This talk will explore how we receive insights into the emotional lives of colonial soldiers during WW2 through the censored word
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“Letters mean half meetings and they are a great consolation to us”, writes an Indian soldier from the Middle East, serving in the British Indian Army during the Second World War. His ardent desire to hear from home reaches us today through military censorship reports archived at the British Library. Soldiers' letters were written in Hindi, Gurmukhi, Urdu, Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil, and often dictated to scribes by Indian non-literate sepoys. They were then translated for the censor, who compiled quotations from the letters into a report testifying to the Indian soldiers' 'morale'. This talk will examine the relationship between censorship and the text, particularly as the latter shifts from the verbal to the transcribed, Indian vernaculars to the English language. It will explore how we receive insights into the emotional lives of colonial soldiers through the censored word. How is the text itself affected by the letters’ reception by family and friends in India and the military colonial gaze? Do such letters become textual connectors between remote villages spread across India and theatres of war thousands of miles away? And what can we gain by interpreting such letters alongside colonial photographs from the Second World War?
Diya Gupta's doctoral research at the Department of English, King's College London, provides the first literary and cultural examination of Indian soldiers' experiences in the Second World War. She is interested in the intersections between life-writing, visual culture and literature, particularly in response to war.