I was only seventeen years old . . .
Rajeswari Chatterjee


In 1939, I had just joined the Bachelor of Science, Honours course in Mathematics and Physics in Central College in Bangalore City, India. World War II started in 1939, when Mr. Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the British Isles, came back to London after failing to persuade Herr Hilter of Germany to avoid war. We heard the news on the All-India Radio, and it was there in all the Indian newspapers next morning.

What was the reaction of the Indians to the news? It was a mixed reaction, depending on your background. To a certain extent, most educated Indians felt that this would teach the British people a lesson, and that Britain would yield to the wishes of the Indian people sooner for independence, because they thought that Britain would collapse, due to the terrific burden of war. So there was a sense of jubilation among the people that they would obtain their independence soon.

I was only seventeen years old, and was busy with my studies, and I could not think that I could understand too much of the seriousness of the matter. My classmates and friends made the remark, ìServe the British people right!î

However, we very soon found out that it was not such an easy matter. The British government knew that it had tremendous material resources in India, as well as the Indian officers and soldiers of the British Indian Armed Forces in India, on whom they could depend in their war efforts. The British Viceroy in India, probably Lord Linlithgow ( I cannot remember very well) alerted the Viceroyís Council, which consisted of both British and Indian members, that India, being a part of the British Empire, should give full support to the war effort of Britain. It was an order, and the Indian members who were sympathetic to the national struggle for independence, led by Mahatma Gandhi, could not do anything to go against the Viceroyís order.

The country was put on an emergency and all efforts were to be geared to war effort. The Indian officers and soldiers of the British Indian army could not do anything else except to obey the Viceroy's orders.

The leaders of the National Independence movement, led by Mahatma Gandhi, protested, but realizing the seriousness of the world situation, told the British government that they would support their war effort, if Britain could agree for independence for India at once! The British government did not agree to this proposition.

Dialogue continued more than one year. When Mahatma Gandhi and his supporters saw that there was no hope of obtaining independence for the country, Mahatma Gandhi launched the ìQuit Indiaî movement in 1942. By this time, Japan had entered the war in full swing and had conquered Korea, parts of China, French Indo-China (Vietnam), British Malaya, and was taking over Burma (Myanmar), and coming near the Burmese/Indian border. One of the important leaders of the Indian National movement, Subhash Chandra Bose, who had misunderstandings earlier with Mahatma Gandhi, had escaped from India through its northern borders without the knowledge of the British government and finally ended up in Malaya and Burma. With the help of the Japanese, he organized the Indian National Army, collecting the Indian officers and soldiers of the British Indian army which surrendered to the Japanese army. He was broadcasting from the Saigon radio station and telling the Indian people that he was on his way to reach India soon with his Indian National army with Japanese help, and that he would force the British to leave India, and that India would soon become independent. Hearing the broadcasts of Subhash Chandra Bose, the Indian people got more excited, and gave full support to Mahatma Gandhiís Quit India movement.

The whole nation responded to the Quit India movement, and Mahatma appealed to the Indian people, young and old, women and men, to completely non-cooperate with the British government. There were strikes and boycotts, and crowds became wild and tried to prevent government servants from discharging their duties. Houses, railways, and public vehicles were burnt, and there was serious sabotage and destruction through the country. At once, the British Indian government arrested all the national leaders and their chief leader, Mahatma Gandhi. They imposed curfew in all the big cities and towns, and the revolt was temporarily subdued. People had to learn to live with many restrictions, including rationing of food, a curfew and so on.

At the same time, the Japanese army was almost at the northeastern borders of India, with the help of the Indian National army, whose leader was Subhash Chandra Bose. Their air force bombers had already dropped a few bombs on Calcutta, the biggest city of India at that time, and on the naval station at Vishakapatnam on the east coast. There was a bomb scare in Madras city which was to the south of Vishakapatnam on the east coast. There were blackouts and air raid practices in all the big cities of India, including Bangalore City, where an aircraft factory was being built up with the help of the Americans.

Some of the university students who had taken part in the Quit India movement were also arrested and imprisoned. Somehow, my grandmother felt we young girls should not join the movement actively but should prepare ourselves well to be ready to serve independent India, when that came. So I continued my studies, without joining the boisterous revolting student crowds on the streets. Bangalore city being a big army center for British troops, was full of Tommies. Many available big buildings were taken over by them.

Food was scarce everywhere, and even other goods were scarce, because everything was commandeered by the British army to take care of the British army. One of the worst famines, called the ìBengal Famine,î struck the state of Bengal, and hundreds and thousands of poor people died of starvation on the streets of the capital city of Calcutta, because most of the food was taken away to feed the British army, and no rice was coming from Burma, which used to supply India before it was taken over by the Japanese.

Indian officers and soldiers of the British Indian defence services fought bravely on several of the war fronts, side by side with their British counterparts, and many of them lost their lives. They fought in North Africa and in all the countries of Southeast Asia, including French Indo-China, British Malaya, including Singapore, and in Burma. Subash Chandra Bose, one of the important leaders, had left India through its northern Himalayan border to get into contact with the Axis powers, after he had a serious misunderstanding with Mahatma Gandhi. After disillusionment with Germany, he somehow managed to go to Japan, where he was welcomed to help in their contacts with the Southeast Asian countries, where Indian immigrants had settled down earlier. As Japan conquered one after another of these countries, Subash Chandra Bose contacted the Indian immigrants and also the Indian officers and soldiers of the British Indian army which was defeated by the Japanese. He organized the Indian National Army (INA) with the help of these people, and he became their Commander-in-Chief. The Japenese supported him in this venture, and had hopes of reaching India through the Burmese border.

I have already mentioned the bombing of Calcutta city and the naval station at Vishakapatnam and consecutive events. Most of the Indian people cooperated with the government in all the war efforts, but in their heart of hearts, were hoping that Subash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army would reach India and take over India, forcing the British to leave at last!

By this time, I had obtained the B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Mathematics and Physics of the Mysore University. Though most of the girls were married by this time, somehow I did not wish to do so, but wanted to go into a research career. So I joined the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, which was a premier institute in India devoted to research in science and technology, founded by the famous businessman, Mr. Jamsetji Nusservanji Tata of Bombay in 1909. I joined the department of Electrical Technology as a research student with a scholarship of forty rupees per month. This scholarship money covered some minimum expences of mine.

One afternoon in 1945, when I was doing some experiments in the laboratory Mr. Abel Lazarus, a senior mechanic in the department, ran into the room excitedly, holding a radio receiver in his hands, and shouted joyously, ìThe war is over! The Japanese have surrendered after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!î We listened to the radio all that afternoon to know more details.

Now that the war was over, the British government released all our national leaders and started dialogues with them, how to make India take care of its own affairs, whether India would like to become a dominion in the British Commonwealth or be completely independent. After a lot of discussions and deliberations, a date was set for August 15, 1947, for Great Britain to withdraw from India.

Born 26 January 1922 in Bangalore, India, Rajeswari Chatterjee was educated in Bangalore and obtained a B.Sc. (Honors) and M.Sc. degrees at Mysore University in 1942 and 1943. She worked as a research student in the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, from 1944 to 1947. She next studied at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, from 1947 to 1953 and received her Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering. She was married to Sisir Chatterjee in 1953, and her daughter Indira was born in 1956. Rajeswari was a faculty member of the Indian Institute for Science, Bangalore, from 1953 to 1982. She has been visiting her daughter and family in Reno periodically since 1990, but still resides principally in India.
 
 



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