85-year-old Rajalakshmi lay immobile on her hospital bed when Madras was bombed in 1943

The four-part series on the bombing of Madras in 1943, published in The Hindu a week ago, evoked varied responses from readers.

For 85-year-old M.S. Rajalakshmi, it brought back memories of traumatic moments and rekindled her triumphant spirit.

Then 16 years old, Rajalakshmi lay immobile on her bed in the Government General Hospital (GH) when Madras was bombed on October 11, 1943. She was recuperating alone after a knee surgery. Her parents, who lived on Baroda Street, West Mambalam, had six other children to take care of.

It was war time and difficult to move about. The hospital too had prohibited relatives from staying on in the wards.

At times, Rajalakshmi’s father, Madras Sundaram, managed to cycle his way to the hospital and comfort her. “Endure,” he told her.

Little did Rajalakshmi or her father know that the worst was yet to come.

“On October 11, a middle-aged woman with severe burns was brought to the hospital in the evening. There was no bed available and she had to be placed on the floor next to me. That night, Madras was bombed.”

There was no siren alert about the air raid. “But there was a lot of commotion. Under torch-light, nurses moved patients from the wards to shelters. About 10 of us who could not walk were left behind. The woman with burns died that night and I was stuck with the corpse. Scared, I kept praying and survived.” Rajalakshmi was discharged in December.

But life outside was from normal. “There was severe restriction on the distribution of wheat and rice. We ate dehydrated potatoes and milk powder, and shared whatever we had,” she said.

After a few months, in 1944, Rajalakshmi and her family moved to Chengalpet. Before vacating their house, they emptied cans of kerosene into the drain to ensure that inflammable items were not left behind.

“It was a tough time, with uncertainties, fear, scarcity and all. But I endured and felt a new surge of confidence, especially after being discharged from the hospital. I felt I could face any challenge then on,” she said. Rajalakshmi and her family returned to Madras in 1945.

More In: Chennai