Thursday, 27 November 2014

Remembering soliders: War memorials from around the world

This post is about war memorials - monuments to remember the soldiers who had died in the wars.

My feelings about the wars are ambivalent - memorials to the dead soldiers bring a node to my throat and I love visiting war cemeteries. However, I am also against the wars. Gandhi ji and his ideas about non-violence have been my inspiration. I remember being part of the protest march in London against the Bush-Blair decision to attack Iraq.

Yet I believe that some times, especially when dictators, fascists and fundamentalists of different colours and ideologies kill their people, wars can be necessary.

Let me start this photo-essay with the picture of a dying soldier from a war monument in Verano cemetery in Rome (Italy). It is my favourite image about the war memorials - it shows the moment of the death of a soldier, as his heart stops beating, his eyes turn unfocused and his body starts to fall down.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Another reason for my ambivalence about wars and soldiers is the way they treat civilian deaths. The deaths of soldiers are considered more important and they are mourned, while the civilians killed "by mistake" or as "necessary collateral damage" are usually forgotten, or sometimes even depicted as terrorists or their accomplices. The way we give values to lives of different people is very unequal.

I also feel that usually wars and violence do not solve any problems - rather, while they solve somethings, they invariably create new problems. I also suspect that most recent wars, though presented as humanitarian efforts to "liberate people" or to "stop despots and mass murderers", were for gaining and controlling power and resources.

This photo-essay is about the war monuments built to remember the soldiers killed in wars. I am also working on a second part of this photo-essay about the other victims of wars and people who fight for their rights. As you can imagine, putting together that second photo-essay is much more difficult because we hardly ever build monuments to remember ordinary persons, except for the victims of some big events like holocaust or the people killed in the 9-11 terrorist attack.


I grew up looking up to two of my uncles, brothers of my mother, who were soldiers in the Indian army. Seeing them in the military uniforms and hearing their stories about the wars, shaped my initial ideas about nationalism, patriotism and protective role of the men in the society. Even today, though women can also become soldiers, the common public image of the soldiers remains anchored to masculinity.

The most important Indian war monument is called the "Amar Jawan Jyoti" (Immortal light of the soldier). It is located at India Gate in New Delhi. India Gate was built in 1921 to remember the soldiers from Indian regiments who had died as a part of the British army in the first world war. Its walls carried the names of the officers of Indian regiments.

In 1971, after the India-Pakistan war that led to the creation of Bangladesh, it became "Amar Jawan Jyoti" with the construction of a black slab with an upside down gun and ever-lit flame underneath the arch of Indian Gate.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next image is also about Indian soldiers. It is from the second world war and is from Forli in Italy. It shows a Sikh soldier holding an injured Italian soldier. This monument is built next to one of the biggest cemeteries of Indian soldiers in Italy.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

If you are interested in reading more about the Indian soldiers and their cemeteries in Italy during the second world war, you can read my post on this theme written in 2011 in my Hindi blog.

Though many more Indian soldiers have died in different wars over the past decades, I am not aware of any other war monuments In India.


The image from New York, is the marine soldiers' monument from the second world war, built at the tip of Manhattan as you look towards the statue of Liberty.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Another important war monument in USA that I had visited was in Washington DC, near the Lincoln statue - Vietnam Veterans memorial. How ever, I do not have any images from visit.

I have also heard about the Arlington national cemetery and the US Marine War memorial, but I did not get an opportunity to visit them.


A large number of German and Austrian soldiers had also died during the first and the second world wars. However, I do not remember seeing any war memorial about those soldiers. This may be partly due to the defeat of Germans (and Austrians) in the both the world wars.

In Germany, to remember the Nazi past is also problematic so perhaps those soldiers remain unacknowledged in the national monuments. How ever, I must confess that I haven't been to many places in Germany and Austria, so perhaps some war memorials may be there about which I am unaware.

Soldiers fighting for the "wrong" side and those who are defeated, hardly ever get any monuments. History decides who will be remembered and in which way. Just to remember that even Germans and Austrians had died in the two world wars, the next image has the ruins of an Austrian soldiers' outpost in the mountains in north Italy. Though this is not a formal monument, but I wanted to acknowledge them in this post.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next war memorial is from Vienna in Austria but it is not about Austrian soldiers - rather, it is for commemorating Soviet soldiers and was built by the occupying Russian army in 1945.

This monument is to remember the death of 17 thousand Soviet soldiers who had died in the siege of Vienna. It is called the "Heroes' Monument of the Red Army".

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


I did travel to different parts of France and I remember seeing some war memorials, but those journeys were much before I had discovered my passion for photography. Thus I do not have many images of the French war memorials.

