I was 13, when the war between Pakistan and India broke out! I was in school that day when an unusual school bell started to toll soon after recess at about 11am. A continuous ringing bell used to be a signal for an important announcement. Only once in 1963 classes were suspended on the day when American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated!
On hearing the bell, all students were alarmed and started speculating the death of an important personality. The whole school was assembled in the main ground. All teachers occupied their places on a raised platform and waited for the headmaster. Our drill teacher, a retired Army Subedar brought us at attention and the headmaster announced that Pakistan had been attacked by India and President Ayub Khan would address the nation.
Afterwards, one of the teachers shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad” and “Narae Takbeer” was raised in a full-throated voice by students. Being in our youth, all students seemed to be in high spirits and we all rushed to our homes. On our way home, when we reached Pakistan Chowk (Sew Bazar), Centre Town in Larkana, we found hundreds of people assembled near a big pole where a loudspeaker was attached that relayed all news bulletins, cricket commentary and songs from Larkana Broadcasting Service. This was an ingenious effort by an old gentleman who had attached this system in a room in Jinnah Bagh from Radio Pakistan.
A huge crowd had assembled there to listen to the president of Pakistan on this solemn occasion. Instead of going home, I found a convenient spot to listen to the address. Soon after, the dramatic voice of one Mr. Saleem, a great announcer of his time, resounded in the air heralding the presidential address. We heard the president in complete awe and the enthusiasm that followed is yet to be seen on any occasion the country witnessed thereafter.
Larkana’s geographical location provided no threat or any effects of the war, yet the enthusiasm was such that everyone was feverish to take part in the war effort. On reaching home, my mother asked me to hurry up and buy brown papers and black paint before the three stationery shops and sole hardware shop closed for business. I rushed to the shops, bought the items and handed them over to my mother. For the first time, a new word – Blackout – was added to my vocabulary.
My younger brother and I painted all windowpanes in black and pasted brown papers all over the house, making it impossible for even a single ray to penetrate the windows. Larkana, otherwise a quiet and sleepy town in those days, became alive. Blackout activities were monitored by our Mohalla’s Ward Office. In Ayub’s Basic Democracy System, each ward was headed by a chairman and a few councilors. Incidentally, our ward chairman’s residence and his office were in our neighbourhood and soon after the declaration of war, an ASI and four cops were posted along with the personnel of Pakistan Quomi Razakars (a well-trained force which was subsequently disbanded for unknown reasons).
After sunset, the silence of the night was interrupted by the intermittent shouts of volunteers and the ringing of electric poles. ”Lights bujhaden aap key ghar say roshn arahi hai” (Your house is lit up, put your lights out), was heard during the night. The chowkidar system too was effective in each Mohallah. The chowkidar was paid by the residents. People participated whole heartedly in donating old and new clothes to be sent to the army and those affected from the war! Women knitted sweaters, socks and bags made with nylon! Ladies from the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) played a vital role in motivating women. The whole town was humming with such activities.
There was another scheme devised by the government for people’s participation in the war effort with a slogan ‘one rupee one tank’. Soon, we saw sealed boxes placed in front of the ward chairmen’s offices and people generously donated. Standing close by the box placed in our Mohallah became a playful activity for us. Children would happily part away with their daily pocket money by putting money inside the box! We never got to know how many tanks were procured from our money.
Despite the war hysteria, academic activities continued unhindered. However, in the morning assembly, one teacher would read out the events happening on the war fronts. Students would clap wildly on armed forces’ achievements and gallantry.
For the first time, the dreaded war brought in its wake the menace of invoking religion in our polity. The loyalties of Hindus came into question. One morning, I heard the arrest of a well-respected Hindu cloth merchant on the suspicion of being an Indian spy. It was rumored that he was arrested red handed while relaying signals to the enemy with a wireless. Same sort of news also appeared in newspapers on the capture of spies from different parts of the country.
Throughout the war, we were told that while the Indians dropped the bombs, a hand appeared out of nowhere, held all bombs and no damage was done! Calendars and pamphlets propped up with photographs showing a Muslim warrior brandishing a sword on horseback in a green costume. These items did roaring business and people bought them with Islamic zeal and fervour and almost all shops displayed them at prominent places. In hindsight, this may have been the beginning of an end and the trend continues till this day.
I huddled my grandchildren to share anecdotes of the ’65 war. As I neared the end of my stories, my 6-year old grandson excitedly announced that he would like to be a soldier and fight the Indians. I smiled back with a silent prayer that hopefully that day should never come where we go to war with India. But God forbid, if we ever do, I’m confident our armed forces will defend our frontiers.