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Earliest Memories - Part 12 - Night Raid and Dangerous Beauty

Popularity 1Viewed 409 times 2015-1-1 05:45 |Personal category:StoryTeller|System category:Life| Night, Raid, and, Dangerous, Beauty

The Night Time Bombing Raid

The family had dinner early that evening and went to bed.  They moved the children’s bed to join up with the parents’ bed and all of them lay down, with the children in the middle. They had gotten used to wearing an extra layer of their most ragged clothes as the outermost layer over a better set underneath. It helped with the cold and helped get back quickly to normal routine, when coming back from the trenches. They could simply take off the outer muddy layer and get to sleep quickly. They needed to wash only one set of really dirty clothes, infrequently and conserve water.

 The children wanted to hear a bedtime story, but the father was very tired and drifted away to sleep as the mother completed the story. She too slept soon after. It turned dark.  Only Harpreet and his civil defence buddies were supposed to be out and about – prowling through the neighbourhood. The army traffic was very light that evening. They too travelled with their headlights off and hooded, faint lights on the rear of most vehicles. It would not be light seen easily from the air. Soon that too stopped.

All wished for a good night’s sleep to rest up after a tiring day. But it was not to be.

Around midnight, the air-raid sirens went off again. It was surprising how quickly the father got up alert, calm and ready. He picked up the little boy on one shoulder, helped up the mother who too woke up slowly, with the other hand. He saw the little girl sit up and get down from the bed. She picked up her mat and blanket and stood for a while confused, seemingly disoriented. The father who had picked up two ready bundles tucked them under his arm, pressed against his sides, held out his hand to the girl. He gently and quickly guided them out, the mother followed them. They left the front door open. A lot of people were pouring out of their houses to head for their shelter or trenches. Some were cursing and grumbling.  Some of the older ones moved slowly while the young and energetic moved ahead quickly to lay down the mats and blankets on the floor and prepare a more comfortable spot for themselves and others.  Some simply walked out with nothing and just went into the trenches. Most had packed drinking water and some food in sealed containers and a shawl or cover, near their doors to pick up on their way out from their homes. The little boy’s family picked up their supplies kept under the stone bench.

Some very old folk did not bother to come out. They did not mind dying within their homes. They were willing to accept the whims of fate.  The 90 year old grandfather in the little boy’s house was one such. They did not care to go to trouble or put others in discomfort for the sake of their own lives, which they believed had been good and long enough.

The father of the little boy sat with his back against the wall of the trench and held the daughter on his lap on one side. He had their supplies bundle next to him on the other side. The mother sat next to him, with the little boy in between, in the classic pose – lying on his stomach, legs stretched, hugging the ground, covering his ears with his palms. This was the recommended pose when on flat ground with no trench or shelter. They had taught the kids to fall to the ground and adopt this pose if they did not make it to the shelters or trenches in time.

 They used to stuff plugs of cotton wool into their ears and asked to cover them with their palms anyway, to spare their ear drums if there was a loud explosion close to them. Many old, naturally deaf folk and those a bit hard of hearing joked that they did not need any cottonwool! Most started to pray and held their folded handkerchiefs with a pencil in its folds nearby. When they heard the sounds of bomber planes approaching, they were supposed to stop praying loudly, put their kerchiefs in their mouth and lightly bite into them. They were expected to continue praying silently in their minds with the kerchief in their mouth. The reason for this was the belief that if one died praying, one would go to heaven.

It was a dark night, no moonlight to be seen or even starlight. There was a light haze of a fog. The chatter of anti-aircraft fire and the rumbling roar of the bombers started up. Suddenly the father observed his son squirming.

“What is the matter?” he asked.

“I want to pee,” said the boy.

“Go over there, at the end of the trench, but do it squatting, don’t stand up!” said the mother.

“Can you hold it in for a little while longer?” asked the father.

“Yes, for a little while.” the boy said.

 “OK, give me a few moments,” said the father.

He shushed those nearby who were speaking or praying loudly. He requested them to keep quiet. They complied readily. He listened intently for a few minutes.

Then, suddenly, he did something strange.  He set down his daughter and stood up. He was a tall man, well over six feet.  The depth of the trench did not even come up to his hip. He stuck out like a sore thumb, though it was dark.  He looked around in various directions, standing up.  He could more clearly hear the gunfire, bombers and clearly tracer rounds being fired at the intruding aircraft. Volleys of anti-aircraft file followed the tracer fire, from many directions.  He continued to listen for a few more moments.