The next image shows a small memorial of the second world war from the tiny town of Divonne les Bains in the south of France. The monument carries the list of the persons from the city who had died in the war.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


London also has different monuments to remember the persons dying in the first and the second world wars.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Another of my personal favourites is the British monument in London for the animals who died during the world wars.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


Brussels is surprisingly full of war related monuments, from the first and second world wars. The next four images show some of those monuments that I noticed during a brief visit to the city.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


My interest in the war monuments started in Italy and thus, this is the section with largest number of images in this post.

Our house in the north-eastern Alpine city of Schio (Vicenza), is very close to what was once the border between Austria and Italy. During the first world war, fierce fighting had claimed lives of young men from almost all towns and villages of this part of Italy. Around Schio, I am always struck by the war memorials in the villages and the small towns, invariably having a list of local lads who had died in the first or second world wars.

The next 5 images of war memorials are from places near Schio, remembering soldiers from the first world war. The places are Sant'Antonio, Arsiero, Forte Maso, Asiago and Bassano del Grappa.

The "Ossary" at Sant'Antonio is located at Pian delle Fuggazze, the old Austrian-Italian border on Pasubio mountain, and contains bones and remains of hundreds of soldiers who died here.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Arsiero is a tiny town at the entry to Tonnezza and some valleys hidden behind the mountains. Beyond Tonnezza, the road leads to Altopiano Fiorentino, that was another of the border post that saw fighting in the first world war.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Forte Maso has an old war building hidden among the trees in the mountains on the way to Pasubio mountain. A telescope, old pictures of the war, a restaurant and the beginning of a mountain trail to go up the mountain, mark this place. The image below shows one of the old war pictures from Forte Maso.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The beautiful mountain city of Asiago has a huge arch in white stone, at the top of a hill. The base of the hill contains hundreds of tombs containing the bones or remains of the soldiers.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

I am especially fond of the "war memorials" from Bassano del Grappa that have pictures of young soldiers fixed on the trees.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next 3 images are from Bologna, showing the monuments about different wars. The first monument is about first world war and is from Certosa cemetery.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next image is about a war in 1848 when Bologna was able to defeat Austrian army that occupied the city as allies of the Vatican Government. It is known as the 8 August monument.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The 3rd image is of the memorial for the soldiers who died in the second world war and is from Certosa cemetery in Bologna. The sculptures are by Stella Korczynska and Genni Mucchi.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next image is from Redipuglia in Fruili region of Italy, not far from the border with Slovenia and Austria, where thousands of soldiers from the first world war are buried.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next image is a monument to Francesco Baracca, an ace pilot in the first world war. This monument is in the city of Lugo, where he was born.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Finally the last image from Italy is from the Marine Soldiers' monument in Verano cemetery of Rome.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


Apart from India and USA, all the images of war memorials to the dead soldiers in this post are from Europe. In different other countries of South America, Africa and Asia, I do not remember seeing any war memorials.

To conclude this photo-essay, the final image is once again of the monument to the Soviet soldiers from Vienna.

War memorials to remember soldiers - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

So what do you feel about war monuments? I feel that war monuments are useful mainly for building patriotic feelings so that young men and women feel encouraged to give their lives for military services.

During the wars and in the years immediately after the wars, there is a lot of patriotic build-up and rhetoric around soldiers. However, once wars are over, countries often forget them quickly. In many countries, ex-soldiers with physical and psychological disabilities are ignored and marginalized.

Some years ago, I remember watching a Bollywood film called "Dhoop" that had shown the callous behaviour of Indian bureaucracy towards the family of a dead soldier. I wonder if that kind of situation is unique to countries like India?


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Learning Sanskrit or German?

The columnists seem almost unanimous - making Indian children learn Sanskrit is a fundamentalist-obscurantist, Hinduttva conspiracy, while learning German is something forward looking-progressive and modern.

I feel that learning and knowing different languages is culturally enriching, a wonderful way for us to know the world. Thus in my opinion, learning German is fine. However, I also believe that India has neglected teaching Sanskrit to school children, depriving them of a wonderful tool in knowing their own cultural roots.


Lord Meghnad Desai, a member of House of Lords in UK, wrote about it in Indian Express:

Sanskrit is today a dead language which is spoken rather badly by a few. How often have we all heard Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam murdered by bad pronunciation. Sanskrit is and was, throughout history, an elite language which only Brahmins were privileged to learn... in India, the forward-looking, development-oriented people want to learn German. But the obscurantists want the country to go back to its ancient roots and learn Sanskrit.

Outlook clarifies that the order of Education Minister Ms Smriti Irani is not just about Sanskrit but it asks Kendriya Vidyalayas (Central schools) to replace German, taught as third language, "with Sanskrit or any other modern Indian language". In a letter, Ashok Aggarwal, writing on behalf of All India Parents' Association has written that the decision of education minister is "unfair, illegal, unconstitutional and unjust".

