BIRDS singing from trees in the neighbourhood heralded the dawn of the second day in jail. The front window of our room was closed and it was suffocatingly hot inside. We wished we could get some fresh air, in spite of the small quantity of food that we had on the previous day, the dirty pot had been made good use of throughout the night, and the stale air in the room was very unpleasant.
It was broad day light when the watchman opened our door and announced that we could go out and have a bath. At one end of the jail compound was a little pool from which we drew water and in which we bathed ourselves. The Japanese guards stood attentively around, ready to bayonet anyone who showed signs of wanting to scale the high wall. We stripped and had a very quick bath as the watchman shouted for us to hurry.
I dried myself with my loongee (sarong) which had served me as a blanket the night before. Before our door was locked again, a couple of convicts brought us bowls containing our breakfast — two small pieces of tapioca. The front window was still shut, as the occupants of other rooms were being taken out for their baths, in turn..
After the prisoners had bathed and all the subjects of the little prison state had been returned to their respective places, the large window was opened. The rays of sunshine shone brightly into our room and there was a rush amongst the men inside to try and get a place where the body could be exposed to natural light. The lift to our spirits that the morning sun brought, however, did not last long.
Our heart-beats quickened when the horn of a truck was heard outside and a few Japanese soldiers, led by the watchman jingling his bunch of keys, were seen making for our door. There was a clatter as the door opened; a list of numbers was called out. The innocent young man called “number 5” (as I was called) was taken with others from the room and escorted by soldiers towards the main gate of the jail.
A breath of fresh air greeted us as we drove along the streets of Sibolga. We could think of nothing else except that we were headed for an interview with the Japanese military police. The truck stopped in front of a little bungalow, and three of us (myself included) were led inside. My heart pounded and I found it impossible to control myself. I prayed to God to have mercy on me.
In the drawing room there were two Japanese officers who greeted us curtly. The usher, who was Korean, made a funny noise and signaled with gestures for me to follow him. We passed along a corridor to a room, the doors of which were shut. He made me kneel down in the same position we use when we say our prayers, with palms resting on thighs.
He indicated that I must shut my eyes and keep them shut, executing the order with an ugly noise and a vigorous wave of his hands. I had not been in this position for long but my knees and my body ached. I trembled with fear. I was sure the Japanese were going to execute me there. I repeated the kalima — “There is no God except Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet”, a prayer a Muslim recites when he breathes his last. Although terrified, I was prepared to return to my eternal home.
To add to my terror I could hear a person inside the room being beaten by an officer of the military police. It was the dumpy, little Chinaman who had tried to escape from the night patrolman. The officer was shouting at him. Each time he struck him, the poor fellow fell against the door, frantically shouting for help and pleading that he was innocent.
It was bad enough to be tortured; but, it was worse to know in advance what the punishment was to be. Kneeling at the door of the room in which a fellow prisoner was being tortured, I felt that even death would be better than the beating the poor little Chinaman was getting. I could not imagine how my body, much weakened by all that I had been through, would ever stand up to similar treatment. I prayed to the Lord, my Maker, to have mercy up on me and to save me from such a merciless punishment. I knew that no power on earth could do so but the grace and mercy of God.
An hour passed in that terrifying state. Concentrating on some verses of the Holy Qur’an, I felt a tap on my head. I opened my eyes and looked up. It was the Korean ordering me to go into the room. I was made to sit on the floor and one of the Japanese officers, who spoke Malay, questioned me. I had learnt enough of the language to be able to converse freely. He asked me questions regarding my family, my boyhood, education and training, and how I happened to come to Sumatra. The officer was very gentle and on no occasion during our conversation did he show any signs of losing his temper. The Japanese, I felt with relief, could be decent on occasions.
Apparently, their way of torturing me was to make me wait outside the door while the Chinaman was being cross examined. They thought they would break down my resistance before they questioned me. At one in the afternoon, the truck arrived and I was told to go. All the way back to the jail I thanked the Lord Almighty for having mercy on me and saving me from the hands of the officer who had beaten up the little Chinaman.
