens during wars. It's as if patriotism demands such rhetoric.
And yet there's Shiloh.
Still, the US reunited and reconstructed after the Civil War, while India and Pakistan remained partitioned after 1947. That's a big difference, right?
Yet you know, there's this similarity: we have war memorials too.
Some years ago, I travelled a long way to see one, somewhere near the Line of Control in J&K. It's called the "Hall of Fame", and there are plenty of monuments there too.
One tower is called "Padinale Po Munnale" (Tamil for "Go Forward, Fourteenth"). It remembers S Shabiyullah and K Balaiah. Another remembers Surjit Singh, Gurprit Singh and Badridan Bharat. I'm telling you their names because I believe all of us should know of these countrymen of ours, from all over India, who die in J&K. There are plenty of these monuments at the Hall of Fame, remembering soldiers killed in our wars of 1999, 1965, 1971 and more.
And there are flowers and birds and -- remember what I asked you to keep in mind? -- several large black granite panels. Each has a year chiselled at the top. Below it, rows of neatly carved names -- the soldiers from this area who were killed in that year. Panels like that for every year till the year before I visited, each with a few dozen names.
And there are several more panels. Empty panels, with no names chiselled on them. Empty panels, waiting to be filled. Waiting for death.
I ask you to think about the implications of that.
As I stood there comprehending it myself, my soldier escort said to me in Tamil: "My name's not there." I could find nothing to say.
We must have been only a few km from the border with Pakistan. I wondered, is there a Hall of Fame on that side, with similar monuments, similar granite panels, similar blank granite panels? It's possible, but being Indian, think of how hard it would be to get there to find out for myself.
But Shiloh made me wonder about something I had never before even imagined. What if there was a joint India-Pakistan memorial here where India remembers Shabiyullah and Surjit and the 14th? What would it mean to our countries that have fought and killed for so long?
Especially in our early wars, it's certain that many soldiers on both sides came from the same roots, likely the same villages. What would it do to us to build a memorial that reminds us that in these parts, neighbour has fought neighbour, maybe even brother has fought brother?
What would it do, to find our own Shiloh?