The mother and others were a bit horrified. Some remonstrated.  The father quietly said, “Trust me, I will be fine. We will not get bombed today near here. I believe they are trying to bomb some targets well north and west of here. They did not succeed in the first two passes. They will try a couple more runs and that will be all for tonight. I am going to take my son home to pee now.  I will come back in a few minutes and get my family.” 

“How can you tell all that from what you heard?” someone asked.

“Yes, from what I heard and what I know. But I suggest you folks remain here in the trenches until the all-clear blows. I don’t want to be responsible should anything happen to you folks,” he replied.

“Appa (Father), I too want to go,” the daughter  said quietly.

“I will come too and take her to the toilet,” said the mother.

The father picked up his two children, their belongings and helped up the mother and out of the trench. She followed him with absolute trust and faith in his judgement. He would never put his children in harm’s way unless he was sure of himself. They headed back to their home close by.

Many knew that this was a man who had been through a previous shooting war just a few years ago, spending a fair time at the frontline and had lived. He was trained in making judgements of what was happening in a hot shooting war and acting quickly in small windows of opportunity to move from one safe place to another separated by open ground. His judgements had to have been good for him to have survived that war.

While most people could hear sounds in the distance in certain directions, they could not make much sense of it. The father could apparently make out the directions of the sounds from the bombers and anti-aircraft fire.  He could tell from their location, what their distances and direction of travel was. He also knew the important targets the adversary would try or need to take out first and where those were with respect to their own location. He had an idea of how many aircrafts or bombers the adversary had, at the most, and their logistical limitations. He also knew something about the defences against bombers and the difficulties and paths faced by the attacking bombers in getting back safely back to Pakistan. He had an idea of where the ‘action’ would be that night.

Deceptive ‘Beautiful’ Fireworks

 As they approached their door, the family observed a few people sitting on the edge of their rooftop, directly above their front door and window.
“Namaste, Uncle!” Harpreet called out from the roof. He and a couple of his mates were sitting watching the ‘fireworks’ show in the distance, while keeping an eye around them. Harpreet had checked on Munni too.

He remembered: After the children had emptied their bladders, the father brought him out and walked up the stairs on the side of the house to the roof. He went close to the edge of the chimney wall, next to Harpreet who was sitting on a water tank nearby. 

The father pointed towards the tracer rounds being fired at the intruding planes in the far distance. Bursts of other invisible anti-aircraft fire followed the tracer. The danger for those firing tracer rounds was that they revealed the direction where they came from. The tracer rounds indicated to other invisible anti-aircraft gunners where to fire for maximum effect. There were fighter planes from both sides in the mix. Some planes chasing each other. All the action seemed to be clustered in a safe distance from them.

“Look over there, the bombers are trying to bomb something in that direction,” said the father.

“It looks like beautiful fireworks, Appa!” said the little boy.

“Yes, it may look beautiful, but this is not a happy occasion or celebration,” replied the father.

“If the bomber or a plane gets shot and burns up, you can see even more bright and white sparkles,” said Harpreet, “pieces of it will then fall down like fireworks. If it falls above us, towards you, don’t you go and pick it up. Run away and hide under something It will be hot and burn you and dangerous. More pieces will be falling all around you. You should not chase after something even if it looks beautiful.”

“Harpreet is right!” said the father.

“What makes the beautiful bright sparkles?” asked the little boy.

“I think it is the magnesium in the metal aircraft body,” said the father.

“Ok, I won’t pick up falling fireworks from planes,” said the little boy, not understanding what Magnesium was. It sounded like it was a beautiful dangerous thing.

“We should go back to sleep now. Goodnight Harpreet!” said the father, taking the little boy back inside and they all slept. They were woken up briefly when the all-clear blew and others outside came back in.

 The parents were all getting a bit tired and exhausted without much sleep. The trenches were starting to get a bit messy, with some people having to throw-up or relieve themselves during the long time spent there. People went around throwing lime powder, covering up messes with fresh soil from heaps nearby. Water supplies were low. Electricity was out for long spells during the day as well.

People did not bathe everyday – shopping for supplies was getting difficult. Everyone accepted everyone else looking a bit unkempt, smelly and grimy. The war was starting to affect everyone a bit.

To Be Continued..


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