04 May 2023
Mysterious portrait of Indian Navy sailor unveiled by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
As part of the over two million objects in the collection of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the painting Appreciating the Situation may seem unassuming, but its link to the long and proud history of Indian men and women in the Royal Navy makes it something special. Now visitors can get close to the painting, conserved and framed, after it was unveiled by a son of the subject.
Originally chosen by Chat Over Chai, a local community group, as part of the Exchange Community-Led research project, little was known about the painting. The ultimate goal was to find out more about this mysterious painting, assisted by members of the Royal Navy’s Diversity and Inclusion team and staff from the museum. Ultimately all the team had to work with was two names, Ahluwalia and Chowdhury, and a mysterious label with a code on it, when it came down to finding out who painted the work, and who was the Sub-Lieutenant in it.
All three groups used their expertise and experiences to unravel the image. The title itself Appreciating the Situation is in fact a navigational term in the Navy, fitting as we later discovered that the subject and the painter then trained in navigation and became pilots.
Chat Over Chai felt a deep connection to the mysterious subject due to the South Asian heritage of many of its members, and some recounted that he looked like a family member, and were taken with the reflective tone of the portrait.
As part of the project the National Museum of the Royal Navy employed a researcher who, along with our curators, uncovered the name Suresh Ahluwalia, and the fact that Suresh had unfortunately passed away in 2017. When the family were contacted the existence of a portrait of their family member was a complete shock. From the family it was discovered that Suresh attended naval college in the UK alongside his good friend Inam Chowdhury in 1955. Confirming that the subject of the painting was indeed his father, Nikhil Ahluwalia and his wife Sunil were invited to see this historic family portrait go on display.
In the words of Nikhil’s wife Sonali and daughter Tara, Suresh was a kind man eager to help wherever he could, had he known about the project he, “Would have been very pleased. And hearing from the community group how much it has meant to a lot of people, I think he would’ve been very emotional, because he was very giving, he loved people. And to have an impact on people he had not met, I think that would’ve been something that was quite significant to him.”
Appreciating the Situation serves as a timeless legacy to two friends who left their homes to serve in another country, an experience felt by members of the armed forces even today. This portrait, far more than the sum of its parts, takes pride of place at the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
Can't get to the newsagents for your copy of The Armourer? Order it online (now with free postage!) or take out a subscription and avoid the general public for the next 12 months entirely. And if you're confined to quarters, stock up on some bookazines to keep you entertained.
Buy the latest copy or any back issues, either in print or digital editions by clicking on The Armourer.
They were the mightiest of ships, able to project power around the world courtesy of fearsome armament. Now, a new 132 page bookazine, Battleships of WWII, brings their story to life with 85 battleships from seven nations. Here is your guide to why they were built, how they were armoured and fitted out with equipment and weapons, and what action they saw in WWII, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With colour photos and blueprints, statistic tables and key production details, it’s the ultimate guide to the greatest ships of World War II. Order your print or digital copy here.
Get your WWI collecting fix here. It's Military Collectables of WWI, a special digital magazine from the archives of The Armourer, for only £4.99. Covering Badges of Kitchener’s New Army; Anzac uniforms; shoulder titles; Wound stripes; East Africa uniforms; ID signs; Sweetheart brooches. Then there are medals; Photography in WWI; The black art of propaganda; Great War comic postcards; American Liberty Bonds; Trench art; Princess Mary Christmas box; Canadian recruiting posters. Don't forget weapons, battles and equipment from the Battle of the Somme; Trench mirrors; Collecting the Kaiser’s Battle; Military bugles; Collecting the Battle of Arras. Click here for your digital copy.
How about Tanks of WWII, a 164-page guide to the tanks, commanders and battles of WWII. With over 170 tank prototypes, variants, models from the Axis and Allied nations, plus blueprints, rare photos and 3D illustrations. This collector's bookazine can be yours for just £9.99. Click here for your copy.
Or how about a copy of the Collecting German Militaria bookazine for £7.99? Click here to buy this.