Chapter 7, Pt 3 of 4
THE TURNING POINT AND THE INDIA LEAGUE
Of course we had to have identity cards, ration books and petrol coupons for the car. The clothes were not rationed till sometime afterwards.
The air raid shelters became a necessity, and we decided to have a small, underground brick shelter built in our garden. Just as Sheel and I were standing near one of our vegetable beds, discussing the possibility of using that piece of ground for the dug-out, we heard our gardener, Mr Bowyer, come through the side door. We told him about our plan and also that the shelter might cost us £20.
“That is a lot of money,” he said with great concern. “I could do that job myself, doctor. Yes. I will start on it tomorrow.” And be was as good as his word. Like most Englishmen he loved to try his hand at something new. He worked harder than he had ever done in our employment for the past six years. The ground being low-lying, it was difficult to make the shelter completely water proof. He eventually had to fix a pump on the floor so that we could always make sure that it was perfectly dry.
With the help of another man he fixed two strong bunks inside. The electrician came and fixed the electric light and the night bell in it, and so it was all complete within a month. We stood outside once again with Mr Bowyer, our amateur architect and builder, this time to admire his ingenuity.
“It does not look bad,” he said very modestly, “and it has not cost £20 either.”
Although we were being continually warned about the near-approaching onslaught of Hitler’s might, yet there was a comparative lull around us that time. We concentrated our energies in getting our air-raid shelters in tip-top condition; also we tried to become well acquainted with our neighbours so that in any emergency we could be more help and comfort to each other.
I discovered that a young schoolteacher, named Miss Cresswell had taken lodgings next door to us. She was a patient of my husband and he seemed to know her fairly well. You ought to make acquaintance with her,” Sheel put it to me one morning. She is most interesting to talk to; she has read more books about India than any other English person I know. She even knows all about the recent happenings in India.”
Sheel was quite right. Miss Cresswell turned out to be a real friend of India and Indians.
“You know Krishna Menon, the Secretary of the India League in London?” she asked me
“Yes. I have met him once at an Indian Social gathering. He has an outstanding personality,” I said.
“Oh, I think he is marvellous,” she said. “You ought to come to the India League one day, Mrs Chowdhary, and see him at work, not for his own benefit, no, he has absolutely dedicated himself to the cause of Indian Independence. He is a staunch follower of Gandhi and Nehru. He will not rest until they are out of jail and victorious.”
Miss Cresswell and I took a journey by train to London for the purpose of visiting the India League together. We had to climb up a very dark and dingy winding staircase, beside a shop in Strand No. 165, to reach the League’s offices, which consisted of a small hall with a room on each side of it. The front room seemed to be overfull with press machinery and stacks and stacks of papers and magazines. It was the back room where we entered after giving a gentle rap at the door.
This was a fair-sized room nearly half of which was filled with a huge writing desk, overloaded with books, files, newspapers, etc. Krishna Menon sat behind that desk wearing a navy-blue suit, with a white shirt and a darkish tie. He was holding his large brown forehead with one hand, and writing down something with the other. A strong cup of tea, a few plain biscuits and a bowl of sugar were placed in front of him. Mary, one of the three ladies who were working with him in the room, greeted us with a friendly smile and a “Hallo.” Krishna Menon also looked up for a minute with his spectacles still resting on the bridge of his nose and said “Hallo.” Miss Cresswell then introduced me to him.
“I am pleased Alice has brought you here, Mrs Chowdhary,” he said, “and I hope you will become one of our members. We have other Indian ladies working with us, too. They are Mrs Handoo, Mrs Bhattacharya and others.”