WORLD WAR II MEMORABILIA….
Map images from the net***
My grandfather migrated to Burma in the early 1900s and settled down as a Chief Engineer, PWD with the Government of Burma. My father was born in Rangoon and so were his siblings, 8 of them….!! I heard many stories in my childhood about Burma (now Myanmar). The most interesting ones were about their trek through the jungles of Northern Burma and N.E India during the war.
The Stilwell Road, built by General Joseph Stilwell of the US Army, linking India with Myanmar and China during World War II, still resonates harrowing stories from the greatest chapters of World War II. It reminds us of the refugees that poured into India when Myanmar fell to the Japanese. The 3727ft-high Pangsau Pass in the Patkai Hills was among places they had crossed into India. There should be many published accounts of the Indians who uprooted themselves and later faced the real migration crisis. Time definitely healed all wounds, but couldn't take away the memories! The hearts adapted to the new environment and only started breathing...
We take our daily lives for granted. We think, no one would be interested to know about the past? Would the generations that follow want to know about the ancestral lives/ roots…. I believe they would. Maybe a hundred years from now someone, someplace, will search for his ancestral roots. The purpose of this blog is to leave a permanent record for posterity--- a project made up of time and sweat equity, and with no money.
Unfortunately, the family could not bring back many photographs, But Baba’s pencil drawings provided the spark for many of the best pictures…lots of stories came alive through the illustrations. I am going to share some of these sketches which gave us the glimpses of our ancestral home in Rangoon.
Before that a little bit of background:
My grandparents died at an early age. So my father, being the eldest had to take charge of the household. He completed his graduation and was given a job on compassionate grounds by the govt. It was a good life – almost too good to last.... And so it proved, when the Japanese advanced swiftly, setting to flight the British forces.
The first air raid on Rangoon, came on December 23, 1941 and it was followed by another one on Dec 25, this time with incendiary bombs. The initial booms of the guns had caused considerable confusion, but when the raids intensified, it stirred in alarm.
There was a breakdown of law and order and the Indian population began to panic. They started packing their valuables and began to move northwards towards Mandalay, with the intention of continuing the journey and crossing the border into India.
Baba could not leave Burma because he was classified as an “on-duty” official who had to stay on in Rangoon. However, he did not want to expose his brothers and sisters to the ongoing bombing in Rangoon. So, he arranged to send his siblings in southwest Burma, on the Bay of Bengal; so that they could travel by sea from Rangoon to Calcutta (now Kolkata). The docks were in a mess because of the exodus…departures were announced only an hour before the time of sailing. The unscheduled mobilization plans induced more fear, but people could only grit their teeth in despair.
Many Indian families left their assets, and came holding back tears and feeling indignant. How could they start living in an alien country in such a warped and lopsided conditions…? The question whether their initiative would receive supporting response from the other side remained an enigma. My father’s eldest sister had wisely tucked some gold ornaments in her sari before sailing. So, the young brigade had something in hand to begin with ….my youngest aunt was just five years old, rest of them were still finishing school/college. Education was yet another issue. All this and much more left them filled with apprehensions...
The children had created an image of Kolkata but were ill prepared for the real version of it! Kolkata was crowded with refugees; people were squeezing themselves in homes where they could secure footholds. This coincided with the famous Bengal Famine of 1942-44. Two of my father’s uncles very kindly offered these kids a shelter and slowly the family started ‘living’...though it was a hand-to-mouth existence.
In the mean while, the Japanese were advancing rapidly… food was scare; law and order crashed down. My third uncle had stayed back with my father; so both of them moved into a local bunker with some drinking water and dry food.
The frequency of bombing increased and one night a bomb exploded just a few yards away from their bunker. Next morning they found their house was hit by a bomb and was buried under a mountain of rubble. Their hearts crushed and brought around a sense of alienation. The two brothers hauled and heaved and thumped through the rubble for the rest of the day, and perhaps a bit of the night…A bird whirled up in the night air before winging on towards the valley…My Dad said," it was an indication, that came to us from the Almighty to join the convoy of refugees…."
They started their trek from Maymyo to India. The distance was about 520 km. Initially, they spent the daytime in trenches, could come out only at night as the Japanese were on the mountains, taking shots at anything that moved in the plateau of Maymyo. There was no electric power at all; even a lit cigarette or a torchlight attracted sniper fire!
Baba said, it took them almost 40 days to walk through the course of the Irrawaddy and then Chindwin River. The final cross-over into India was the most difficult one, which was through the unchartered terrain—over the mountains that separate Manipur from Burma. The two brothers walked, hand in hand, in the shadows of the mountains; they were homesick and miserable, suspicious of the shuffling night noises, terrified of the dangerous animals, sickness and death studding the dark forests. However, the difficulties of the road were preferable to the uncertainties of remaining where they were….
I sent this link to my elder brother after publishing it.... and he wrote back a few interesting things. I am attaching his note here...:)) Thanks Dada, for adding value to my blog.
"... some of the childhood stories that I had heard.
