Cover of Navtej Sarna’s book.

New Delhi: For close to a century, many generations of an Indian family have been looking after the Indian Hospice in the old city of Jerusalem. The existence of this organization intrigued Indian diplomat and writer Navtej Sarna, who has now chronicled its story in a book.

Sarna had read about this institution before, but it was only when he landed in Israel in 2008 as the Indian ambassador that he visited the hospice, which has hosted Indian soldiers during World War II and today provides accommodation to Indian pilgrims of all faiths.

Sarna felt the topic was "compelling and waiting to be written.”

The outcome is his latest nonfiction work, "Indians at Herod's Gate: A Jerusalem Tale," (Rainlight, Rs. 500). Sarna is also the author of "Winter Evenings.”

"This is a book about Indian connection to Jerusalem through the centuries and is explored from the standpoint of the Indian Hospice," Sarna told IANS in an interview.

"When you visit something as layered and rich and complex as Jerusalem, the combination is so compelling that I had to go for it," he said.

The 182-page book takes the reader back to the point when Baba Farid, a sufi saint, visited Jerusalem 800 years ago.

The Indian Hospice was established in 1924, with Sheikh Nazir Ansari, a police inspector's son from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, becoming the first Indian to look after the organization, located opposite Herod's Gate in the old city. Since then generations of the Ansari family have kept the Indian flag flying in a situation that, according to Sarna, is "politically fraught where every inch of territory is claimed or counter-claimed.”

Sarna is currently a special secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs. He has been named secretary (West).

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