This is the first of the sequence of articles that depict some of the most important and disturbing events in the ‘Development of India’.
My mother says- Bad things should be put to rest; they should not be dug out.
Sometimes, they need to be dug out.
To remember the mishaps, to grow stronger.
I don’t know why I am starting this sequence with one of the biggest catastrophes of the Indian civilization. I could’ve started with grandeur, right? With ease, I could’ve started with the Harappan glory or the British lust for our beautiful golden bird.
Maybe, the reason for an abrupt start lies in the way I hated history. I had always thought- History is history, who cares what happened then. Maybe I did care, who knows.
“Famine came, ghastly, staggering, horrible, beyond words. They dropped down dead before the palaces of Calcutta. Here death had no purpose, no logic, no necessity; it was a result of man’s incompetence and callousness, man-made, a slow creeping thing of horror with nothing to redeem it, life merging and fading into death, with death looking out of shrunken eyes…It was not good form to talk or write about unsavory topics. To do so was to ‘dramatize an unfortunate situation. False reports were issued by those in authority in India and in England.
But corpses cannot easily be overlooked, they come in the way”
The discovery of India
They come in the way?
What the hell, Corpses don’t come in the way like this.
Looks Impossible, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t look impossible; we rather wish it had never happened.
The death of four million people was not an accident. They lived in Bengal, a rich and fertile province with the humungous intelligentsia. The people were good, in arts, culture, education, everything!
The short tale starts in the winter of Nineteen forty-two. With a below average ‘Aman’ rice crop and cyclone hit, Bengal was suffering from a food crisis. Then the disaster appended, the crop was hit by a fungus infection. To top it all, Burman refugees in great numbers had entered Bengal.
Bengal crippled under a load of blood sucking strategies of the administration. People started dying in great numbers, falling to the floor- breathless – hungry death.
When they would have no options, they would decide to migrate to a different city. A hundred people’s group walking together, all had no food. One dropped dead, then another, then all hundred. Some of them had beautiful daughters. These girls were sold to pimps because the people had no supplies, hoping against hope that the pimps would at least feed their daughters. This enhanced the large scale prostitution that still prevails in Kolkata. Other starving children were dumped in wells, buried, even eaten by other humans. Imagine rotten bodies, imagine people dying, and imagine the administration laughing at their deaths.
A dog and a child both slept together in the sick surrounding, never to wake up again. Bones and skeleton everywhere.
My mother recalls a book that didn’t let her sleep for days- Some portion of it, or the whole of it would have described the Bengal famines, the book was titled “Vishaad Math”. It was written after Anand Math, which she says is the exact opposite of the former.
She asked me never to read the book, as she believes these memories must never be revised.Anyways, they called the event a man induced holocaust.
I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault of breeding like rabbits” -Winston Churchill
Partial failure of crops had been commonplace in the lives of an Indian peasant, and Bengal had been a constant sufferer of famines for centuries. The other rulers before the British had reacted well to the draughts, trying their best to subdue the effects and acting with a people-centric approach. The British were different- All they cared about was their revenues, which fell short at the time of the holocaust.
Were there no food supplies around the globe?
Couldn’t the situation have been handled in a wiser manner?
The situation was handled in a wise manner, but with an opposite perspective. Winston Churchill did the trick. As discussed by the journalist Madhushree Mukherjee in “Churchill’s secret war”, the food supplies for Bengal were redirected to the English troops that already had an abundance of supplies. The tremendous- in fact, seventy thousand tons of rice from India towards the world war during the famine, killed most of Bengal.
When the Indian Government sent Churchill a telegram depicting the data and pictures of the devastation. He scribbled-
“Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”
Millions perished before the help finally reached Bengal. India had sensed her chance, she started firing back. Our beautiful bird always recovers. The survivors, some of them had eaten human flesh and grass to live, cultivated their crops.
The first shipments of supplies reached Bengal, governments of China and Eire extended their hands in support and gave generous supplies and India, finally recovered.
India still recalls the generous help it had been given at the time of the crisis.
It still recalls Bengal.
The golden bird…
Which always fights back.
Which never gives up.