On my return to the jail I got my share of the handful of rice, tapioca and boiled leaves that was the morning meal. I found that during my absence, the truck had called a number of times and had taken others to their respective examiners. Some had returned, but there were quite a number who had not yet come back.
It was not until the evening that the last of them returned. When the jailer came as usual to count us, there were many among us with swollen faces and bruised bodies, huddled on the cane mats and moaning with pain. Some of these were the chief income earners in their families and they wept when they thought of their children who had no one to provide them with food.
I did my best to make the wounded comfortable. I massaged their wounds. I have always been skilful at massage, and now I felt that God had preserved me so that I might use this special gift of mine to ease the suffering of the tortured. I tried to explain to the wounded that the Lord is the Sustainer of all the world.
I tried to comfort them just as once Bazlur Rahman had brought comfort to the prisoners in Goonoongsitoli after their return from the jungle. “Your children will be fed,” I told them. “No man will ever dare take another man’s food, but you must have patience. God, who is most merciful and most gracious, will in His own good time, most certainly release us from this evil.” To my surprise my fellow prisoners listened attentively to what I had to say and I thanked the Lord for giving me words of wisdom to help them understand.
The following day I was not called for examination so 1 spent most of my time nursing the wounded. The Indonesians were by this time too terrified of the Japanese guards to help even their best friends. There was no one but myself to look after the wounded whose numbers increased steadily during the day. There were still many who had not been called for cross examination.
During the whole day, the sound of that jingling bunch of keys set every heart to beat faster. Even though I had had one interview, I was in the same condition, too. The morning of the third day, however, passed off without my being called out. But, in the afternoon, when I had least expected it, armed soldiers were ready at the gate to escort me to the examiners.
Fortunately, the examination passed off peacefully. I was asked about my movements in Sibolga and the various persons I used to visit. I prayed to God that they would not ask me about Suak. But, the Lord is everywhere. He knows everything and He has power over all things. Everyone else I knew was mentioned but Suak’s name did not come up.
Later, on another occasion, an officer did ask me what work Suak did on the tug and what sort of man he was. I was able to tell him the truth, that he was a good man at heart but very fond of the bottle and the company of the fair sex. I was again saved from disclosing facts which might have got Suak into trouble.
During the next couple of days, I was not called. A number of my fellow prisoners were badly beaten up. The old zamindar was hammered so mercilessly that all his artificial teeth were broken and he was very ill for the next few days. There was a Chinese dentist whose right leg swelled up as a result of continuous beating. He was operated on without any anaesthetic.
There were some who returned from the office of the military police unable to do more than lie on their plank beds, and on the following day they were called again and had to be carried to the house of torture. As one of the few who were unhurt, I considered it my duty to do all that was in my power to help the wounded. At times I forced myself to keep awake the whole night, by reciting verses of the Holy Qur’an, so that I could attend to them.
But, then, my turn had to come also, and it came when I was called by my examiners, not to the polite officer in the room, hut to the backyard where I was made to kneel down on the edge of an empty wooden box with my arms stretched upwards. A soldier stood behind me and with a stick flogged me on the back whenever my arms fell down. This was my first taste of torture, only a beginning. I could very well imagine what might follow. While I knelt there, in the scorching heat of the sun and almost at the point of collapse, another prisoner was being beaten inside the room. I could hear him pleading with the Japanese to kill him once and for all. “Yes, you will die,” came the reply, “but it will be slow and steady”.
When the sun had reached its zenith and was about to begin its descent, the stomachs of the cruel, little warriors demanded food. The tortures were adjourned for an hour. I was kept in a small room near the kitchen while the Japanese and other prisoners disappeared. The Hei Ho (Indonesian soldier) was left to look after me. sat on a bench outside the room and chatted to a maid.
