Tuesday was amazing, in retrospect.
Mr. Nadesan, his family and I literally fought our way through the hundreds of passengers pouring out of the train when it arrived in KL. It was a struggle staying together because there were hands, elbows, legs and bodies, pushing and pulling, grabbing at belongings, and gathering children, animals and squawking chickens. We could barely breathe. When we finally made it out of the train, the rush of fresh air was so refreshing and renewing that for a minute or two we forgot the gravity of our predicament.
As agreed with my father, my guardians dropped me off at Lakshmi Vilas, the most famous Indian vegetarian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, on Ampang Street. Those were desperate times. While people did their best to help each other, they had a greater need to ensure that they and theirs scurried to safety. So after reassuring me that my father would arrive very soon, Mr. Nadesan and his family moved on. I wish they hadn’t for a reason I will reveal shortly.
I was left alone and a little anxious. I searched the crowd and the different faces in the restaurant, and the street outside for a glimpse of my father. As my eyes darted here and there nervously, all at once a loud, “Wooo!” sound ripped the air and the hearts of all who heard it as it rose to a crescendo. It was the sound of the siren warning us of an air-raid. Pandemonium broke out and people ran screaming, shouting and yelling for safety in the shelters. I stood rooted to the ground. I hadn’t been briefed on what to do, and none of the numerous stories that I had read on battles and adventures had prepared me for this.
Breathing heavily, I looked around frantically at people running everywhere. I was simply frozen by despair when I felt a heavy hand rest firmly on my shoulder. I looked up into the eyes of the manager of the restaurant who, at that moment, appeared like a superhero to me. He grabbed my arm and ran into the shelter with me in tow, just as we heard the first blasts. “Boom! Kaboom! Boom!” exploded the air-raid through the city as we stood petrified in the shelter. It was a full ten to fifteen minutes before the “All Clear” signal sounded. My legs, like those of many others standing in the shelter, had turned to jelly by then. Many who had been holding their breath sighed loudly with relief, thankful for the fact that they were still standing. A general buzz of chatter rose and people slowly started moving out of the shelter, uncertainly at first, and then a little more bravely, reassured that they were safe, at least for the moment.
The manager of the restaurant who had saved me, led me out of the shelter into the blinding sunlight. I was breathing a little easier now that my heartbeat was settling to a more normal pace. It’s funny how life seemed to quickly slip back into the business of living after a horrendous onslaught like that. People went about their business, more hurriedly though, like time was short. While there were damaged buildings, some more severely than others, and evidence of the bombing was strewn around everywhere, the restaurant like some other buildings had miraculously escaped. There were many casualties as well during this raid and unfortunately, Mrs. Nadesan and her two sons were among them. Apparently, Mr. Nadesan had stepped out after leaving them in what he thought was a safe place. My family and I learned later that the lady and her two sons were killed instantly, as soon as the air-raid hit. Perhaps if they had stayed with me in the restaurant they would have survived the war.
I continued to sit in the restaurant for a short while, sipping a drink the manager had given me. Before long my father appeared, much to my relief. We drove to where the rest of my family was staying, in Brickfields, next to the Railway Depot. The home, already evacuated by its owners, belonged to some friends of my parents. My joy knew no bounds when I was reunited with my mother and brothers. It was indeed one of the happiest reunions I have ever known.
Now you can see why, Tuesday, day 2 of the 10 days, was amazing. I survived to tell the story more than 70 years later.
Chapter Navigation Links
Part 1 - Languid Plantation Streams
Part 2 - Storm
Part 3 - Calm but murky waters
Muar and an uncertain certainty