Forgetting historical horrors is a sin, says former US ambassador Navtej Sarna

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NEW DELHI, (IANS) – The book had been in the works for about 10 years. He even wrote a few passages in 2012. Author and former diplomat Navtej Sarna, whose latest novel “Crimson Spring” (Aleph) chronicles how ordinary people experienced the horrors of one of Britain’s greatest crimes in India — the massacre of hundreds of people at Jallianwala Bagh, says it is important to remember to assess what we have today and understand how much we paid for it.

While much has been written about the massacre, Sarna thinks it’s never enough and the Holocaust is the perfect example of how to keep something alive.

“The Jewish people have assured that it will always be remembered. I was assigned to Israel. Every diplomat from this country is sent to Auschwitz, as part of a learning process. It’s not to hasten a revenge… Many in India say that we must forget the score, that it makes us bitter. However, it is important to keep the memories alive to resolve that we would not allow this to happen again. If we forget it, it will inevitably manifest itself in one way or another, ”warns the author.

Adding that it is important that memorials to a tragedy be respected, he said: “Go to Auschwitz, and you see piles of suitcases with people’s names on them. This is enough because you come out of it shaken. Such memorials should not be made shocking. These are not selfie spots or coffee joints. You need to bring out the seriousness of the crime. And that can only be done through simplicity.

Speaking about the book’s research process, the author says that considering it’s not non-fiction, he didn’t have to research many articles. While stationed in England for nine months, he manages to spend time at the British Library and gets his hands on some important papers. Also, he had the transcripts of the trial of Udham Singh, the Gandhi Inquiry Committee, the British Committee and the testimony of ordinary men and women.

“I could also access the war diaries that each regiment had to keep – where each battalion moved etc. I got the exact details, the route they took, how long did they stay in one place , etc.”, he said.

Sarna, who has several fictions, non-fictions and translations to her credit, smiles that when a book is finished, it’s very easy to talk about the writing process.

“However, when you’re actually at work, each project is a years-long process of success and trial. I read and researched every aspect. When I felt I had enough material, I wrote stories of each of the characters in big chunks, and then began the process of putting everything together.

Although he may not be quite sure what he will write next, the former diplomat adds: “This book has been quite exhausting. As soon as you release a work, people start asking you to do another one… At the moment, I want to work on short stories, but it’s very difficult to come back to it after writing a novel.


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