I was in Class 9 and my brother, younger to me by a year exactly, in eighth standard. We lived in the city but our school, Kendriya Vidyalaya, was at the farthest end of Jalandhar Cantonment.
Normally, we commuted by the school bus, which took us about 40 minutes, but twice a week, we stayed back for the NCC (National Cadet Corps) drills and would get back on our own.
Those two days were taxing, since we had to walk about 3 kilometres to catch a local bus to the city. From where the bus dropped us, there was another kilometre to be covered on foot to reach home.
It was December 3, 1971. After the NCC session, my brother and I began our march towards the Sadar bus stand but deviated to the adjacent Sadar Bazaar to buy him a book. Consequently, we got a little late and by the time we caught a bus, it was dusk. As the bus moved on, it became dark quickly. There were no streetlights. The entire area was engulfed in darkness.
As we approached the city border, the bus halted at the railway crossing. We were stranded, clueless as to what had happened. It was the blackout. The traffic had come to a standstill. A few vehicles still on the road moved slowly with headlights off. Occasionally, one would pass by with lights on and cast a frightening reflection on the bus windscreen. It appeared as a diving aircraft. It was after quite a while that the news trickled in. War had broken out with Pakistan.
We were shocked. As the passengers came to know that the bus could not continue its onward journey, they started alighting. My brother and I, two terrified children, were stuck inside.
There was no way we could contact our parents. Who had heard about mobile phones in those days? We did not have even a fixed line.
In that pitch-dark night, when we were too petrified to venture out on our own, a Sikh gentleman who was travelling with us came to our rescue. In that hour of panic when people were rushing home, he got us home safely. But it was not easy. We were far from home and without conveyance.
Accompanied by our guardian angel, we somehow made it back around 10 at night, covering some of the distance on foot and the rest on rickshaw. We thanked God when the ordeal was over.
It was a happy ending for the family. We were in trouble for only a few hours but the war continued till December 16, and ended eventually with the surrender of the Pakistan army and the liberation of Bangladesh. History records that we won the war; but with wars, I can never say "all's well that ends well"; because war leaves scars that are difficult to erase.