1. Our Dadu (grandfather) had later become a builder making bridges and roads as contractor.
2. As Baba and Bhalo Kaku (3rd uncle) were walking back home and riots had broken out between Burmese and Indians. A Burmese group put a knife on Baba . A guy living close to the place where this was happening, opened his window and demanded Baba be left alone as he was very young. The group asked for money to do that and that guy through the money from the window and baba and Bhalo Kaku ran for their lives.
4. During the long walk from Rangoon, they had exotic adventures of living with corpses who died due cholera,with snake and huge big mosquitoes. Some had died due to Malaria and had to be left out they drank water from mountain rivers, ate vegetation created by God. On one such occasion, while Baba was drinking from a mountain river, he came across a Tiger drinking on the opposite bank.
5. Baba was to go to London to become a barrister which had to be abndoned as Dadu expired.
6.Uncle J was studying Medical at Calcutta those days and the family decided he should continue. That was the kind of sacrifice they made for each other.
7. After coming to India Uncle J continued his Medical, others went to school. Bhalo Kaku(3rd uncle) went to George Telegraph to train for a shipping career and Baba went to Lucknow to work and run the family. He also made an income from Tabla at concerts and All India Radio which came in handy for the large family.
8. Recall. the Fluency and pronounciation in English by the 3 Pishis ( aunts) due to their British Schooling. At the same time the letters that the brother wrote to each other were always in impecable English language and superb hand writing. And Bibhu Pishi's paintings were quite famous but she never continued which you followed with your classical music .This Bedhi exists in the next gen also with Buchka ( my darling nephew) never continuing with his cricket.
5. You remember the House in Calcutta they took on rent after coming to India eventually ( where we also spent a good time of our childhood with all our bros and sis)was a make shift conversion from a stable for the Britsih Horses. Recall the brick road leading to the house and the rings on walls of the house. The Road was built for Horses and the Rings to tie them up. -Also recall the small Varandah with a half wall railing--That was for the horse feed which was kept outside and the Horses could put out their necks to feed themselves.
-You will recall our childhood with eight bro sis with their families and the fantastic Woman Friday Komolar Ma all staying in that 3 room portion of the Stable.The braekfast lunch and dinner sittng on the floor in one such room and exquisite culinery skills of Komolar Ma.
Very Interesting memories conjured up on reading your blog. Thought I share it with you as well.
These are some of the pencil sketches made by my Dad. We have them in our family album. With age, the papers have discolored, lost sheen---but for Sengupta Collectors, this is a treasure worth millions!
A treasure....preserved in our household....
My grandfather's house in Rangoon ...
A Trash Cart...( Rangoon life)
A carriage used by my grandfather ...:)
Nyeti...the lady in Lyungi--traditional attire who looked after the kids ..
Burmese Snake Charmer--The Kiss..
Burmese Cat...* this pic from net*
Datas collected from net.....***
The first reaction that came in from the next generation : From Shubhankar Sengupta (my nephew)
It was truly amazing to read what you have written. I just can't stop feeling proud thinking that I belong to a family of fighters. Interestingly even I bag a mention in the article. To even get a mere mention among such stalwarts is in itself very satisfying and at the same time immensely motivating. I must say that there were so many stories that I have never even heard of, for instance, Dadai being a government servant while in Burma , Dadai sleeping with corpses plus his narrow escape from robbers with the help of a godsend, about the house you all used to stay in Kolkata, Komolar Maa and her culinery skills and much more.
I cant help but marvel at the way our elders lead there lives with so much respect, dignity and mutual admiration for each other notwithstanding the tough times they were subjected to. There is so much to learn and take out from the way they lead their lives. And of course i thank you for compiling all this and writing a beautiful blog that has much to tell about our family and our roots and more importantly creating a ready reference for the coming generations of our family and for that matter even for me.
Did you post this on Facebook?? If not then can i post it??
Proud member of the Sengupta family.
I am completely honored to be a part of this pragmatic family tree. Having read your article and Mama’s anecdotes, I now know how this generation got its sense of humility, patience and humaneness. As the wise men say, “No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue and influence, but by your own consent”, “The Sengupta Clan” has truly lived up to this. They fought their way through, saw difficult times, but never gave up. They were all successful professionals in their own fields as well as successful human beings in their own way.
Just being there for each other, sacrifices, helping distant relatives in despair, finding them jobs, helping them rehabilitate…..Phew!!!.....Hats off to them!!! Instances such as the family egging Jethu Dadai on to pursue a career in medical studies, Dadai sacrificing a prospective one as a Barrister (in London), Boro Pishi Dida deciding to stay single to look after the younger ones, two brothers deciding to stay back in Burma, while the entire family migrated ; I honestly don’t think this generation has the grit or the selflessness to make sacrifices to this effect. It’s sad that we lost most of them early; Gosh! There could have been just so much to learn and so many more tales to be heard.
Would someday love to go back to Burma(Myanmar now) and trace down my roots.
Thanks for this Ma!