Octogenarian Maureen Kang from Singapore spent most of her school years in an Indian boarding school during World War 11. She wasn’t the only one
5/3/2016 7:56:23 PM
|written By : Shobha Tsering Bhalla and Nithya Subramanian|
It is well documented that India has always had strong historic and cultural ties with Singapore and Malaysia and the rest of South-east Asia. But what is much less known is the fact that India proved to be a safe haven of choice for a sizeable number of families, especially children, from this region.
From 1942 to 1945 Singapore was occupied by the Japanese and renamed Syonan. It was probably the harshest time in living memory for its inhabitants who had to endure untold brutality at the hands of the Kempeitai (military police) and terrible living conditions. There was widespread food shortage and any resistance to Japanese rule meant torture and death. The Japanese Kempeitei used fear through the media and their draconian rule to control the locals and education came to a standstill. Schools were shuttered and children were forced to learn Japanese.
It was in such a scenario that dozens of middle-class or well-to-do families took the painful decision to evacuate their wives and children to a war free zone where they could continue with their education and live in relative comfort and security while the menfolk stayed behind to hold the fort literally and figuratively.
Maureen Kang, nee Pawle, whose father was French Eurasian, was among the lucky groups of evacuees that hastily booked their passage on board the ships bound for Bombay, India with the families of troops and civilians. Only seven and half years old at the time, little Maureen was accompanied by her two sisters and four cousins and would never see home again for the next eight years till her schooling was over.
The 83-year old mother of three who still drives, recalls her time in a Catholic boarding school in Yercaud, a hill station in Tamil Nadu with a mixture of nostalgia and distaste. Some things still seem to rankle, such as the bullying by local students who used to taunt her to go back home because she looked different. But she also has warm memories of the cosy life, the balmy climate and the friends she made there.
India Se met the elegant and spry former golfer recently at her regular haunt the Singapore Island Country Club where her late husband was a member for 40 years. This is where she spends her mornings meeting old familiar faces and dines as her younger daughter, lawyer and golf aficionado Gillian, fusses over her before driving home in her dinky little Volkswagon.