When Madras rose to the occasion
On the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict, a recollection of how the city contributed to the war effort.
An immeasurably opulent family that is given to ostentatious display of wealth and influence hosting a wedding dinner with just twenty-five people on the guest list and an austere three-course meal, may sound like a paradox. In September 1965, during the Indo-Pak war, this was very likely in Madras.
None other than M. Bhaktavatsalam, the Chief Minister of the Madras state, issued the call to make dinner parties as simple as possible. He called upon journalists to make this announcement to the public: there cannot be more than 25 guests at a dinner party, private or public. The dinner could not extend beyond a three-course meal, vegetarian or non-vegetarian. If you could make it even more frugal, you were welcome.
Food had to be conserved. Electricity had to be saved. Blood had to be donated generously. Labour had to be offered voluntarily. Wartime requirements had to be complied with enthusiastically.
The residents of Madras responded positively to the appeal. Employees of various organisations loosened their purse strings enthusiastically, and donated to the Defence Fund. Students of various institutions also joined hands and made contributions. The Hindu would make a mention of such generosity, which led to many others digging deep into their pockets and making a donation. No contribution was deemed too small for a mention. A report mentioned a contribution of Rs. 69 by the employees of Tondiarpet Marshalling Yard Sick Lines, together with a massive donation of Rs. 25,001 by the Managing Partners, Devar Films.
For every drop of blood shed by the jawans, many drops were being collected from residents.
On September 10, Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar, president, Indian Red Cross Society made a request for blood donations. The response was overwhelming: so many came forward that the Society had difficulty organising camps to receive the blood. The society promised to send a van to any area to collect blood if it was certain of finding at least 30 donors there. Soon, there were more areas than its fleet of vans could cover.
L. Saraswathy, a reader, wrote to The Hindu that many students and working professionals were unable to donate blood because there were not enough mobile blood collection units. This situation was however not unique to Madras. In Delhi, donors that approached the Indian Red Cross Society had to be placed on a waiting list. Through a blood bank the Red Cross set up at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, it collected 29,000 cc of blood in 6 days, which was unprecedented in those days.
On September 10, when partial blackout was imposed in Madras, residents followed the instructions conscientiously. After an inspection, K. Ramamurthi, Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of civil defence, was impressed with the level of compliance. On Day one, there were only a few violations.
On September 13, an aerial survey was conducted to assess the blackout and again, the situation was largely satisfactory. It was noted that some motorists were seen riding without dimming the headlights of their machines.
However, as it came to light, a vast number of road users did what was required of them. In the process, some of them ended up compromising their safety.
A resident, Purasai Rajagopal, wrote to The Hindu pointing out a spurt in accidents due to the blackout. Lack of streetlights coupled with dimmed headlights led to two-wheeler riders, especially cyclists, falling into pits and slushy surfaces on city roads.
The Indo-Pak War of 1965 ended in a ceasefire. But there were clear winners: they were the people of Madras.