I took my first trip abroad in the year 2003 to Sri Lanka and in those days foreign travel was very complicated and there was no ready Internet access through which one could get any information about the destination. One of the biggest problems that most international travelers faced earlier was about Foreign Exchange. What currency to take and also in which form. Multiple currencies across Europe also made it more complicated. Another headache was the constant changing rates between USD to INR. So basically apart from worrying about the hotel, food, and local travel you had to also worry about forex.
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The only person to possibly have witnessed the Japanese bombing of Calcutta (Kolkata) during WWII were my paternal grandparents. I have never seen my maternal grandparents thus never would know their version of the history. My grandmother was a born storyteller, a prolific writer she had the finesse to tell stories and she told it in a way which would surely attract anyone especially a 10-year-old boy which was me. My grandfather was on the other had a man of few words and would be busy in his own world writing diaries and listening to radio something which he continued to do even when cable television had arrived and continued until his death.
Of all the stories that my grandmother would tell me the stories of war would interest me the most. She would tell us about how the windows were all covered up with newspapers to prevent light getting out during an air raid and how the street lights were all covered up from the top so that the lights would not show up skywards. There were also air raid shelters dug up in our locality and all the people would rush to them once the air raid siren would set off.
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Nobody likes to visit a hospital unless of course, you are a doctor or some way associated with the health care industry. A visit to the doctor’s chamber gives me a shiver and a thought of visiting a hospital was just not my cup of tea. With times things change and due to some medical condition within my family, a visit to the doctor as well as hospital visits became a regular affair. Initially, it was difficult but with time I and my family adopted to this new lifestyle.
Initially, we were visiting doctors and hospitals in Kolkata since we reside here but after spending a uncountable amount of money as well as receiving almost pole apart diagnostics along with complete contrasting applicable solutions we decided that we have had enough and need to look elsewhere. We tried a couple of outstation destinations but were either not convinced about their prescribed methodology or the price factor became too much for us to consider.
It is then that someone suggested going to Vellore for treatment. Vellore is almost synonymous with CMC – Christian Medical College and the town around the hospital has largely developed around the hospital and medical college catering to the needs of the visiting patients as well as the stationed doctors. Vellore has somewhat a repute within India as being one of the very best destinations for medical tourism. I am using the word tourism here which you will come to know why later.
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Why are these songs so slow and sound so sad I asked my father, he was listening to the newly purchased double cassette album which was a collection of Ghazals sung by Jagjit Singh. He was so deeply engrossed that he almost missed my question and only on my second attempt did he reply that these were a collection of Ghalib. For years I had imagined Mirza Ghalib to be the one featured on the cassette cover which later when I grew up realized that it was, in reality, the photo of the actor Nasiruddin Shah. Little did I realize that one day I would roam around the streets of old Delhi and Kolkata just to trace Ghalib.
It all started during a recent trip to New Delhi and since I am working with a book retailing company I am privileged to be surrounded by books and literature lovers all the time. My visit to Delhi was nearly after a five-year gap thus there was lot to catch up when meeting old friends and one of them was Vijay Kumar Sharma who has been a regular follower of my blogs and travel tales. During one of our conversations, I had mentioned to him that somewhere I had read that the house of Mirza Ghalib was very near to Connaught Place. Next day he presented me with a book which talked about forgotten heritage places around Delhi and in there was a mention about Ballimaran (Gali Qasim Jan) which was quite near to Chawri Bazar Metro station. This place was just three metro stops from Connaught Place and during a weekend managed to track this place.
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This squadron was never meant to come to India in the first place it was destined for Rangoon but a series of mishaps and last minute change of plan led this squadron to be deployed in Calcutta (Kolkata). Balloon Squadrons do not exist anymore since the rules of war and the tools of war have subsequently changed and slowly these regiments were retired from active service.
The deployment of this squadron in my city of Kolkata came at a time when the fear of a Japanese attack was imminent. Contrary to the common belief Kolkata was not the only city to be bombed by the Japanese; cities like Vishakhapatnam, Kakinada and Chennai were also attacked. What was common between these cities were that all of them were major ports and the Japanese Imperial Army wanted somehow to break the supply chain of war supply to China which was a major front and was giving a tough fight to the Japanese aggression.
This blog is dedicated to the men of the 978 Balloon Squadron who despite the limited resources and the limited manpower took the challenge on their shoulder and with balloons defended my city.
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