Lost soldier's grave found in Singapore


I

t is a story that could be straight out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The memorial of an Assamese doctor, who was part of the Allied Forces during the Second World War and went missing in action, has been found after 67 years after his  death,  in faraway Singapore.

The finding may or may not lead to some media focus on the role the people of the North eastern region   played in the Second World War.  Some major battles were fought in the region, particularly as the US government is already hunting for the debris of countless planes that went missing in the  eastern parts of present day Arunachal Pradesh bordering Myanmar and China.

But the finding has led to an immense level of melancholic satisfaction to the family of the doctor, which includes his second son, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-winning dramatist Dulal Roy, who was still in his mother’s womb when his father went to  war. Roy, whose mother passed away when he was barely four years old, had never accepted that her husband might have died in the war, and believed till her death that he would someday return home.

The war hero in question is Dr Tarani Kanta Roy, from the Sarbhog area of Barpeta district in Assam, was part of the Medical Corps of the Allied Forces. According to information gathered by the family, he was killed  on February 13, 1942 when the hospital he was attached to was subjected to  Japanese aerial bombardment.

Name liveth for ever

Roy’s memorial was found – purely by chance – when  his granddaughter Bidisha Roy Kalita and her husband Manas Kalita on August eight this year  visited the Kranji War Cemetery, 22 km north of the city of Singapore. The plaque on the memorial commemorates Tarani Kanta Roy of the Indian Hospital Corps, another doctor Satya Paul Khosla, Lt Habibullah Khan and Lt K S Rajgopalachari of the Indian Medical Service. The words on the plaque say, “Their name liveth for ever more: Tarani Kanta Roy-doctor and Satya Paul Khosla-doctor.”

For the family, it has been as if  pages of its history have been reopened. “I had read somewhere that graves speak, but didn’'t believe until I saw it happening. Since his body was never found, all these years we lived with the notion that Grandpa is perhaps alive somewhere. But truth had a different story to tell. My cousin sister found the grave of my Grandpa, who was laid to rest forever in a foreign land, miles away from us,” says Madhurkankana Roy, daughter of Dulal Roy and a staffer at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in New Delhi. “It is a moment of happiness which can never be explained,” she says.

For Dulal Roy, who never saw his father and only heard stories about him when he grew up, it has been more dramatic than all the acclaimed plays he has helmed or acted in, making him a noted name in the Indian theatre scene over the years. “It is actually unbelievable that finally we have come to know about our father’s final resting place, more so when I and my siblings are all either above 70 years or nearing that age. We are yet to come to terms with this news,” says Roy, whose father had left home for his final call of duty  in his early 30s. Roy says that a surviving colleague of his father had once told the family that Dr Roy was tending to patients when the hospital was bombarded by Japanese forces, and he continued with his work even while the attack was on. “My mother always believing that he would return,” says Roy, who is now planning to visit Singapore with family members – his elder brother and two sisters – to pay homage to their father. The family also has plans to take some steps to ‘concretise’ his  memory.

Incidentally, till 1939, Kranji was a military camp, which later became the site of an ammunition dump during the Japanese invasion of Malaya. On February 8, 1942, the Japanese crossed the Johore Straits and landed at the mouth of the Kranji River near the present war cemetery. There was fierce fighting in the next few days, including hand-to-hand combat, and after their victory, the Japanese established a prisoner of war camp at the site. Later, after the reoccupation of Singapore, a small cemetery started by the prisoners was developed into a permanent war cemetery by the Army Graves Service . And many graves were shifted there from a larger cemetery at Changi, the Buona Vista prisoner of war camp and other parts of the island along with all Second World War graves from  the Saigon Military Cemetery in French Indo-China, today’s  Vietnam. There are 4,458 Commonwealth casualties of the Second World War buried or commemorated at the cemetery .

Madhurkankana says  that the family received information about how her grandfather went missing, though her grandmother never accepted that he was dead since his body was never found. “One fine day they just heard that he is no more, but lost beneath the heap of bodies, shattered war fields, smoke and fire. My Grandma who waited for two years with the hope that he would come back to her one day, collapsed when she heard that grandpa had disappeared into thin air,” she says, adding philosophically, “Maybe he is in a deep slumber, and we dare not disturb him, but having found him, our delight and  exuberance know no bounds.”

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