ROAD TO KOHIMA
My father’s death in 2006 was the powerful catalyst for me to reassess my life, it's meaning, my photography and certainly my spirituality. Sixty odd years earlier, he had been in the army in India in the Second World War, fighting in the famous Battle of Kohima. I just knew I had to go and see for myself what he had seen. I strangely felt it was necessary so I could get to know him better, even though of course, he didn't exist anymore. The urge to travel to India increased as the months passed after his death, and in the end I managed to save up the money for a six week trip. So in late October 2007 I found myself in Delhi, not really knowing what I would find.
Little did I know those six weeks in India would change my life. Since that first visit I have returned many times. India has become an inspiration, a place of renewal for me and a place of wonder. Here’s my journey…
The year of 2006 got off to a very bad start for me with his death after a long and painful illness. My mother and I were there to the very end with him.
My father was an intensely private, quiet and gentle man. Throughout our childhood my three brothers and I never really had a long and deep conversation with him, sometimes it was like getting blood from a stone to engage him in any sort of conversation, let alone a profound one.
However, his wartime history and past had always intrigued me. Mum often let slip the occasional fact about his time during that period so I assumed she knew all the details. For example, she told us why he refused to eat rice and bananas; it was because for the three years he was in India and Burma that was all he had to eat. So he vowed to never touch them again when the war was over. And he never did. But for us kids his war was a taboo subject.
Over the years I had pieced together a fragment of his military history. He had travelled through India and Burma in the Royal Worcester Regiment with the eventual destination being the City of Kohima in Nagaland. Here there was the famous Battle of Kohima where Allied Forces managed to stop the Japanese Army from entering and taking over India, the British Empire's most valuable asset in Asia.
But he constantly refused to be drawn on the subject despite my probing. This persistent silence on the matter made me even more curious. Occasionally, when watching a TV programme about India or another country in that part of the world, he would say he had been there, he had visited this place, or that place. But that was it, no other information.
Once in India, it was quite clear that this was a country the likes of which I had never experienced before. The colours, the noise, the temples and crowds were an extraordinary assault on the senses, it was an emotional roller coaster ride. For the entire trip I didn't stop smiling. I travelled by train through Rajasthan and ended up in India's holiest city- the ancient City of Varanasi on the banks of the Mother Ganga River. To this day it remains my favourite city in the world. It was the place where I was finally able to put some of my feelings into perspective, but all it did was create an intense desire to return. So as soon as I returned home I started planning my next visit.
That's what India does to you, it embraces you and beguiles you, and nourishes you.... If you let it.
Without my father’s silence about his war (I still know very little), I would never have visited India. Now I owe her so much.
Certainly without her I would never have discovered who I was, or met my soul mate, my wife. In the last few years we have travelled extensively together, exploring from the far east in Assam to the far west in Gujarat, and all parts between.
My relationship with the most incredible country on Earth has only just begun.