Every Japanese bungalow had one or more maids, who cooked their food, looked after their clothes and saw to other, more intimate, personal comforts. This Hei Ho, Omar, was a very young fellow. I had known him to be a nasty human being from the time I had first set eyes on him. He had now become so pro-Japanese that he had even adopted their style of speaking and, like them, gestured with his hands.
I was hungry, but the truck did not come to take me to the jail for lunch. As no one gave me anything to eat either, I sat down on the floor, leaned against the wall, and closing my eyes, concentrated on some verses from the Qur’an so that I might not think of the food that my body so desperately needed. I was, however, brought back to the reality of my plight by a hard kick on the hip. Omar frowned at me and asked me why I was sleeping.
I told him that my eyes had been shut, but I had been praying, not sleeping. He made an ugly noise like the Japanese did and retreated. He was only a young boy, two years younger than myself and brought up, as I had been, to follow the teachings of Islam. I prayed to Allah to have mercy on him and to lead him to the right path. By the Grace of God the thought of revenge (even against the Japanese) did not find a place in my heart, even in those dark days.
The whole day passed before I was taken out of the tiny room by another Hei Ho and escorted back to the jail. This young Hei Ho was called Israil. He hailed from Padang and was extremely good to us. I told him that I had had nothing to eat during the day and asked him to tell the jailers to give me the rice due to me. He kept his promise, but unfortunately all the extra rice had been eaten up by the convicts and barely anything from the evening meal was left.
However, half a loaf is better than no bread, and when I had cleaned my plate and drunk the water, I offered my thanks to God. I was stiff and sore from the beatings I had received during the day but 1 was able to be of service to the injured during the night.
It was over a month since we had been rounded up as suspects. We had our interviews, and those who had been wounded were recovering fast. One day a Japanese officer took the prisoners of room No.1 to a patch of waste land at the back of the office of the military police. We were made to work. We took off our shirts for fear the mud and the filth would spoil them. Those who had under pants even took off their trousers.
Clothes were very precious, particularly to prisoners like myself who, unlike the local people, had no relatives close by to send them the weekly bundle that the Japanese allowed. The work was difficult and seemed more difficult in the scorching sun. We had become very weak on our meager, saltless diet. Nevertheless, we enjoyed being in the open and hoped that in the future we were taken out every day. At one in the afternoon we returned to the jail for lunch and after an hour’s break were out again.
For the first few days the Japanese soldiers guarded the compound where we worked. Later only Hei Hoes were left to look after us. Most of them were good and kind except Omar, the fellow whom I have mentioned before. These Hei Hoes belonged to the military police so they had their quarters behind the office. Israil had his young wife staying with him and like him, she was very kind. I remember, one day, she made us all a fruit drink. The interviews continued, but no harm was done to anybody. After one more interview which passed off without incident, I felt that I was clear of suspicion. I even hoped, as many of the others did, that I would be released quite soon.
A month later — it was now early May, 1944 — and the waste land had become a vegetable garden! We had built air raid shelters and a motor road. While at work I seldom missed my prayers for, whenever we had some time to rest, I would go into a room belonging to one of the Hei Hoes to pray. The Japanese got used to the idea of seeing me do so and never stopped me.
Then, one day while I was working in the fields, the Japanese officer who had given me my very first interview called me away and took me in to an isolated room. He warned me to speak the truth. He said that Suak had told him that he and I had planned to escape to India. I replied: “We had not planned to escape to India, but we had discussed the possibilities of meeting an Allied submarine and going over to the Allies”. He told me to give a detailed account of all our discussions, stating the date and the place where we had talked each time.
“That,” I said, “is too much for me, for it is over a year since Suak and I had discussed the plans and I do not remember when and where we had talked, let alone remember minute details of our conversations. But it was true,” I admitted “that we would have liked to go over to the Allies”. He hit me on the head a few times. In the meantime the other officer—the one who had tortured the Chinaman had entered the room and was deeply interested in our conversation. He was very intimidating, huge and tall and quite different in appearance from the other little man.
