Chapter 9, Pt 2 of 4
COMING OF PEACE
What amazing tenacity these people had I thought. There they were standing homeless, dispossessed of almost all their belongings, and were probably suffering from severe shock and some physical pain, yet they tried hard to conceal their feelings and gave you a smile and went to the extent of asking about the welfare of your children. There was no praise too great for them.
The news of the capitulation of Hitlerite Germany came quite unexpectedly, but it brought a tremendous relief to our troubled minds and bodies. The V.E. Day (Victory in Europe) was celebrated all over the country with the mixed feelings of solemnity and rejoicing. Sheel and I joined in the Thanksgiving Service held in the Cinema Auditorium opposite to our house. A huge crowd had to wait outside and listen to the proceedings through the loud speakers.
But we knew we were not completely out of the wood yet. The Japanese were still fighting on and were bent on “Do or Die.” It seemed as if the struggle between them and the Allies would go on forever.
Then like a bolt from the blue came the news of the Atom Bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We heard the blood curdling stories of human suffering as a result of these bombs.
“It was wicked, inhuman and uncalled for. They shouldn’t have done it.” The words seemed to be on everybody’s lips.
The outcry over the bombs somewhat eclipsed the joy and relief of the end of this total war. Only here and there one heard the argument in favour of the bomb.
“We had to end the war somehow, and that was the only weapon which could have brought the enemy to his heels.”
However, we celebrated the V. Day with great rejoicing. We switched on all the lights we could find on that night. We tore down the blinds and the blackout curtains. It was hard to believe that we were free from the horrors of war once more.
There were long Parades and Thanksgiving Services during the morning and grand Dinners and Dances at night, but with all that we were fully aware of the lonely feelings of the parents, wives and even children whose dear ones had laid down their lives to make this day possible. Although their hearts must have been weeping, yet most of them had put on brave faces and tried to rejoice with the rest of the world.
Just at that time Sheel had to employ a new assistant, Dr Madan. He was tall, quite fair complexioned for an Indian, with jet-black wavy hair and dark penetrating eyes. The only thing which somehow marred his good looks was the roughness of the skin on both sides of his face.
By his appearance and mannerisms I guessed that Dr Madan had been in this country for some years, and that he had become quite Anglicised. But I was shocked to hear from him that he couldn’t even speak Punjabi, his mother tongue, properly.
I felt like asking him so many questions, and yet I had to restrain myself until we became a little more familiar with each other. I found him very affable and ready to impart his knowledge and experiences. In fact, he almost told me the story of his life without much persuasion on my part.
“I came to this country when I was barely nineteen,” he went on, “and believe it or not, I was a Kattar (staunch) Sikh then, with my long hair under the turban, my luxuriant beard and an iron bangle on my arm.”
At that moment I watched his clear-cut features and fine build with a fresh interest, and decided that he must have been a very impressive looking Sikh, and now he was just an ordinary person.
“So you chose to reform yourself in this country, Dr Madan?”
“Yes, because I didn’t like to look conspicuous. I hated being stared at. But, believe me, it wasn’t an easy task. In the first place I had to struggle with my own thoughts and beliefs. Then when I did make up my mind and walked to a barber’s shop, I hadn’t the pluck to go in. I felt as if I was being watched by every dark person who passed by that street, I paced up and down that pavement several times before actually going inside the Salon, and even when after the deed was done, I had to almost go into hiding for a fortnight or so.
“Now that I had become clean-shaven I could go anywhere, do anything without being noticed or stared at, and I don’t mind telling you I spent more time and money on dances, theatres and girls during that period than on my studies. The news of my going astray reached my parents’ ears at last, and they ordered me to return home by the next boat. They sent the money to pay for the fare, but I used that money on enjoyment too, and simply ignored my parents’ pleas.