Recently we received a letter from Mr. Dorian Williams who was a British soldier deployed in India before the country gained independence in 1947. Below is the transcript of our email exchange. We hope you like it as much as we did. - Editor
I remain, Yours truly,
P.S. Nothing like an Indian Mango or a cop of Char
Dec. 9, 2006
Dear Mr. Williams:
What you refer to as 'Mangles Tank' is known to us as 'Mangal Talaab'. The pond is still very much in existence so we asked our photographer to take some pictures exclusively for you.
We are attaching 7 pictures with this email, hope you would like it. The pictures were taken on Monday, Dec. 11, 2006.
We will try to find out if anyone remembers about the Refugee Train.
Oh yes, the mangoes! Truly the king of all fruits - or so we believe! We could not, however, understand what you meant by 'a cop of Char' in the last line of your letter.
Please feel free to send your experiences, anecdotes, or anything else you would like to share with us.
Dec. 12, 2006
Sunil (if I may address you in this manner),
I was extremely pleased to receive your reply... At first I wondered if viewing the British Army as Occupiers, how one would be received, however I had a friend who was in the American Merchant Marines and used to trade between Bombay, now Mumbi?, and Eastern ports, he was regarded as a Local owing to the frequency of his visits, and he told me how surprised he was to learn, that there did not exist any ill feeling to the British to the people he was in contact with, in fact they would point with pride to buildings that had been constructed during their stay.
I thank you very much for the trouble you took so as I could receive the photographs of 'Mangal Talaab'. I have a photo of myself taken while being there, but not being too understanding (Hum Nay Malum?) with a computer I'll send it by Mail.
While we were there, there was an outbreak of Cholera, so many deaths among the civil population, we had frequent Injections so none of us were affected. What you refer as a Pond I thought as a Very Gracious Lake, we were housed in small 'Boy Scout' types of tents, and used to go on Patrols from there when there was civil unrest, (Civil?) I thought Mangul Talaab was a rich family's property, I never saw any civilians on the property at that time.
We were a group of about 15 soldiers. The time we went to Patna Junction we left the Barracks at Dinapore (spelt that way then) and proceeded to the railway station, two of us were posted at the far end of the platform away from the ticket counter, the area where as in Britain, would be the Goods and Milk Churns loaded end of the platform. On being posted by our officer the two of us were told not to allow anyone to pass either way, so making the area secure. On all our patrols and guard duties, we carried our rifles slung over our shoulder, our 50 rounds in a cotton bandolier in a pouch, so was not easy accessible if required. However that was farthest from our thoughts. (Incidentally I am thoroughly concerned of today's practice where the troops carry their rifles, which is in, to me, a VERY Threatening Position). Acting that way how can one expect or gain respect, plus acceptance from said population?
After some time our officer brought us to the ticket (exit) as the remaining people needed assurance that they were going to be safely escorted from the train. Later stretchers were carried off which I thought contained their food of fresh butchered animals, as there was a trail of blood about two feet wide as the stretcher canvas was soaked with liquid and dripping with blood. Later on being moved to a different part of the platform there was a group of women, I believe they were high class, as they were very well dressed in contrast to the normal women's dress in the cities. Some offered us a packet of cigarettes we were reluctant to accept them, on refusal they looked very distressed and fearful so we took one cigarette out and offered the packets in return, but they wanted us to keep them. Shortly after our officer came to us, and at the same time that we were going to ask for guidance regarding the cigarettes, he told us under no circumstances were we to accept any gratuities whatsoever. We explained of what had happened, and as the group was so fearful we accepted the cigarettes so they not feel threatened with our presence, (after all we were their guardians). He then said accept nothing of any real value, but even then, accept very reluctantly. A little later when moving my body (us soldiers were standing all the time) I noticed they moved to keep in our shadows as if for protection, at that time I understood the American expression, "made me feel like 10 feet tall" for the first time, as before I hadn't the foggiest of what it meant, although I knew they resented us in their country, (and rightly so) they were thankful that we were assuring their safety. I can remember it and see it today as plain as then. If I remember correctly I believe the platform we were on the wall was tiled, and I thought very extravagant for a Railway Station.
All for now. I'm very pleased with your reply. I meant a Cup of Char, Tea, or as we'd say, "pialla" At a motel here I said to the manager, "Hum Janta, Hum Subjanter, then Hum Subjanterwalla" he had a good laugh over that.
Till next time,
Dec. 12, 2006