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Ashali Varma

Ashali Varma

Ashali Varma

The first edition of Valley of Words was a huge success. What were your favourite moments from the festival?

My best moments at the festival were many. I loved the slides and the talk on the symbols of temple culture and Sanjeev Sanyal’’s talk on India’s great maritime history. The graphic novel was also a good session as were the talks on India’s security and the valour of Indian soldiers in the wars. These are a just a few that I have named. On the whole the Lit Fest was very diverse and gave a platform to very interesting people.

Your father’s amazing feat of clearing 55 miles of a mined road in 96 hours during World War II is so inspiring! Please share with us what he went through during the war.

My book ‘The Victoria Cross: A Love Story’ describes this best. I realized that even the army did not know what the Victoria Cross he had received was for. Not only did he clear the mines but as he was in the lead carrier his jeep was blown up twice. Each time his men thought he had died. His driver did but my father was flung out and survived. He then took another jeep and carried on till that too was blown up. Again he was the only survivor but he did not rest. After 48 hours, his commanding officer told him he would send someone to relieve him as my father as the head of the platoon had not slept for two days. He refused as he said that he now had the pattern by which the Italians had laid the mines.

He carried on for another two days by which time they had reached the enemy and they were ambushed. This time he was not so lucky and a mortar hit the jeep. He was wounded and bleeding heavily from the head but he had completed the task of de-mining a vital road which enabled the British troops to defeat the Italians. There were acts of courage before he won the VC as he was active in the war for nine months and escaped death several times.

Courage and love are two major aspects of your book ‘The Victoria Cross: A Love Story ‘. What was the writing process like since the story must be extremely close to your heart?

The writing of this book was difficult. I had to research through war archives and interview many people. It took five years and many drafts to get it right. I needed to tell the story from other peoples point of view as well. So many had died, so much material had to be painstakingly retrieved. Then it took several months to get a publisher.

What are the traps you tried to avoid as a writer?

The worst trap is to experience a mental block and not be able to start a new chapter. To get over this, one requires a lot of focus and determination. One also needs to have a quiet environment to work. And a very important part is to hook the reader right at the beginning and to make the book interesting.

The book touches upon details on the Indo-China War.Please enlighten our readers on why this was incorporated.

We lost the Indo China War not because our soldiers were not good but because of bad decisions made by the Politicians of the day as well as lack of leadership from the top. After the war my father along with General Henderson Brooks were asked to write about why India had lost this war. My father was told only to go into military failures but he realized that it was interference at the topmost level and extremely bad policies. So he went into the politics of it as well. Thus even today, some 70 years later, The Henderson Brooks/Bhagat Report, is not out in the open. It seems it is still a sensitive subject.

What are you looking forward to at the second edition of Valley of Words International Literature and Arts Festival 2018?

I am looking forward to more diverse subjects as well as meeting with extraordinary writers and creative people who I am sure will be there. The best part of VoW is that it is not big and impersonal like the Jaipur Lit Fest. There is room for guests to meet authors and even get to know them.

About the Interviewee:

Freelance journalist Ashali Varma has authored the biography of her father, late Lt. Gen. PS Bhagat — ‘The Victoria Cross: A Love Story’. She was executive producer with the International Commentary Service Inc, New York in 1990. She was the executive publisher of The Earth Times, New York (1992- 98). She has also worked as the editor of Choices Magazine, United Nations Development Programme. She writes on various issues including human rights, population and sustainable development.