Thursday, November 24, 2011
My 1971 moment
Next month, Bangladesh will celebrate 40 years of its liberation from Pakistan.
In India too, the armed forces are getting ready to commemorate India’s greatest military victory, post-Independence.
I too have a personal connection to the 1971 war.
I was barely nine years old when the war broke out.
So don’t really remember the details of the fighting or the status of international relations then.
What I distinctly recall however is the fact that I couldn’t go to school for nearly six months because of the war.
Yes, because of the war!!
Let me explain.
From June 1970, my father, then seconded to the Military Engineering Service (MES) from Bombay Sappers, was part of the team that was entrusted with expanding the military station at Misa (that’s right, Misa) in Central Assam’s Nagaon district.
Our makeshift house was a Basha, nestled amongst the lush green Salnah Tea Estate.
Since the cantonment was very small then (40 years later, it is now a base for a missile unit, among other troops), there were no schools in the vicinity.
So, a handful few of us boys and girls were forced to commute 33 km one way to Nagaon town to attend school. I was in Class III.
The school, if memory serves me right was named Loyala English Medium School!
Three hard benches screwed into the floor of a modified Shaktiman three tonner was our school bus.
The academic year in Assam used to and still does, run from January to December.
The commute and the school activities kept us busy.
We would leave home by 6 am and be back home by 2, barely giving us two more hours of daylight since it gets dark early in that part of the country.
Life was exciting as exciting as it can get for a nine year old with an overactive and inquisitive mind.
Then, in the summer of 1971, disaster struck.
All units in the Misa base moved out one by one for forward deployment (of course, I didn’t know the term forward deployment back then!) and we were left without any transport.
With no other alternative, I and all other kids in the cantonment were compelled to study at home. Special permission was apparently taken from the school authorities for us to be exempted from school attendance.
So as the build up for the war started, we sat idle at home.
I have very faint memories of blackouts and air raid warning signals, which was a norm in those tense days.
All that I remember were our parents listening to AIR news on a Murphy Radio with push buttons that switched from medium wave to short wave 1 and SW2 frequencies.
The war ended, as we all know, on 16 December. Our annual exams coincided with the final week of the war. We got promoted to Class IV. Life one thought would get back to normal.
But there was no guarantee that the units would come back quickly to Misa and so I was packed off to Jalgaon in Maharashtra to be with my grandparents.
For the next three years, I stayed with them, having been forced to change over to a Marathi medium school.
It was a painful change.
But when I look back, these upheavals have helped shape my outlook to life and given me an edge to be adaptable to any situation. These frequent changes in medium of instruction (from English to Marathi and then to English again in Class VII), have also allowed me to be proficient in more than two languages.
In a way therefore, 1971, regarded as the year that changed the sub-continent’s map, also influenced the course of my life!
And boy, am I grateful for that!