I was afraid he was going to take over the investigation. Fortunately for me, the sun was setting and it was time for the military police officers to stop work. They did not send me back to the jail, but put me inside a wooden cage in a garage near the office.
I call my new prison a cage, because it was nothing better than that. The garage had been divided into two sections and walled by wooden planks. A narrow opening had been left in the planks through which food could be served. These cages were used for special prisoners who were required for constant questioning. In the cage which I entered, there were two fellows who had been there for over a month. The cage was constantly guarded by the Japanese soldiers posted outside. I had not been there long before a soldier brought me my food.
A ball of boiled rice about three inches in diameter with a little sauce sprinkled over it. I had to hold the ball of rice with both my hands to eat it. Even dogs were given food on a plate or a leaf. I chatted for a while with my colleagues. I said my prayers and settled down to sleep. But sleep did not come so easily. I wondered what it was that had led me into this affair, and I submitted myself to the will of the Lord, my Maker and asked Him to give me courage and patience.
The following afternoon the huge Japanese officer took me out of my cage, tied my hands behind my back and led me inside one of the rooms where he tied me to the leg of an iron bed. He began to stamp on my knees and to beat me, asking me to tell him all details of my conversations with Suak. I told him that I was speaking the truth, that I did not exactly remember when and where we had conversed, but we had said we were anxious to get out of the hands of the Japanese. He would not believe me and went on beating me. He got nothing further out of me by using these methods.
He untied the rope from the bed and took me out on to the veranda where the next stage of the torture began. I was made to sit on the ground with my legs stretched out forward and my hands tied behind my back. The end of the rope by which my hands were tied was led over an iron bar in the ceiling and pulled as tightly as possible, so that my arms were stretched upwards until I felt that my shoulder blades would break. The Japanese officer sat on a stool in front of me with his booted heels pressed hard on my outstretched legs. He squeezed my knees between his feet, while other soldiers came and hit me on my head and kicked me or worst of all, pulled the rope with a jerk.
I cannot imagine how I survived those hours of extreme pain. My Maker had willed that I should not die so soon and He bestowed me with unlimited courage and patience to bear the agony. Again and again, I was asked to give details of my conversation with Suak. I tried hard to remember, but I found it impossible to do so. All I could say was, “I am speaking the truth. I did discuss such things with Suak, but I do not remember, in detail, what we said to each other.”
Something was wrong with the movement of the sun that day; its passage through the skies was never so slow before. The hands of the clock would not move either. Every breath that I took, every hair on my head, seemed to be screaming aloud and pleading to the Lord Almighty to have mercy on me. Again and again I felt that my end was near and that I would not live to see the sun set again behind the western hills. Each despairing thought was followed by the thought that only my Maker could take my life. No human being had that power so long as I never, never for one instant, gave up hope.
Two hours had elapsed and the Japanese were not satisfied. Fortunately for me one of them had an idea and sent for Suak, the former Dutch Air Force pilot who worked as clerk in Ang Boon Hak’s Barge. They seated him in front of me and told him to write on a piece of paper all that he remembered of our conversations.
He complied with their orders and one by one they reminded me of the places where we had conversed. Suak volunteered the information that I had told him that the Japanese would never enter India. I admitted it to be true and it resulted in a renewed beating spell for me. There were now four officers surrounding us, one with a heavy stick in his hand.
At long last the crimson disc in the sky decided to say farewell to the world and to return to the place where it would rest during the night. As it disappeared behind the buildings of Sibolga, the sky became crimson. It was a beautiful evening. The men, women and children of Sibolga in their best clothes were out on the roads for their evening stroll; lovers were walking hand-in-hand towards the cinema halls; and the pious were moving to the Mosque which stood at the southern end of the big bazaar.
The mighty representatives of Tenno Hikka (Emperor of Japan), realised that they had done their duty for the day and had no intention of wasting such a beautiful evening. They retired to their bungalows to make love to the many “comfort girls” who were kept to satisfy the warriors of the Far East. Suak and I had no share in that beautiful evening. He was sent back to the jail with an escort and I was taken back to my cage.
