The War Department moved us from Kotahena. We were now living in Wellampitiya, in a nice house by the roadside. There was a spacious garden on the right side and a massive swamp about ten feet below our house level behind the house extended almost up to Kolonnawa and Urugodawatta towards Colombo. From the rear of our house, we could see the spiraling enormous tanks of the Stanley Oil Installation, containing millions of gallons of highly inflammable gasoline. This gave us a little shudder. No! An awfully hectic one when my big brother, the journalist, turned soothsayer came out with one of his jackass crystal ball gazings. That’s how my father so aptly coined it.
My brother said something like, if the Japs decide to drop a bomb or two on Stanley’s big bosom it will be hell to pay.” And father said, “We’ll get roasted beyond recognition before we get there” and I couldn’t stay out of the contest. ‘What about me.” “Maybe Stanley will feel for you and turn you into a juicy little steak,” my second brother added his contribution.
“What a nasty thing to tell your little brother,” My Ma chided him. My Ma was an old Bridgeteen with a hectic know-how and a vocabulary to boot. Two weeks later it turned out to be a very drab Sunday morning. I was feeling miserable because I was going to be left back at home when my Pa, Ma and little brother went to Kotahena, St. Lucia’s Cathedral for high mass. Today was Easter Sunday April 1942 which was a big day for us Catholics.
The three had taken off after breakfast. I was left as some would say to fend for myself. No, I had big brothers to care for me. Nuts, I was going to miss my cousins who sing with me in the Colombo Chetty Christmas carols. We were known as Terrible trebles, we were also loved and treated by all our umpteen uncles – Joes, Bens and Antos. I have missed them for too long. After the rerun of Plaster of Paris cast a week before I was grounded further. So! Here I was seated on a chair in the garden with my foot reposing on a chair. The big brother said, “I’ll be back in a jiffy” and took off. The second one was as usual on the missing list. I didn’t think even God knew where he was, I certainly didn’t.
There I was all alone in the garden with only a pair of wooden crutches to keep me company. I was simply watching the world go by when the air raid sirens started their nauseating monotonous cacophony of wailing sounds. My big bro who was a journalist once said, the sirens sounded like a hundred pregnant cats wailing with labour pains in a vet’s maternity home. We were forced to endure this almost every day. They called it air raid precautions.
Today, the wailing was more insistent and different. A few minutes later planes started flying in every direction. Some were British Spitfires, the others were a peculiar kind of planes. The big Ak Ak guns were shooting. I didn’t think they were British Air Force planes. Ceylon did not have even an Air Force then. Must be some foreign planes.
Suddenly, it hit me .Were these the Japanese my Big bro spoke of? The Stanley Oil Installation was about hundred and fifty yards behind our house. “If the Japanese decided to bomb that we’d all get roasted before we went to hell,” so said he. That really scared me. The big guns were firing indiscriminately, obviously hitting nothing because there were big blotches of black smoke decorating the sky. There was the constant sound of firing and blasting. A little seemed far away and then came the master of blasts.
I was in a state of shock. I felt as if my body parts were strewn all over. The next was a mystery. How the heck was I sitting on the ground in the stance of a beggar. The scenario was dismal. I managed to take stock of myself and sit on the chair, it took me about ten minutes to get my bearings. The shelling was heard and the calamity seemed to become less severe. As I hobbled on to the verandah, an army guy beckoned me to get in. On crutches I hobbled and sat on the top step. The crutches were compliment of The Cripple Children’s Aid Association. I was the lonely boy who couldn’t work my way into the house. I was in total disarray. I sat on the top step. The main road was about twenty feet away. People were running hither and thither. Soldiers were fighting a losing battle trying to control an erratic, unruly crowd. Army trucks were moving in both directions at breakneck speed.
With all that turmoil at hand my second big one came and sat beside me. He was the joker in the pack. I had a bad habit from my very small days. A stupid question deserves a stupid answer. “Did you hear the bomb blast?” “What bomb?” I was frothing, in a rage for being left alone. He said, “Don’t get funny.” Funny! Even Beethoven would have heard it because he played blasting music for the deaf audience. Wait till Ma and Pa turn up. They’ll turn you inside out for leaving me alone. Now the bombing and shelling was over. “You wouldn’t do that, would you? Not to your brother.” “Not one, two.” I was back to normal. He tried to change subject. “Did you hear the blast of the bomb?” “Blast?” I said. “I heard a big noise.” “Did you get afraid?” No. I was cool as a cucumber, but my shorts were dripping, does that answer your question?” “Loud and clear little brother.” Now he was trying to palaver me. The big lady was one couldn’t bandy words with, you are bound to lose.
Then came my big, big bro, he was puffing and panting and in a bath of sweat. “You did 400 metres with Jesse Owens and lost by 200 metres.” “When Rome is on fire, you are trying to fiddle.” “Colombo Harbour is bombed.” I spoke of my experience. I was now sitting on the top step in the verandah. When this will end? I was only nine and didn’t give two damns about who bombed whom. The bomb dropped into the Angoda Asylum was one that created havoc.
The all clear sounded and the wise people who hid under tables, beds, air raid shelters and trenches were all out on the streets exchanging tall stories of what they saw. Baron Munchausen would have been turning topsy-turvy in his catacomb hearing their con stories outdoing his.
The trio came home. As usual Uncle Vincent brought them in his car. They were classmates and college mates all their colligate life. They were real buddies. The two of them had a shot of blend of pot and patent still and Uncle Vincent took off.
There was a petrol shed in front of our house on the opposite side. The owner was a nice gent who befriended us on the first day we came here. He walked in. there were five to hold the postmortem, ready with steely tongue to cut open the corpse.
The exodus from Colombo put paid to the postmortem. The horde was mainly from Fort, Pettah, Slave Island and such places, people of no fixed abode, searching for greener pastures at the expense of the Jap’s bombings. They were running amok creating problems for people of the town trying to poach on their lands. By evening they were driven away in no uncertain terms. The asylum inmates were rounded up only after they made sane people go nuts.