YOU can’t donate blood as you are not yet 18, I was told by Dr Jai Gopal Jolly of the PGI Blood Bank when I had queued up at the University Health Centre in September 1965. Along with Kanta Saroop Krishan, a noted social worker, a blood donation camp had been organised at the peak of the war with Pakistan. Unable to donate blood myself, we were able to obtain consent forms from a few hundred volunteers and potential donors who could be called in an emergency. The PGI had been converted into a Military Hospital and university hostels, being virtually next door, were a great help.
There had been an air of despondency for weeks, but the scene changed dramatically from September 6. The whole atmosphere was electrified by the news that our forces had reached the outskirts of Lahore. As the craving for news increased, none was in a mood to sit in the classroom. A tea stall used to operate from a tent, where the Student Centre is located these days. Hordes of students wanting to get the latest from the war front used to crowd around the lone radio at the stall. There were some who tried to show off and posed as if they had a direct channel to the war front, but their stories always generated a lot of interest, particularly regarding the apprehension of paratroopers. Some of them had landed directly on top of rural folk sleeping in the fields and were given the treatment they deserved. Then there were stories about the wild and baseless claims of Radio Pakistan.
Chandigarh, being a strong Air Force base, was a target for enemy planes, but they could not succeed in coming anywhere near it. Blackouts were strictly observed and enforced by young volunteers with full cooperation from residents. Air-raid sirens were very frequent to begin with, but tapered off after a few days and later, people even stopped bothering about them. Sirens coming alive at least once at night had become the norm, but it was on the last day of the war, the night of September 22, that there was no respite, and the sirens kept blaring throughout the night. The next day, we came to know that several unsuccessful attempts had been made to bomb the Air Force Station in Ambala. Ultimately, before withdrawing, the enemy aircraft unloaded bombs on an old church.
With Punjab being a frontline state, the entire population had come together to contribute to the war effort. Civilians offering meals and lassi to soldiers was a common site. Even on the campus, a cultural programme to raise funds in aid of national defence had been organised. Normalcy returned after a few days of the ceasefire and we got busy with our classes. But the memories of those tumultuous three weeks have remained fresh.
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