- Contributed by
- BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
- People in story:
- Mrs Katyun Randhawa
- Location of story:
- Calcutta, India
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 September 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer on behalf of Mrs Randhawa and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs Randhawa fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was a young Indian (Parsi) girl living in Calcutta during World War II. My family consisted of my mother, father and three daughters, I was the eldest daughter. My brother had not been born yet. We lived in an apartment block in Mission Row, not far from Dalhousie Square — the spot where the “Black Hole of Calcutta” was supposed to have taken place — though Indian historians deny this episode.
My neighbours consisted of a Chinese family who had trekked from Burma, an Anglo-Indian family - Mr and Mrs Carter, a Portuguese family — Mr and Mrs Coelho and their 4 sons, and 2 Baghdad Jewish families — the Nahoums and the Manassehs.
My family lived on the top floor and from our veranda (whose doors and windows had been plastered with black and brown paper, as protection from broken glass during the air raid), I could see the steeple and weather cock of St Andrews Church, and in the background Howrah Bridge, the life-line of Calcutta connecting the 2 sides of the mighty Hooghly River. Calcutta was full of soldiers and army trucks went up and down all day long.
Dum Dum airport in 1942-46 was one of the busiest airports in the world. In those days we did not go shopping in bazaars for the daily necessities. Instead, hawkers would bring their ware to your door. If you lived on the top floor as we did, you lowered an empty basket attached to a strong rope from the railings of your veranda to the hawker below. He would normally have a supply of milk, bread, fruit and vegetables. There was also the “Toffee Man” who would pass by occasionally to deliver toffee moulded into different shapes, mostly animal figures. Payment of money would normally be lowered in the basket or wrapped in paper and thrown to the hawker. Those days are gone forever.
I remember the bombing of Calcutta by the Japanese, the target being Howrah Bridge. That morning had been a lovely clear and breezy day and we were flying kites. Some of the neighbourhood boys would coat the string of their kites with broken glass powders, get involved in kite fights and would break the thread of their rival kite flyers. Across the road a family who had a dove-cote were flying their pigeons.
We all had duties to perform when the siren would sound, such as putting a small bag with a piece of black rubber, Vaseline and bandages around our shoulders. We had no fridge in those days and drinking water was stored in earthen jars on the veranda. When the siren sounded that day, my parents brought in the water jars and my sisters and I ran downstairs to the ground floor and hid in the air raid shelter. Our ARP warden was a dear old Englishman, Mr Nicholson who used to wear a helmet and an ARP band round his arm. I can still remember his huge moustache and his buckets of sand.
During the air raids, Mr Nicholson would entertain us children with toy whistles, little paper hats — he was good at "Origami" and would fold brown paper into lovely decorative shapes. When the “all clear” siren sounded we would leave the shelters and look at the damage. Not far from our house was an Ismaili Religious Centre — called “Jamaat Khana” — it had been bombed — 2 cows had been killed. There was broken glass and shrapnel everywhere.
The bombing of Calcutta led to an exodus of residents — Howrah and Sealdah Stations being packed with people trying to get out. Some of our street hawkers also disappeared — we never saw our bread delivery man again.
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