The Great Flap: Non-events can be history too, says Mukund Padmanabhan

Padmanabhan speaks about the title of his debut book during its launch at Leela Bhartiya City in Bengaluru

March 03, 2024 09:31 pm | Updated 09:41 pm IST - Bengaluru

Virender Razdan, General Manager of The Leela Bhartiya City Bengaluru, Journalist Karan Thapar during the launch of the book, The Great Flap of 1942: How the Raj Panicked over a Japanese Non-invasion by Journalist Mukund Padmanabhan (right).

Virender Razdan, General Manager of The Leela Bhartiya City Bengaluru, Journalist Karan Thapar during the launch of the book, The Great Flap of 1942: How the Raj Panicked over a Japanese Non-invasion by Journalist Mukund Padmanabhan (right). | Photo Credit: The Leela, Bhartiya City

“I am trying to make the point that a non-event can be a historical event,” said Mukund Padmanabhan, former editor of The Hindu, at the Bengaluru launch of his book The Great Flap of 1942: How the Raj Panicked over a Japanese Non-invasion. At the event, which was held at The Leela Bhartiya City, Padmanabhan spoke about the title of his debut book. It came from the expression that British bureaucrats used informally to refer to that period of history between 1941 and 42 when the Raj believed that the Japanese would invade India, too, said Padmanabhan, who today is a distinguished professor of philosophy at Krea University. “Essentially, it is a fear of a Japanese invasion that never happened,” he told veteran journalist Karan Thapar, whom he was in conversation with at the event.

Thapar, who works with The Wire, brought up several fascinating anecdotes detailed in the book, veering from the tragic massacre of the “dangerous” animals of the Madras Zoo to how the city became a ghost town and the ICS officer Paul M. Jayarajan’s somewhat atypical version of a scorched earth policy. “It seems that the city which was worst affected by fear of an invasion that never happened was Madras, as it was called at that time,” said Thapar, quoting from a section of the book that estimated that nearly 87.5 % of the city’s residents fled from it at this time. Padmanabhan, in response, went into why the city was so badly hit. “Madras was the only city where an official order was issued to please go if not absolutely needed. That set Madras apart,” he said. 

Some of the other things discussed included some interesting revelations about Mahatma Gandhi, the British paranoia about rumours which portrayed the Japanese in a positive way and why Indian record-keeping left much to be desired. “The Flap hasn’t got the attention it deserves,” said Padmanabhan, admitting that he wished he had written the book twenty years earlier when more people who had memories of this period were still alive. He also spoke about his mother’s memories of the Flap and how he lived and grew up with this story. “Everyone has a story of the Flap, but it is not put down with accuracy and detail. There are just anecdotal accounts,” he said.

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