I don't know if legally Ms. Irani has taken a wrong decision and if it is unconstitutional - I hope not. However, I wonder if media and columnists, by making it a "German versus Sanskrit" debate, are perhaps deliberately creating some confusion? Would it not be more appropriate to pose it as the "foreign language versus an Indian language" debate?

The three language education formula (mother tongue + English + an Indian language) was created to promote unity of India. I feel that today there are many persons in India, especially those who speak English, who think that in the globalized world using school time to learn another Indian language is a wastage of time while learning French, German, or any other "foreign" language is much more important for the future job prospects of their children.

I wonder if all this debate, presented in terms of Hinduttva-versus-Progressive ideas about education, is really about our belief about the inferiority of India's vernacular language speaking majority world?


I had studied Sanskrit for three years in the middle school. I do not recall those studies with particular pleasure, but that did not mean that Sanskrit was an especially boring subject - rather, I think that in general, teaching in our school was unimaginative and boring, not just in Sanskrit, but also in other subjects like physics and history. Unless we are fortunate to get a gifted teacher, most of Indian education system continues to be like that.

Few decades later, when I was living in Italy and was forced to learn Italian, which included learning the Latin linguistic structures, I was suddenly reminded of Sanskrit - the way of remembering changes in verbs according to the tense, gender and persons in Latin, is very similar to Sanskrit.

Later, my work helped me to learn French and Portuguese. I also studied German on my own for some time, though I was never any good at it. Knowing different European languages, often I am struck by the similarities in the roots of different words in different languages, wondering about their common origins and about how languages intermix and gain from each other.

Learning different languages helped to awaken my interest in different humanistic areas - arts, history, archeology and anthropology. It gave me many opportunities to learn about these areas in the European (and western) context. It also made me understand that while I knew so much about origins of Greek and Roman cultures, I hardly knew anything about India's past - for example, I was unaware of the works of persons like Kalidasa or Shudraka.

For many centuries, learning Sanskrit was barred to majority of Indians - it was reserved for Brahmins. However, in Independent India, what stopped us from democratising Sanskrit knowledge and making sure that all Indians could learn it? Or because it was also the language of exclusion and discrimination in the past, should we ignore it and forget it?

I do not have any ideological love for any language or any desire to prove that ancient Indian civilization was better than any other civilization. But I think that Sanskrit is a part of the Indian heritage and if we ignore it, we ignore our own past. How can we love and cherish who we are, if we decide to ignore and forget where we come from?


In the end I don't think that the discussion is about closing our doors to languages like German. Learning German can give us an entry into reading and understanding works of great writers like Goethe, Kant and Hesse. However, I don't think that those who talk of teaching German are worried about not knowing the great German writers. I think that our worries about learning German are more practical - how it can help us to find jobs and make carriers.

I think that as a market-driven society, we are willing to ignore education about literature, art, culture and history, and focus on practical skills that can get us jobs. I also think that it is a short-sighted view.

Today, learning new languages especially European languages, is easier than it has ever been in the history. Internet, free online courses, watching TV channels from other countries, making friends from other countries and chatting with them - if you really wish, you can learn new languages and keep that knowledge alive through internet. Perhaps one day, it will become equally easier to learn Indian languages and Sanskrit through internet.

I believe that learning our own languages and cherishing our own history, literature, art and culture is an important first step for becoming aware and responsible citizens. Only when we know about our own roots, can we explore and appreciate the roots and rich diversities of others.

It is not just about Sanskrit - I wish, our education system could teach our children about the rich works in our "vernacular" languages - from Marathi, to Tamil to Urdu.

Sanskrit may be a "dead" language, not spoken by people, but the language is very much alive for understanding our past. Words from Sanskrit have permeated all the different Indian languages.

I think that this debate is also about a "future-job centric" view of education versus the building of a "cultural foundation" role of education. I believe in a holistic education and not a job-centric education - make our science and maths learning more interactive and practical, but do not give up on subjects like arts, literature, culture and history.

If I were to ask you about the works of Shakespeare or Homer or Dante, probably you would be able to give me some answers. However I suspect that if I ask you about the works of Kalidasa or Banabhatta or Jayadeva, few of you will be able to remember the titles of their works. That is the real tragedy.


Friday, 7 November 2014

Foot loose in San Paulo, Brazil (Part 1)

I was back in San Paulo after about ten years. Scared by the "friendly" advice on the high risk of criminal attacks in this city, during the earlier visits I had never ventured out of hotels. However, this time I was determined to forget my fears and discover the city.

Cabral Monument, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The first part of this photo-essay focuses on areas around the Ibirapuera park, one of the largest green areas in San Paulo city.


