EARLY MEMORIES: Of how the mighty fell

The most improbable sound of explosions turned out to be bombs falling on to our air field about 3 miles away. It stopped my scratching on my violin. I was 13, and at the end of primary school. The sight of tiny planes (later identified as Japanese) flying higher than the British planes which, visibly and audibly, were unable to reach the attackers, portended the speedy takeover of British Malaya.

Strategically brilliant Japanese forces sank 2 large British ships and, side-stepping attempted defences, took over the Malayan Peninsula in a short time.

Hiding in a rubber estate to avoid any bombing or fighting, 3 young mothers and their 11 children watched the daily movement of British forces. They were moving away from the fighting, and into Singapore. From there they would seek escape. Then, one morning, much shorter men, wearing strange caps, waved back at us. The dreaded Japanese had arrived. We waved no more.

Soon, back in our homes, we saw 2 Japanese soldiers knocking on every door. Two houses away, lived a Christian Indian lady with her son and his Chinese wife. The Indian lady, like many other pro-British Christians and Eurasians, promptly destroyed the pictures of the British royal family hanging on her wall.

When the Japanese knocked on her door, she showed them the receipt given to her son by the first line of invaders when they took his bicycle, and rode off to chase the British forces (including Indians and Australians).

She then somehow communicated to the Japanese we were also her family. My mother, who had opened the door with great trepidation when the Japanese knocked, was astounded when both Japanese clicked their heels, bowed to her, smiled, and said something in Japanese – and moved on! They did not bother to look into either home. We subsequently learnt that the Japanese always gave a signed receipt when they confiscated any mode of transport. They were certainly in a hurry.

We survived the Japanese military occupation but, near the end of the war, my family (and the people in the region) were held to ransom by the Chinese communist Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army. To demonstrate their control, they killed a few dissenters, leaving their naked bodies by the roadside for all to see.

I sold an expensive sari owned by my mother through an Indian intermediary in the capital. A quarter of that money was stolen by a pick-pocket on a bus. Fortunately, I had enough left to pay the ransom.

I remain anti-communist and anti-colonial. Freedom is of paramount significance, followed by justice.