From Amma With Love
This post is about an interesting summer we all spent in my grandfather’s house in the countryside, due to a scare that the Japanese were going to invade South India.
Now you have to know that at that time, the news from the war was about the Japanese taking the supposedly impregnable fortress of Singapore and marching into Burma, in what was called the Kohima Front.
There were reports that the Japanese Navy that had attacked Pearl Harbor four months earlier was in the Indian Ocean preparing for the invasion. On Easter Sunday they bombed Colombo, just across the Mannar Strait in Sri Lanka.
The government was naturally concerned that Madras and the other big cities would be the next targets and instituted a curfew under what’s called Ordinance 144. All lights had to be extinguished by 8:00 PM and windows covered in black paper. Ever the civic minded person, my father volunteered to be an Air Raid Warden, one of those who went out to make certain everyone followed these rules.
So in this atmosphere, when a Japanese reconnaissance plane dropped a bomb north of Ft. St. George in Madras, evacuation of the major cities was ordered along with rationing of things like gasoline for cars. A poster from that time encouraging carpooling read “If you ride alone, you ride with Hitler”.
As we children were out of school for the summer, we were shipped off with our mothers to various locales, which in our case meant our ancestral village of Karukurichi. The fathers continued to work and came by periodically with the latest news. I remember my Uncle Ramanujan moved his family to Courtallam and spent time at a bungalow of his client, the zamindar of Sethur.
For us children it was a fun time, with many cousins together to play with and explore. There were mango trees everywhere and kindly relatives only happy to feed us. In the evening we heard stories from our elders and talked until we fell asleep. There was no electricity or restaurants to go out to but it was like a summer camp nowadays and we enjoyed ourselves.
Occasionally we’d go on trips to surrounding villages in Tirunelveli District such as Veeravanallur where my father’s grandfather, Chinna Ramanuja Iyengar was famous for helping the needy and forming friendships with people of all castes and religions.
Another day I visited Anantha Krishnapuram where my grandmother’s family is from, for the first and last time. More than 30 years later my husband and I took our children to my husband’s ancestral home of Kizhanatham just across the Thamirabarani River from Anantha Krishnapuram, but didn’t have a chance to cross over for a visit.