The rope which had held my hands in that painful position was untied, and I cannot express the relief I felt at being able to move again although my fingers had become quite numb. The Japanese officer, softening for a brief moment, gave me a banana to eat and put me back in the cage.
I lay on the wooden floor trying to close me eyes and go to sleep, but my body was racked with pain. The events of the day were still fresh in my mind and haunted me. Had I really been through so much pain and survived? I thanked God that I was still alive; thanked Him, too, that He had given me the patience and courage to bear the torture. Life was still precious to me and the desire to return home made me determined to survive whatever these devils might have in store for me. Everyday my faith in Allah had become strong and I prayed to Him to give me continued courage.
The night was long and weary as sleep would not come. Although dawn meant the return of another day with continued possibilities of torture, I lay there longing for the night to pass. The rooster’s crowing heralded a new day. I felt happy that the hours of darkness were over.
The thought of the day to come made my heart beat fast, and it was not long after sunrise that the massive Japanese officer started on me again. The first thing that he said to me was that I was a very bad man and he would question me again from the beginning. He pushed me on to the floor and said “Angou orang Inggris ka?”(Are you an Englishman?) When I said that I was not an Englishman, he insisted that I had better own up or else things would go really badly for me. I stuck to my first, the correct answer.
From his speech and actions it was evident that he was working himself into a rage. Suddenly he gripped my hands tight and led me to the lawn. He caught hold of my shirt collar, put a leg behind mine and pushed me hard on to the ground shouting “Ingris”. I stood up and said “Tida saya lndia”.(No, I am an Indian).
The next moment he picked me up and threw me head first on the ground. Up again and back over his head, then over his back and on to my head again. Thank God, I managed not to plead with him to kill me or spare me, instead each time I hit the earth I said, “Alhamdu Lillah”(All praise be to Allah). I believed that Allah was punishing me for something I had done, although I did not know what it was.
I knew, too, that the Lord, who is most Merciful, was watching over me to see that my punishment did not exceed the limit of my endurance. I was thrown from every conceivable angle, and hit the ground with every part of my body, but thanks to the Almighty no limbs were broken. This was proof of God’s love and mercy for His creatures who so easily forget Him the moment their troubles cease.
The Japanese officer who had been trying his ju-jitsu for over 15 minutes, looked very tired and was breathing hard. He told his interpreter, an Indonesian, to take over from him and try his hand on me. The fellow did manage to throw me on to the ground, but it was evident that he had not been given any training in the art and the Japanese took over again.
Feeling refreshed after his little rest, he was now fast and quick—so fast and so quick that I find it difficult to explain all that he did to cause me as much pain as possible. And yet, how that half hour dragged. People see stars at night, but here was I seeing them during the day, and plenty of them in all shapes and sizes! But, there comes an end to everything and even punishment from God has a limit.
Finally, the Japanese officer realised that I had not gone back on my word and he stopped the ju-jitsu. He took me inside the office, where once again I was made to sit on the floor and answer his questions. He asked me the usual questions relating to my childhood. He asked me every detail about my parents, brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, I did not know how much land my father owned or what his yearly income was. The Japanese officer thought that I was trying to hide something from him. He slogged me hard on the head with his brown leather belt. Similarly, when I told him that I had not been to a university, he did not believe me and beat me even more.
The leather belt was thick and hard. The buckle fell on my head, while the tail end stung my body. Thank God, my face was spared. How could I convince this fiend, who did not want to be convinced, that I was speaking the truth and nothing but the truth. To add to this, his Indonesian interpreter suggested that as I could speak fluent Urdu, the captain of the ship had ordered me to remain with the Indian crew instead of being interned with the other officers, so that I could spy on the Japanese.
