Personal Information Form 812-813: The swallowed fish bone
This story narrated by the Indian soldier Faijaz Ali, born in Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan), was recorded on 30 March 1917 in the Wünsdorf camp. It tells of a sick king, who has a fish bone stuck in his liver. A doctor tells him that the only cure is by feeding on the liver of a beheaded boy, the latter who should be the only son to his parents. Through the character of the boy, Ali’s story communicates the simultaneous feelings by a POW: of pain on leaving his homeland; and of disappointment in one’s own family and king, with God being the ultimate solace.
Approximately 1,000 soldiers from South Asia, sent to war on behalf of the British army, were captured in Europe and became prisoners of war in German camps. One such camp was in Wünsdorf, where the voices of several soldiers were recorded by Wilhelm Doegen (Director of the Sound Department, Prussian State Library) and his team in several South Asian languages such as Hindi, Hindustani, Urdu, Bengali, Nepali, and Pashto.
Faijaz Ali, whose voice is recorded in these files (PK 812-813), was non-literate but could speak Hindustani and Punjabi. Stories such as this one were often preselected and translated, as well as transcribed. Interestingly, however, while speaking, some of the soldiers utilised the spontaneous moment of the recording as an opportunity to communicate other messages or simply some phrases which were not transcribed. For example in this file, Ali ends the story by giving his coordinates (saying ‘Prisoner Faijaz Ali, Indian Punjab’) and then striking a chord of familiarity with a perceived German speaking audience by saying 'Guten Abend'.