It was summer time again after the explosive holi (‘A Theft that Averted a Riot’) of a few months ago. We did not have electric fans because there was no electricity. Those were the days when electricity was scarce and only rich people with influence in the right places could get electric connections. Common people used kerosene oil lanterns. In the aftermath of the just concluded World War II kerosene oil was scarce too and mustard oil lamps, although they provided weak illumination, had to be used. The unbearable heat made sleeping indoors impossible. There was no pollution to speak of, the forest cover had not been completely destroyed yet, and the rains usually came on schedule. The nights outdoors therefore were not too unpleasant and everyone preferred sleeping under the starry sky.
Ours was a two-storey house built around a courtyard which opened at the terrace. Its opening was covered with an iron grill. We lived on the first floor and slept on the terrace at night. My mother, a pious lady, observed fast and watch a religious movie every Tuesday. One Tuesday my mother and the three sisters went for the night show. The three men of the house, my father, elder brother and I went up to the terrace to sleep. Late at night, my brother got up to go down for a glass of water and was surprised to see an orange light through the courtyard. He told my father who opened the door to go down the stairs but the flames leapt up at him. Father wrapped himself up in a bedsheet and prepared to go through the flames.
My brother and I, while playing only the previous evening, had discovered that the iron grill covering the courtyard could be easily moved. He told father who moved the grill and leapt, much to my amazement. He landed on the ground floor which was free of fire. It was our floor which was burning.
Water was in short supply in Khandwa even seventy years ago. Water was supplied twice a day for short durations. We always kept a few buckets full of water on ground floor. Father threw water from ground floor to first floor and put out the fire. Mother and sisters returned home well after midnight and were aghast to see the devastation wreaked by the fire. All seven members of the family got to the task of putting out the smouldering and salvage what was left. We were still at it when the sun rose.
It is a miracle that my father landed on his feet and there was not even a scratch on his body. The thirty-foot leap only broke his spectacles. I marvel at the courage my father displayed. I doubt if I can do it.