History & Culture

When sirens blared, trenches were dug

Speaker G.Karthikeyan presenting the life time achievement awrad for journalism to the Veteran journalist K.M. Roy at the University Senate hall organised by Fraime in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. Photo:S.Gopakumar.   | Photo Credit: S_GOPAKUMAR

The sounds of sirens, warning of air-raids, during the Second World War constitute some of my earliest memories. I remember my father telling us of that time when roads were deserted. There was hardly anybody around not even thieves, he would say. He was among the first employees of Robert Bristow. My father was part of the Central Government Emergency Services, and therefore he had to stay back.

At the time we were living in Thevara, where the Cochin Shipyard is today. Meanwhile my grandparents, mother, brothers and I, along with our belongings, including hens and chicken, sailed off on a ‘kettuvalam’ to Pampakuda. That’s the furthest we could go. We were there till the ‘threat’ passed. It may sound funny today but at the time the threat was very real. Getting to a safe place meant going to relatives’ places. But we had no ‘far away’ places to go to. Those days the furthest one married was either in Tripunithura or Mattancherry. So we went to Pampakuda. It was only for a few days.

My father said trenches were dug in Ernakulam for people to take shelter in in case there was bombing. There were fears that Japan would bomb Kochi. Little did we realise then that it would have taken more than a bomb to considerably damage, let alone destroy Kochi.

Coming back to the WWII, the Armed Reserve Police (ARP), a force like the present-day Home Guards, would sound the siren. It meant lights off. Lights had to be off till the siren was sounded again signalling the passing of danger. Lights off meant lights off; it had to be taken seriously. Those who did not obey were rebuked.

Ships from various countries, of the Allies, docked here and the soldiers of various nationalities took out route marches to instil confidence in those of us living in the city. In fact St. Teresa’s College, temporarily, became military barracks. The college was moved out of Ernakulam.

Another interesting aspect of the politics of the time, before the formation of Kerala, was how political activists were exiled. It essentially meant sending the ‘accused’ out of the boundaries of one ‘State’. On one side of the Changampuzha Park in Edappally there was a sort of gate or pillars, more prominent than the ‘Ko-Thi’ stone, which demarcated Kochi and Travancore States. So what used to happen was that political exiles would stand on one side of the boundary and make speeches to a crowd gathered on the other side.

Similarly, the other side of the narrow Manthara Bridge was Fort Cochin, then part of Malabar, so speeches used to be made from this side of the bridge. The present Kochi Corporation is a unique entity in that it was an amalgamation of the erstwhile Malabar (part of the undivided Madras State), Travancore (which included Edappally) and Cochin (Ernakulam). Fort Cochin, before unification was part of the Malappuram constituency. During elections, candidates used to come from Malappuram to campaign. All that changed with the unification of Travancore and Cochin States and Malabar province in 1956.

India became independent. It was a time of great change and after some time demand rose for new infrastructure. A plan was mooted, by Sahodaran Ayappan, to widen MG Road, and make it 70-ft wide. I was around 10 at the time. There were protests against the move; the question asked was ‘why should a road be 70-ft wide?’

Talking about landmarks in Kochi, can you imagine the history of the bustling Kaloor bus stand? It used to be a night soil dump. Hard as it may be to believe, let alone understand, the concept of manual scavenging, it used to take place here. Cart loads of night soil collected from different parts of the city would be dumped there. If there was a function to attend in Kaloor my brothers and I used to take turns. It was a punishment going to there those days because of the stench and the flies.

Those days, just after Independence, there was no means of public road transport. There were just two private bus services, buses in fact, ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Ismail’. The first bus service, from Fort Kochi to Thoppumpady, was started by D.C. Johar. People, at the time, would walk the five kilometres than pay money to be transported. So that shut down.

KM Roy was born in 1939. The veteran journalist has worked with a number of vernacular newspapers besides various English dailies and news agencies. He was secretary general of Indian Federation of Working Journalists. A prolific writer, he has authored several books, articles and essays such as Mohamenna Pakshi, Irulum Velichavum, Aathos Malayil, Kaalathinu Mumbe Nadanna Maanjooran, Pathulaksham Bhaaryamaarude Shaapametta Keralam, Chikaagovile Kazhumarangal, Karuththa Poochchakal, Chuvanna Poochchakal.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 9:20:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/when-sirens-blared-trenches-were-dug/article4999441.ece

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