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Day 1

There wasn’t room for much in the little Austin 7 which was just a little bit bigger than an auto rickshaw. As a matter of fact, there was no room for me. The car could only accommodate my mother, my baby brothers, my cousin Uma, and the baggage, with my father driving. So I was delivered to my father’s trusted friend Nadesan, a hospital assistant or “dresser” as they were known in those days. I was to come by train with him and his wife, and two sons, and we were all to meet in Kuala Lumpur. We had to travel about 200 miles from Sungai Siput, in the north of Malaya, which was where we lived. I watched as my family drove away leaving me in the station with Mr. Nadesan and his family. While a half of me felt fearful and lost, the other half was excited and thrilled at what lay ahead. I loved reading stories about battles and adventures, and now I was embroiled in one myself.

I sat in the train with my guardians, watching as people laden with belongings, children, pets and chickens scrambled towards the waiting train that they saw as their passage to safety. They had to escape the Japanese who were advancing from Kota Bahru in the north-east of Malaya to Singapore in the south. Men, women, children, young and old climbed over each other trying to get into a train that was already over-flowing with fleeing Malayans. When the train finally lurched forward into life, it looked like it was going to burst at its seams. We chugged along slowly towards Kuala Lumpur all night picking up more people. By the time we crawled, groaning, into the station in Kuala Lumpur at 5am in the morning, people were literally jammed like goods into the train’s compartments.

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