The Home and the World: War-Torn Landscapes and the Literary Imagination of a Bengali Military Doctor in Mesopotamia During the First World War
Over one million Indians served in the First World War. A doctor from Calcutta, Captain Kalyan Mukherji, meticulously recorded his displacement from Bengal to Mesopotamia in the form of letters written to his mother. This chapter examines how Mukherji imagined, encountered and experienced the war-torn Mesopotamian landscape. It demonstrates how, equipped with an English education and exposure to European cultural hegemony in Bengal, Mukherji negotiated his disappointment with the war-ravaged landscape, by practising a version of Orientalism (in Said’s terms) and by performing ‘colonial mimicry’, in applying English poetic imagery to imagine the gardens of Basra and Baghdad. The chapter establishes how Mukherji attempted to reconcile himself with the real Mesopotamian landscape, by offering a scathing indictment of patriotism as ‘seizing a piece of land’, thus condemning the colonial ambitions of the British, and prefiguring Rabindranath Tagore’s wariness about nationalism in his 1916 novel The Home and the World.