When the siren wailed

Nearly 25-feet-long, 5-feet-deep and 3-feet-wide trenches were dug in all the open fields of the city and people were instructed to take shelter inside them as soon as the siren went off.

A cartoonish drawing of a young girl running and crying, with tears streaming behind herhumour

During the early 1940s, when British India had its involvement in the then raging Second World War, the situation at a particular stage had warranted implementation of ‘Air Raid Precaution ’ (ARP) to acquaint citizens with disaster and emergency management techniques in the event of a possible enemy attack on our cities. My father was then the chief ARP warden for Bangalore covering all civilian and cantonment localities. Each locality was placed under a zonal warden who was trained to guide the people under his charge regarding the actions to be resorted to as soon as the emergency sirens, which were mounted on the area police stations, wailed with their ominous rising and falling notes to signal air attack.

Nearly 25-feet-long, 5-feet-deep and 3-feet-wide trenches were dug in all the open fields of the city and people were instructed to take shelter inside them as soon as the siren went off. Those who happened to be in their vehicles and buses were to abandon their vehicles and rush to the nearest trees (which were aplenty in our Garden City then) and lie still under them, face down, to protect themselves from bomb hazards. If it happened to be night, all the lights in the streets as well as in houses and commercial establishments were to be totally switched off to render the city invisible to the enemy bombers.

We, in primary classes then, were immensely thrilled by the whole concept and terribly impressed by the frequent implementation of this exercise with all the seriousness necessary. One evening, while five of us children were playing in the nearby field, the emergency siren started wailing and, as instructed, we at once ran and dived into the nearby trench where, to our horror, we were greeted by a 4-foot snake which had probably fallen there a couple of days before — as evident from its sluggish response to our sudden appearance.

We, nevertheless, panicked. As we were frantically trying to climb out of the trench, the zonal warden, known for his strict adherence to rules and regulations, passing by in the police patrol jeep spotted us and at once curtly signalled us with wild shaking of the baton and menacing gestures to get back into the trench. In his zeal to perform his duty, he wasn’t making the slightest effort to understand the situation, which we were frantically trying to convey.

For nearly one full hour, we helplessly kept scrambling helter-skelter about inside the trench, jumping over the slithering snake that was also desperately trying to escape from the horror of so many stamping feet. The long ‘All clear’ siren, which at last came as music to our ears, ended our ordeal as we practically flew out of the trench.

Father was alarmed to learn of our dreadful experience and he promised to get all the trenches inspected immediately to ensure public safety. After a thoughtful moment, he said, “Just imagine the plight of our brave soldiers who have to crawl with their heavy weaponry in unknown hostile terrains to fight the invading enemy, staking their precious lives to ensure that our country is safe and we sleep in peace.”

That moment, a deep sense of pride swept over us and we felt that our trench ordeal was after all not that horrendous.

Navaratna Laxman

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)