The year was 1990 and Bangalore then was still a small sleepy town. The city had very few cinema theatres and the number of them showing English movies were even less. Most of the theatres showing English movies were located on M. G. Road and Plaza was one of them. My introduction and in future addiction to Hollywood movies started from Bangalore and one movie that played a pivotal role was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This was also the very first movie, which my father and me saw together. After this, there were several occasions when we had seen a Hollywood movie together.
My father was a fan of Steven Spielberg and over the years that same fan following was inculcated to me. I still remember some of the scenes from that movie where Harrison Ford was on a horse and last but not the least the scene on the Zeplin. I became a fan of Indiana Jones and that was something, which also made me the Indian Vagabond. My passion for exploring new and unknown places developed from the idea of Indiana Jones.
I have blogged extensively about Christian Cemeteries in Kolkata as well as covered a lot of topic on First World War and Second World War so it is not uncommon for me to receive emails from the families of WWI and WWII veterans thanking me for my effort. Usually, as a courtesy, I send them a thank you email and sometimes send them a message over Facebook. One such incident was something, which made me look at the whole concept of war from a different point of view.
Someone emailed me after reading my blog where he might have found his grandfather’s memorial headstone at Bhowanipore Cemetery. He was killed during WWII and had died young. Even his son did not remember his face thus; it was his grandson who managed to trace him through my blog. All this happened last year and I had almost forgotten about it.
As the giraffes were busy chewing the leaves of the almost bare to the bark tree my daughter commented: “which one of the giraffes is named Ezra?” I was busy clicking photographs of the giraffes so did not hear her properly and my daughter repeated her question. Almost stunned I was speechless as to why would a giraffe be named Ezra then my daughter pointed out to the cemented embossed name on the giraffe section of the Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata. Instantly I was taken aback almost thirty years when I heard my cousins always telling me that I belong to the Gubay House which actually was the monkey enclosure at the very same zoo.
What I failed to notice then and just realized it while I was drafting the blog is the contribution of the Jewish community to my city of Calcutta. Ezra, Gubay etc. were esteemed members of the Jewish community in the city who had actually donated large sums of money for various development works around the city and that included donating to the Zoo for animal welfare.
I had decided at the beginning of the year 2018 that this year I would like to concentrate on the various minority communities of the city and after the Chinese, my next blog would be about the Synagogues of Kolkata. Many of my blogger friends remind me that there were a few existing blogs on the same topic so what would be different about my blog. Well to put it straight for the first I would like to individually look at each of the three existing synagogues and also to write a little more about the two synagogues that do not exist anymore.
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.
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.
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.