San Paulo (or "São Paulo" as the Brazilians call it) is the biggest city in the American continent and along with Rio de Janieiro, the most well known Brazilian city. Fortunately, the hotel where I was staying was close to Avenida Paulista in the city centre, so inspite of my busy schedule, I could go out for early morning and evening walks to discover some parts of this city.

I was immediately attracted by the large green area of the Ibirapuera park on the city map given to me the concierge at hotel Tivoli. It did not seem very far.

"It has three museums and two lakes, it is very beautiful and is one of my favourite places in the city", the helpful concierge had told me, "but you can't walk there, it is too far."


However, I think that walking is the best way to discover a city, and so I had ignored the advice of the concierge. I took Casa Branca street. It took me about an hour to reach the park, with a few brief stops on the way. I loved the Tabebuia trees (Brazilians call them Ipe trees) dense with purple flowers, that are very common in this part of San Paulo. It is the rich part of the city with many consulates and embassies.

Though we were still in October, at one place the municipal government had already set up some Christmas stalls with giant pelouche-wild life.

Pelouche christmas, Rua Casa Branca, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

On Avenida Brasil at the corner with Rua Campista, I saw a statue of a short, heavy set man wearing a suit, underneath a tree. The plaque with the name of the person was defaced so I could not see who was that man and why was he honoured!

Near the statue, underneath some trees in a corner, there were make-shift shelters with car wheel-plates on the tree trunks and posters similar to those of "Occupy Wall Street" movement from a few years ago. Even they looked forgotten and semi-abandoned.

Statue & occupy wall street, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


Near the entrance to the Ibirapuera park, in an oval shaped traffic roundabout is a massive sculpture, the Monument to the Flags (Monumento as Bandeiras). It is the work of Brazilian artist Victor Brecheret and was made in 1951 to celebrate the 4th century of foundation of San Paulo city.

The fifty metres long sculpture shows Portuguese explorers on horses along with some black slaves and Amerindians, pulling a canoe out of a river. A grand stone tableaux, it reminded me of some Soviet-style sculptures in the Tien-a-men square in Beijing (China).

Monumento as bandeiras, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Monument to the flags, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

I spent a long time admiring this monument.


Just behind the Monument to the Flags, you can see first of the two small lakes of Ibirapuera park. It is a mango-shaped lake with a round peduncle at its top end, and it has a series of fountains that rise and ebb in constant motion.

Lake Ibirapuera San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Lake Ibirapuera, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The second lake is narrower and more irregular with a bridge in its middle.

On one side of the second lake, I found some young photographers shooting pictures of a group of young men showing off their bodies, probably for some sports magazine.

Sportsmen Photoshot, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

BTW, I find today's trend of showing off the underwear very funny, as you can see from the image of the two photographers below. I think that these persons do not look sexy, rather they look tacky, but I am sure that many of you like this fashion and learning about the popular underwear brands!

Photographers Showing underwear, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


There are some covered spaces in the park full of graffiti, where young people were playing around on their skate boards.

A couple of students from San Paulo school of journalism stopped me for a video-interview about the Ibirapuera park. They explained that the video-interview was part of a project-assignment.

University students shooting video, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The Ibirapuera park also hosts a planetarium, the Museum of Modern Art, the Afro-Brazilian Museum and the Ibirapuera auditorium.

Museum of Modern art, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Ibirapuera auditorium, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Across the road, just opposite the Ibirapuera auditorium, there was another monument that looked very interesting. However, I was running short of time and wanted to visit at least one of the museums in the park, so I did not visit this monument. Perhaps someone who knows San Paulo can tell me more about it (image below)!

Other monument Ibirapuera, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Instead, I quickly walked for a hurried tour of the Afro-Brazilian museum. It reminded me of the Manas Sanghrahalaya, the wonderful museum about tribal people of India in the city of Bhopal. As I was tired and running late, I rushed through this museum, unable to stop and look at the exhibits properly.

Afro-Brazilian museum, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Munoz pictures, Afro-Brazilian museum, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


To conclude this photo-essay here are a few images of some other sculptures from Ibirapuera park.

Sculpture, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Tamandare marine monument, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Air-force monument, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014


My short visit did not do complete justice to the Ibirapuera park. For example, I hardly looked at the beautiful building of the Museum of Modern Art. The park in front of this museum was hosting the biannual art show, but I had no time to look at it.

By the time I walked back to the hotel, just in time for the inauguration function of our meeting, my feet were seriously hurting me.

Skaters in Ibirapuera park, San Paulo, Brazil - Images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The whole walk-n-visit had taken me a little more than 4 hours. If you have more time in San Paulo, keep at least a full day to visit Ibirapuera park and its museums.

I don't know if in the last ten years San Paulo has become a more safer city or perhaps the area around Ibirapuera park is relatively safe, but I have to say that during this visit I felt safe going around as a tourist, clicking pictures without worrying out about any criminal attacks!

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