Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 9 July 2014

World War Two

My grand daughter Asha's school held a World War, Two day yesterday, for the grand parents. That stalwart group of men and women who bring their little charges to school and pick them up when parents are at work.

     Asha comes home at 3.30 pm and is ready for a meal. On her terms. There is a great deal of negotiation. Today the spinach went down after some protest, but yesterday was a fun day.

     At one , we oldies went to school. The children sang forties songs with gusto. I specially liked 'I'm gonna hang out the washing on the Seigfrid Line...'  They danced hip-hop and wore forties clothes. There were Wrens, old biddies with a scarf and curlers in their hair, military men...

     The event began with playing of a recording of Neville Chamberlain announcing the declaration of war. Evacuees' letters were read out by the children - some funny and some poignant.

     There was a dearth of Indians in the group. I remember; like it or not, it was my war as well, I thought. To begin with, my father, my only surviving parent, went off to jail because he was a devotee of Gandhi's Satyagraha. Non-violent or not, he was saying this was not his war. In August 1942, the Congress asked the British to quit India, and that was when the fun started.

     The Sisters at the Convent named and shamed me in class  as the daughter of a prisoner, a criminal. I protested vehemently and was locked in the dark, umbrella room, behind the stage where assemblies were held.

     I remember sugar and kerosene shortages and every one got only eight ounces of rice per day. The British Government was probably deciding on the ration according to their needs. Nobody told them us South Indians ate three huge rice meals a day. Wheat came to the rescue and we learned to make chappathis badly. To begin with they were the texture and taste of cardboard.

     The biggest joke was the ARP man whose job it was to secure the black-out, make sure the curtains were drawn and the lights dimmed. What curtains and what lights? We had neither of these encumbrances. So he got a 'glass' of tea with jaggery for his pains. In return he gave us the day's gossip.

     In my home, with Achan away, there was no money for school fees and we limped along from month to month. But, amazingly I knew enough to be very proud of my father. The community hung together helping us out with rice and sugar; 'He went to jail for all of us,' they said.

     It was a long two years before he came back and life returned to a new version of normal.

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