As 1940 rolled into 1941 there was a gentle drift away from the peace quiet and prosperity in the environment that we the kids took for granted. First of all, political talk amongst the elders became more vociferous and pronounced. In 1939, when war in Europe had started, the Viceroy had declared war on Germany without consulting the Indian political parties. In protest of this action all provincial governments led by the Indian National Congress had resigned. Those governments were taken over by the respective Governors. The only province where the Muslim League was in power (albeit as a coalition partner with KPP) was Bengal. The Congress also resigned from local bodies. Jessore District Board was held by the Congress. With the departure of the Congress, a Muslim League man became the chairman of the board. Political discussion raged amongst the elders as to the correctness of the political actions being taken by the Congress. It was evident that with the provincial government coming under the dominance of the Muslim League it was gaining political mileage. The premier, AK Fazlul Haq of KPP had become ineffective and HS Suhrawardy was calling all the shots. The Congress was a house divided in Bengal. Subhas Bose had been politically isolated within the Congress after he became its President at its Tripuri session. He had to resign. He then tried to re structure the Congress in Bengal. The CWC (Central Working Committee of the party) debarred him from any organizational posts either in the CWC or in Bengal Congress. He was physically ill and he was imprisoned. Throughout 1940, he was kept out of political activities. He was finally released from jail and was kept under house arrest in his own home. The political debates both for and against him rang loud and noisy in all middle class homes. Ours was no exception. Then, in January 1941 came the exciting news of his escape to Germany via Afghanistan and Russia. The impact of this daring escape on the country was tremendous.
Effects of the war in Europe were visible even to our infant eyes. The most glaring was the rationing of petrol. The pleasure of the family piling into the car and going off for a drive disappeared. Even our occasional visit to the farm orchard that Baba had bought only recently decreased. The old copper paisa was replaced by a funny washer like coin. A new square brass two paisa coin was introduced. The funniest of all was the appearance of a small One Rupee currency note. For the first few months it came as perforated booklet of 100 notes. Later it became a normal currency note available singly. Since it was my duty to pay for all the purchases made from tradesmen at the door, (that is how I was made to learn my arithmetic!), I had to add a small pocket to the cloth money bag for the notes in addition to all the coins that I carried around.
The year 1941 rolled to an end with a bang. The Japanese entered the war. Indochina, Thailand Malaya and Burma fell in a matter of days. By February 1942 even the impregnable fortress of Singapore had fallen to the Japanese. For us the war became more real as Jessore became a Cantonment town. An airfield was constructed. Lots of barracks were built in the outskirts of the town. Lots of soldiers, white black and of other complexions moved into the town. A lot of young people got jobs relating to the building activity. Baba’s close friend, Mr. KN Ghosh, also got a part of the contract to build the airfield. One day he arranged for us to go and see the newly built airfield. I went with a lot of anticipation. Our movement within the airfield was however strictly limited. We were driven down to a small hut with a large concrete apron. We could stand there and see aircraft landing and taking off from the runway. The runway was however too far for me to really feel the presence of the aircraft. After a few moments a very small aircraft came into the apron and switched off its engine. The pilot got out of the aircraft and walked away. I was curious and wanted to see the aircraft from close quarters. After about half an hour, the pilot came back. One of the elders walked up to him and requested him to let me see the aircraft. Promptly the pilot picked me up and before I realized what was happening he deposited me inside the aircraft. The seat was a tin bucket, too low for me to sit down and still see anything outside. I struggled to get up and go out. The pilot picked me up, put in a couple of cushions and let me sit down again. That was a far more comfortable position. He explained to me what the instruments in front of me would indicate and how he could move the controls on the wings with the help of the stick fitted to the floor of the aircraft. The five minutes or so spent in the cockpit made me feel great, especially as such a favour were not bestowed on my sisters. After spending two hours or so at the aerodrome, we came back home; we did not have the slightest idea that our whole world would turn topsy-turvy within the next 48 hours.
Thakuma, (my grand mother) had recently returned from a trip to Prayag, Benaras and Agra. She had brought a marble replica of the Tajmahal as a gift for me. I was fascinated by the replica and was for ever trying to find a setting for it that would show it off to best advantage. The day after our trip to the Aerodrome, I was busy playing with my Tajmahal in my room upstairs when I heard a little commotion at the ground floor level. As I came down the stairs, I found all the elders in an agitated huddle. Baba had a typed letter in his hand. Every one else was listening to him. It transpired that the Government has decided to take over our house for use for the war effort. We had been advised to vacate the house in 48 hours!
A bolt from the blue would be a mild description of the feelings that prevailed at home at the moment. Some one ran to the Collectorate to confirm whether the letter was indeed genuine. It turned out to be so. There seemed to be no way to get the order cancelled. It appeared that such take over orders had been received by all leading households in town. Mr. KN Ghosh was a bit lucky. He had two houses. The new one was not yet occupied. That one was promptly requisitioned. His older house where he was residing was spared. A flurry of activity now started. A small house was hired. It was too small to accommodate every thing we had. There was a small patch of land vacant near the newly hired house. That piece of land was taken charge of and a small shed was erected there to house the car and the overflow of household goods that would not fit in to the new dwelling.
I went through the next two days in a daze. The elders were too busy packing up the house to attend to me. Sisters were old enough to be able to pitch into the packing chore. I roamed around in bewilderment as my world got dismantled and packed away box by box. While all this drama was being enacted, a very strange thing happened. Of late, Baba had become interested in astrology. Lots of books had been purchased and the elders often sat down in conferences amongst themselves to decide what the stars foretold for one or the other member of the family. About this time a friend of Baba’s had decided to go on a pilgrimage to Benaras. Baba had asked him to inquire whether his horoscope was available in the fragment of Bhrgu Samhita preserved at Benaras. That gentleman returned from his pilgrimage at this stage. He had indeed found Baba’s horoscope! He came home to hand it over in the midst of all the chaos. Baba met him at the door. He handed over the horoscope without a word. Baba opened the scroll, read it and stood still as if he was dumb struck. The piece of paper that had arrived had a fairly accurate description of Baba’s childhood. It described quite accurately the house that he had built. It stated that he was now heading a large and prosperous family. It however ended its description on a chilling note! The sentence was ‘Adhuna Grha Chhatrabhangavat’. ‘The household at the moment’, it said, ‘is in total disarray’! Baba shook his head, handed over the piece of paper to Ma and walked away.