Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.
Click here for Prelude D-Delhi -1979
Florence - 1943
It was the June of 1944. As the war was closing on, the Sappers and Miners from the British Army were commissioned to clear the Bombs and mines that was laid all across the scenic Tuscan landscape.
Totalling 36,000 men, the British Commonwealth army attacked the Italians and the Germans and followed the retreating Italian Forces into Europe. The retreating Italian forces had set up mining traps across Florence right from the city centre to the far flung villages that sprawled across the sunny Tuscan landscape.
The Serene Tuscan villages bore no signs of danger lurking around if you did not see it with a trained eye. It was only through a trained eye that only could spot the booby traps that the retreating troops had laid along in order to quell any invasion of the allied commonwealth army into the Tuscan territory.
Defusing the bombs and the mines was a dangerous job. More often than not it was very deceptive since clearing an apparently evident piece of explosive would trigger off another one set slightly aside and deeper into the Trench.
Lt Colonel Preston was a trained Mine defuser. He could figure out a booby trap just by surveying and sniffing out the layout of the terrain where the enemy troop may have set foot. It was almost instinctive for him to guess how the enemy’s plans worked. After surveying the area, he would assemble his battalion every day at dusk to discuss the potential mines laid out in the vicinity and would give clear instructions and orders for everyone to set out to do their work.
The Sappers in the battalion always knew that it could be any one of them the next day, who may fall into the trap of another fatal mine that would accidentally blow up. Getting into their hold-all army sleeping bags every night, each one of them knew that they may not see some of their fellow sappers the next day if their job got botched up. They said their prayers, longingly thought about their loved ones whom they had left behind in far flung lands in India to fight a foreign war and fell into a deep slumber.
The next day morning they would wake up as brave soldiers and march ahead following the instructions laid out by their commander whose instinctive sense of enemy territory combined with the knowledge of bombs and mines they were in awe of. Each one of them was a survivor up until then and they owed that in gratitude to the deft shrewdness and experience of their commander.
While other soldiers in the Battalion specialised in defusing bombs, Kittu, Harpal and few others would march ahead along with Preston to lay the way ahead for surveying the territory. They had to steer clear from potential mines and traps while they carried heavy equipments, machinery , spanners, bolts, nuts and equipment required to dig trenches, build bridges, blow out heavy rocks, road blocks or sometimes to cross a river valley. Their battalion had lost many lives in the process.
Harpal’s father, a cloth merchant in Lahore was a staunch Gandhian. When Gandhi visited Lahore in 1931 he was on the forefront of rallying along with the chief citizens of Lahore alongside Gandhi. They had hosted Gandhi at their ‘haveli’ (estate) from where Gandhi met his visitors when he visited Lahore.
Influenced by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s ideals of frugalism and non-violence, Harpal’s family lived a simple austere life, and took part in the Indian independence struggle.
When his son grew up and declared he wanted to join the British Commonwealth army, the father was devastated. It was beyond him to accept that his son would join the White man’s army and would be fighting on behalf of the British in the second world war, when in his own land , his country men were laying down their life to get the British to move out of their country.
Sensing Harpal’s restlessness in going against the wishes of his father, his mother arranged for his marriage in the hope that it would tone down his aspirations to join the British Army.
The entire clan and the neighbourhood knew that Harpal was engaged to be married to his childhood sweetheart who lived a few houses away. Their families had known each other and were practically the residents of the same neighbourhood. It was anybody’s guess that the two would marry someday.
Harpal, longing for the adrenalin rush that enlisting in the army would give him coupled with his desperation to get away from the stifling Gandhian discipline at home that was imposed by his father had decided to run away and enlist with the British Army.
His mother quickly arranged for his marriage in the Arya Samaji tradition, espousing the Gandhian principles of austerity. Harpal nevertheless wanted his bride to live in luxury and comfort and not get carried away by the austerity imposed by Gandhian principles that was rife in his family and was getting increasingly fashionable across people from his otherwise flamboyant and rich community of traders and businessmen. Somewhere deep inside he wanted to show his wife that he could be a self made man with ideals and achievements of his own.
In Florence, where they had set up camp, when they would wearily retire each day into their tents getting ready for the day that would dawn ahead, Harpal would longingly look at the photograph of his wife whom he had left behind and wonder if all this war and the fight was worth it. Like thousands of war-weary soldiers he wished the war would end soon and he could go home.
To be continued H - Honfleur, France 1944