I found that I had no helper except God above me and in silence I prayed to Him to have Mercy on me. A brief respite from pain came when the Japanese officer went for lunch. I sat on the floor in the corridor and was glad enough to get the rice ball which a Hei Hoe brought me.
A good lunch and a cigarette restored my torturer to start on me again. He made me sit down on the floor with my legs stretched forward and my ankles wedged tightly under the wooden bar of the chair that he was sitting on. Now and then he stamped on my shin with his heavy boots. However, the onslaught of the leather belt continued on my head and shoulders. It was a day of incessant torture, much worse than I had experienced before.
All praise to God, the cherisher and sustainer of the universe, who gave me the strength and courage to survive the torture and helped me at all times and in whatever peril to return to Him and ask Him for help and guidance.
The hands of the clock now pointed to five. The windows of the room were being closed and other officers were putting away their files and locking up important papers. My examiner left me for a while to do likewise and then took me out of the room towards the kitchen. Outside the kitchen he sat down on top of a box while I remained standing in front of him “What a pity you have become so thin,” he said.
I managed a smile and reminded him that we got very little to eat inside the jail. To my great surprise, he called out to the cook to give me a plate full of rice and an egg in it. He asked the cook’s helper to bring me his own share of bananas. I was compensated in some measure for the day’s torture. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the plate full of rice and eggs which was all for me. I thanked the Lord who, I believed, had sent me this food.
No human being, not even the brutal enemy, could stop what the Lord wanted to give and even the cruelest of men, I realised, have some spot of kindness in their hearts through which the Lord can work.
I spent the night in the cage. My interview next day was nothing in comparison to the ordeal I had the day before. My examination drew to a close. Shortly afterward I returned to the jail.
My examination was over and the Japanese torturers no longer needed me in a cage on the premises. They sent me back to the jail. I was again at work in the garden and rejoiced in what seemed like freedom compared to what I had been through. I remember one day a number of us were cutting the grass near the Hei Hoe’s quarters and Israil’s wife who had just finished cooking rice, took a crust from the bottom of the pot, held it up in her hand and asked us if we would like to have it.
She threw it on to the ditch next to her quarters. Three of us rushed towards the ditch like hungry dogs and ate every scrap of it. A member of our group was the Chief Postmaster of Sibolga. It is not difficult to imagine to what we had been reduced to by our circumstances. Who would think that an evening would become memorable because the three of us had had a little more to eat!
A few days after my return from the torture sessions, I was surprised to see that an old Seacunny (Helmsman) from the Chilka and a few khalasis (seamen) were brought into the jail. They told me that Suak, under tremendous torture, had told the Japanese that they had talked of escaping to India. The Seacunny, an old man with many years experience at sea, talked too much.
He must have boasted to Suak about what a brilliant navigator he was and how he could navigate a boat to India. The two khalasis were present when he said it and perhaps, had backed him up. I was told that Suak once had some trouble with these people and he had seen the opportunity to take his revenge. I do not think that he was really quite as bad as that. I decided that God had wanted these men to suffer and Suak had been an instrument for the purpose.
When I saw them brought in, I told the poor fellows to speak the truth to the Japanese. At first they did not listen to me and it was only after a tremendous amount of physical punishment that they admitted to the Japanese that they had been boasting foolishly without any real intention of doing what they said.
After the comparatively free and easy life at Santiong, these men found it very difficult to settle down in jail. Later, I learned from them that the Japanese had been giving the men a great deal of freedom and they had been able to go to and from the camp whenever they pleased. The police guards had been removed completely. The men abused everyone who had ever worked on the tug. I found it very difficult to make these people understand that nothing could happen without the Will of God and that it was no use blaming human beings for the calamities that had befallen us.
It was not my fault that the khalasis had been jailed, but somehow they were convinced that I had a hand in it. As the days passed by, they abused and cursed me. They made my life a misery. Sometimes while I was praying, they would call to the Lord beseeching Him to strike me dead on the spot and send me straight to hell. At times I was tempted to return their abuses, but Allah gave me unlimited patience to bear their taunting. When the storm of cursing and weeping was over and they had wiped their tears, I talked to them and tried to make them understand that they must be patient until, with Allah’s will, we are set free. Their cursing, I knew, would not have any effect on me for my conscience was clear.
