By Utpal Borpujari
It 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 Forced during the Second World War and went missing in the combat zone, has been found after 67 years after he died, that too accidentally, in faraway Singapore.
The finding may or may not lead to some media focus on the role the people of North-East India played in the Second World War, some major battles of which were fought in the region, particularly as the US government already is hunting for debris of countless planes that went missing in the war theatre in the region spanning 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 for the 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 died on February 13, 1942 when the hospital he was attached with was bombarded by the Japanese air force planes.
Roy’s memorial was found – purely by chance – by his granddaughter Bidisha Roy Kalita and her husband Manas Kalita on August eight this year when they visited the Kranji War Cemetery, 22 km north of the city of Singapore, on August eight. 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 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 whole pages of its history has been reopened. “I had read somewhere that graves speak, but didn’t beleive 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 our father’s final resting place, more so when I and my siblings are all either above 70 or nearing that age. We are yet to come to terms to with this news,” says Roy, whose father had left home for his final call of duty when he was 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 the 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 planning now 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 make his memory for concrete.
Incidentally, till 1939, Kranji was a military camp, which later became the site of a ammunition dump during the time of the Japanese invasion of Malaya. On February eight 1942, the Japanese crossed the Johore Straits and landed at the mouth of the Kranji river near the war cemetery now exists. 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 as 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 Saigon Military Cemetery in French Indo-China, the present day Vietnam. There are 4,458 Commonwealth casualties of the Second World War buried or commemorated at the cemetery .
Madhurkankana says that the family had 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, exuberance know no bounds.”