ANDAMANS – From Kaalapaani to Blue emerald
(as experienced by Shri Mangal Sain ji Malhotra)
Shri Mangal Sain ji Malhotra a scion of professional pundits known as Guranwale ke Malhotras from Village Kote Pero Shah, Post quila Didar Singh in the then Gujranwala of pre-partition Punjab (now Pakistan) arrived on the 8th October of 1945 to Portblair. This write up is based on various narrations contributed by him and some inputs experienced by author of these lines, who have made an effort to collate events as seen by Shri Malhotra.
Borne on 16.12.1924 at village Chah Chhambwala Najhu Chowk in Kamoki Tehsil of Gujranwala district in Punjab province of un-divided India. His father Late Haveli Ram Malhotra was a Farm Manager in a private estate belonging to Sardar S.S. Sinh a resident of Quila Didar Singh town. The young Malhotra lost his mother sometime during 1927. His father departed during 1940.
His initial schooling was at S.D. high school Lahore. During December 1942, he got a job as Sepoy Clerk with Army Clerical Service (Royal Indian Army Service Corps). Having firsthand experience of being Court-martial and reinstatement, was one among 12 persons deported to Andamans to assist the Army in re-starting of civil supplies after the re-occupation of Islands from the Japanese.
Subsequently, during 1973, Shri Malhotra was selected by Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India to a cadre of DHANICS (Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and A7N Islands Civil Service); and retired as Deputy Secretary on 31.05.1983. His wife Smt. Shanti Devi Saigal an Islander was borne on 31.01.1930 at Portblair.
His-story goes as follows:
Portblair – commonly known as KAALAPAANI was notoriously infamous for Penal Settlement during 1858-1945, wherein the British Governement deported life-term prisoners, including freedom fighters, to undergo their sentences under horrible and un-bearable circumstances. The prisoners could neither swim across to stanat Indian shores through dark blue-black turbulent sea waters nor could they dare to escape to wild forests to be killed by hostile Tribals. They were simply reconciled and resigned to their fate under the mastership of Jailor David Barry. Post 1857, the British Government sent the first contingent of 200 revolting army sepoy for clearance work on 10.03.1858 followed by 730 prisoners including freedom fighter charged with War of Independence during 1859, and by 1872, the population swelled to 7000 and odds. By the time construction of Cellular Jail was completed in 1906, the convict population has swelled around 15,000 which included around 2000 women prisoners charged with murder. The Penal Settlement was abolished on re-occupation of the Islands from the Japanese forces which occupied the Islands from 23.03.1942 to 06.10.1945.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited Portblair on 29.12.1943 from Singapore and hoisted Indian Tricolour flag at Gymkhana Ground Portblair on 30.12.1943.
On 08.10.1945, when Shri Mangal Sainji Malhotra put his feet on the soil of Portblair, he found it a small town with a population ranging between, 10-12K, and around same figure in South Andamans and so about Nicobarese tribal making a total head count some where about 32,000. Now as per last census the increase is around 10 times. The Portblair town itself accommodates more than 110 K and the Island’s population is more than 308K.
The township was not having any eatery or even a tea shop after re-occupation of the territory from The Japanese forces. There was no public transport system; and the Chief Commissioner Mr. N.K. Peterson used to travel in a Jeep. Other modes of conveyance, besides travelling on foot were bicycles or lift from drivers of Government trucks. Subsequently the lucky souls who could afford vehicle were Shri Murari Lal and Shri KPU Menon. The first car was bought for the President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad during 1954.
Trading and travelling was mainly through Calcutta (Kolkata) and Madras (Chennai) and the carrier was S.S. Maharaja. During 1961, regular but weekly air service between Calcutta and Portblair started on 20.01.1961 by Indian airlines via Rangoon and the carrier was a Dakota. Boeing 737 was introduced sometime during 1977-78.
After surrender of the Japanese forced, the British government in New Delhi, to establish Civil Administration, Mr. N.K. Paterson was deputed as the Chief Commissioner, Mr. Stooks as Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Littlewort as Superintendent of Police and Col. L.J.L Addison as Officer on Special Duty (Supplies).
On 01.10.1945, S.S. Dilwara – the ship carried about 4000 Army personnel commended by Brig. Solomon and about 400 civilians in service, businessmen led by Mr. Paterson from Calcutta, which touched Portblair on 07.10.1945 early morning. The Army personnel landed at once, while civilians were allowed to disembark on 08.10.1945.