When I had been in jail on the previous occasion, the prisoners in our room had co-operated to keep a reasonable standard of living. But, at the present time, most of the young office clerks who had been taken prisoners at the same time as myself, had been released. A new group of men from a distant town were brought into our room. These men were farmers; not only were they dirty but the room was over crowded.
At night we had to lie flat on our backs, shoulder to shoulder. I was the only one left from the previous group. I found the new prisoners unpleasant and my own group were equally objectionable. To add to the general discomfort, the Batak farmers were infested with lice and bugs, which got into my clothing, my hair and my beard that had become fairly long.
I was beginning to look a sorry sight. I had given away my loongee (sarong) to someone whose pants had been torn and I now had only a shirt, trousers, one pair of under pants and my black Malayan cap. The leather belt which had helped me to keep my pants up had been taken away from me, and I had the greatest difficulty keeping them up all the time. The shirt had to serve me as a towel after a bath and after squeezing it out I had to put it on again. My body was covered with ringworm patches and to wear a wet shirt made things much worse, for the water helped to spread the disease.
I had mentioned earlier that a wooden pot was kept in our room to use when we answered the call of nature. We were now given orders that it should be cleaned as usual when the door opened in the morning and then kept in the sun all day. It was to be brought in again when the door was finally locked before sunset.
This was torture, as we found it very difficult not to answer the cal of nature during the day. We were taken out once at noon but, it was not enough. We started using the entrance to our room for this purpose. The authorities saw the room becoming dirtier and dirtier and could not have failed to notice the terrible stink. Perhaps, the other prisoners were dirtier so they did not bother to change the rule.
For about a week we were not taken out of the room at all except for the usual quick bath twice a day. For me this was a special form of torture in that never, not for one instant, could I be free of my colleagues from the Chilka, nor could 1 find a moment’s real peace to say my prayers.
Eventually, one blessed day, 15 of us were taken out for manual labour. With brooms, shovels and buckets we marched about a mile from the jail through the streets of Sibolga to the residence of the commanding officer of the military police. The house had been previously occupied by a Dutch officer, but since his departure nobody had taken care of it, and the garden was over grown and covered with wild grass and shrubs.
The Hei Hoe and the Indonesian policeman who had escorted us there were very sympathetic toward the Bataks, the dirty crowd of men in our room. Most of the heavy work, therefore, fell on a few of us like myself. Fortunately we were allowed to eat the fruit or tapioca that we came across while cleaning the garden. At one in the afternoon, two convicts brought us our usual lunch. To the immense joy of all, the cook in the house gave us some salt and chilies!
The cook was a Javanese lady who had married a Dutchman. After he had been interned she had served as a cook, assisted by another young Javanese, in many Japanese bungalows. Both of them were very kind to the four of us Indians, giving us salt and chilies to carry back to the jail. She even gave us a little chutney to take with us which we hid inside our caps! With the fresh air and the taste of salt in our food the days passed more quickly.
After a while the Bataks were removed from our jail and a new group of men were brought in. They consisted of Javanese, Ambonese and Minadoes, mostly ex-soldiers of the Dutch army. There was an old Eurasian road engineer amongst them. We became friends in a short time as he was a religious man. Although he practiced a different faith we had the same attitude towards our misfortune.
The new men, presumably still under suspicion, were not taken out for work. There were only four of us Indians who were taken to the garden every day. There was a small pool in the garden that we had been clearing in which the Japanese liked to bathe. The hydrant was not working and so one of our jobs was to fill this pool with water every day. The bungalow was on top of the hill and the stream from which we brought water was far below.
