In my bookshelf rests an old file. The contents inside the file include typed papers, letters, some photocopies of articles taken from military digests and old newspapers cuttings. To sum in one sentence ‘the file contains story material of a soldier who fought in
Malaya during World
Our desires to narrate occurrences and events, clear misunderstandings, mention some undisclosed facts lead us to write our experiences. The guiding principle for every writer is to be discovered by the stories he writes. My grandfather must have been led by the same purpose to have believed his experiences in
Malaya as a soldier and then as a POW would make a good
story to be shared with others. Life was full of upheavals and happenings and
he never got a chance to write a book he intended to share with others.
He used to sit on his desk and write without ever lifting his head up if one was to come inside his study. In those days you could hire a typist and he found one in the local bazaar—one who never managed to get the spellings of his name right. Afterwards bundles of typed papers he distributed to his daughters and sons for proofreading. Few days later they would return the papers and complained of their inability to make it read like a story and not a report. The papers never went to a printing press or desk of editor but rather they lay forgotten in a shelf along with his other numerous files—mostly records of the small gypsum factory he owned.
When you express the intention to become a writer it is amusing how the relatives are the first ones to remind you they saw the budding writer in you anyway. In one of my trips to
file was thrust in my hands and on my return journey to I sat
in the plane recalling the hopes attached to my ability to write his story by
the old comrades and officers who knew him. I have yet to decipher how I build
a momentum to a story which starts in England Singapore
where he was sent soon after he left the military academy in Dehradun to the
time he was planning to escape the Japanese prison camp on the day the bomb was
dropped on .
There are too many angles to the story, lots of facts to be verified and many
loose and unexplainable ends to be put together. I struggle to envision the
fear in his mind when a Japanese soldier rested the gun on his temple and was
about to pull the trigger if it had not been for another Japanese officer who
was passing by and stopped the soldier from firing the shot—he wanted grandfather’s assistance
to translate some maps written in English. I cannot fathom what inspired him to
read the entire works of Shakespeare during his solitary confinement in the
camp. Nor can I understand his emotions when he discovered, after leaving the
prison camp that his father died a broken-hearted man. The Japanese severed all
forms of communications for him and he could not write letters back home when
he refused to do the Japanese drills. His father assuming he had been killed in
action became ill and could not survive the emotional strain. Hiroshima
In all the human drama surrounded by the harsh world of war and strife there is one story which stands out for me. The English and Indian officers left to fend for their own lives came to form special bonds. Some kept in touch through writing letters long after the war was over. In 1971 the direct military confrontation between
India and led to
a full fledge war. It was a year before my youngest uncle graduated from the Pakistan
military academy. He became a POW during the war and was sent to a camp in Pakistan .
With no forms of communications existent between the two countries the only
source of information was the BBC radio for the families concerned about the
welfare of soldiers and officers fighting far away from home. The news of a
scuffle between Indian officers and Pakistani soldiers in a prison camp sent a
wave of panic and apprehension. There was no way to ascertain who was alive and
who was dead. The uncertainty worsened the frail health of my grandmother who
had to be put on medication. My aunts and uncles recall the agony of seeing
their mother every day becoming weak from the added concern of not knowing if
her son was alive or dead. The scenario must have flooded memories of the war
in India Malaya because it was from the past
grandfather dug out an old connection. Colonel Web an English officer who
passed his retirement days in Essex was the company commander of his military
unit in Malaya. A telegram was sent to him
requesting his assistance in finding out about my uncle’s state. The wait was
crucial but a telegram did arrive from . Colonel Web sent a letter
to General Jagjit Singh Aurora, another officer who was also stationed in England Malaya during the war days and was serving as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. He confirmed Colonel Web that
my uncle was safe and well in a prison camp.
Three soldiers from different backgrounds separated by circumstances of war and ideology did not uphold their differences when the matter was to build bridges for the sake of compassion and humanity. We need individuals like Jagjit Singh Aurora and Colonel Web who made it possible for us to believe our differences have no place to foster humanity.