by Joydeep Sircar
War came to Calcutta on the night of the 20th December, 1942.
The Japanese had overrun Burma by May 1942, chasing the tattered remnants of British-Indian and Chinese troops across the jungle-clad hills of the Indo-Burma border, but they were not strong enough to push on into India. But Calcutta lay well within the range of their bombers, and what the people of the city had been fearing ever since the fall of Burma came to pass on the 20th of December. A force of eight Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) Ki -21 Type 97 medium bombers, code-named ‘Sally’ by the Allies, scattered their bombs over the city. They damaged the oil plant at Budge Budge, located on the Ganges river a little South of the city, and one eyewitness reported a hole in the road opposite the Great Eastern Hotel, but the physical damage inflicted on the city was trivial compared to the devastating blow to the morale of the inhabitants: approximately one-and-a-half million people panicked and fled, among them a majority of the conservancy workers who hailed from upcountry villages. The effect on the civic services was catastrophic, and there were serious fears of an epidemic caused by the mounds of rotting garbage that accumulated. The IJAAF bombers returned on a number of occasions on the days that followed, notably on the night of the 24th December. This Christmas Eve raid by 10 Sallys achieved a scattering of bombs over the Chowringhee- Bentinck Street- Dalhousie Square area of Central Calcutta and caused some loss of life, thus considerably dampening the Yuletide cheer.