We had to carry buckets or tubs and draw water the whole day long so that the Japanese could have their bath in the evening. The job was very strenuous and all four of us had become very weak. We enjoyed it because it kept us away from the gloomy atmosphere of the jail and out in the fresh air and sunshine. There was the Javanese cook too, who fed us with rice and chutney, a welcome change from the rice, tapioca and boiled leaves that we were given for lunch at the jail. We ate that too, when we returned from our heavy work!
One day in August, while a Hei Hoe was taking us to work, a military police officer met us on the way and told him to take us back to the jail. We wondered what had happened and thought that we would be taken out the next day. But, when the next day came there was no sign of the Hei Ho That was the end of our outings. I was once again made a scapegoat for I was blamed for the end of our work in the garden. How I longed for the company of my dear friend, Abdul Karim. The khalasis told me he had been taken away to Boekit Tingi to work in a post office.
The month of Shabaan, eighth month in the Muslim calendar slowly drew to a close and as the last days dragged by, we thought of the approaching holy month of Ramadhan (month of fasting). Would we have the good fortune to be free by that time so that we could keep the fasts? The question was uppermost in our minds. There was nothing we could do except pray to the Almighty to help us fulfil our duty to Him.
A few days later, we asked the jailor if any arrangements would be made for fasting for us. He delighted us by saying that he would keep the meal that was to be served to us at 4 p.m. until it was time for us to break our fast. We rejoiced that we were at least being given facilities to perform such an important duty to God.
However, a few days before the Holy Month began, the three khalasis and I were removed to room No. 7. It was a very small room and had two occupants when we moved in — a Chinese merchant and a Minado soldier. Four convicts were brought in at night to sleep in the same room.
The convicts, murderers and thieves were distributed in all the rooms every night and taken out during the day for work. Some of them cooked the food and were responsible for feeding us. They took advantage of their position, feeding themselves well and giving us as little as possible. If we complained to the jailer nothing was done and the convicts took advantage of our situation. It was during this time that I experienced the lowest possible standard of living.
At last the Holy Month arrived and the first night meal served to us was a little better than usual. It consisted of the usual rice, boiled tapioca and leaves. There was, in addition, a little salt in it. A few chillies were found in the rice for a treat. It was a good start and gradually, we hoped, things would become better.
I spent most of the day in prayer and meditation, sleeping for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I spent a short while chatting to the Chinese merchant and the Minado to refresh my mind. Even in the month of Ramadhan, my countrymen had not stopped taunting me and I had to adopt a policy of complete silence towards them.
In the evening we got the usual handful of rice to break our fast and after that I prayed until 9 p.m. and slept till midnight. The rest of the night I spent in prayer and meditation. Having decided on a policy of silence, I now thought of nothing else but God. With every passing day I was convinced that there was nothing for me to worry about.
My Maker had brought me here, and only He could free me. My thoughts were concentrated on the Omnipotent and the Magnificent and 1 longed for the night and the infinite pleasure that I got from my prayers. In spite of my intention to keep silent, there were times when I felt I had to console my men who sobbed and wailed because they were unlucky to be inside a prison during Ramadhan.
Few people realise the blessings of God.The khalasis had no spiritual resource to draw from. At times, thanks to Allah, I was able to pacify their hearts and together we prayed that we would be released on Eid (the festival marking the end of fasting). Eid came and there was still no sign of our freedom. On the day when Muslims all over the world rejoice and thank Allah for His mercy on the successful completion of the month of fasting, we remained behind bars.
We ate a handful of rice with boiled leaves and tapioca and my three companions sobbed their hearts out. I was a mere human being just like any other and at that time I was a young man of twenty-one. If I did not weep with them, it was faith alone that sustained and cheered me.
What power and courage could I have had to bear alone the extreme pain and hardship that I was suffering? I was nothing, and could do nothing and would have collapsed from hunger and starvation if the Mighty Lord, the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, had not helped me. I might have written hundreds and hundreds of pages until I could write no more, but never could I give Him His due share of praise. To HIM I owe my life