It was during World War II. Famine, sickness, poverty and death – the horrors of war – spreading over the world, reached the small town in India, where I grew up. As if this was not enough there was an outbreak of that dreaded disease Bubonic Plague.
Bubonic Plague is caused by fleas infesting rats. From the rats they spread to humans. The germs enter the lymph system and lodge in the lymph glands. The infected lymph glands become inflamed and cause immense pain. Death occurs within two to three days. There is no cure. Prior inoculations and destruction of the rats by fumigating the houses and storage places frequented by rats were the only ways to control the plague.
Once the outbreak was suspected people left there homes and belongings and went away to other towns or to fields to dwell in makeshift homes till the danger was past. The panic was so great that they would abandon the dead and the sick at the hospital entrance and run away. My father was a Government official and had to stay in town to supervise the sanitary and other essential duties of the administration. Our family consisting of my father, mother, I and my three siblings, had to stay and experience the horrors of a plague ridden town.
It was like a ghost town. We were not allowed to leave the house. Schools, courts, most shops, banks and offices were closed. Only hospitals and essential services like post office, police stations were open. Deserted houses were fumigated and you could smell cyanide gas and carbolic acid everywhere. Hungry dogs howled during day and jackals serenaded at night. Crows, vultures and owls were the only birds you could see and hear.
From our window we could see thieves breaking into houses in broad daylight and stealing valuables. We saw the dead, wrapped in palm leaf mats with their feet sticking out, being carried by sanitary workers and buried in mass graves. And all the time we also heard the news about the war. The Japanese were advancing into the eastern provinces of India. There was bombing and shooting and people were dying by the thousands. It was our mother’s faith that preserved us through those traumatic days.
Every day she would read to us the 91st.psalm and explain it to us word by word. As she talked we would visualize those words and they became real.
“He will deliver thee from the fowler” – we remembered the thieves breaking into the houses……..
“No plague shall come near your dwelling place” – we remembered the corpses wrapped in palm leaves ……
“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night” - we remembered the jackals yodeling and owl hooting…..
“A thousand shall fall at thy side, but it shall not come nigh to thee” – we thought about the Japanese bombing and shooting in Bengal, East India and thousands dying…..
“Trust in Him, make Him your refuge – call upon Him and He will answer – He will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in thy ways – He shall cover thee with His wings and under His wings shalt thou trust.”
In those days I was too young to really understand those words. But through the years I have learned to trust in Him through all the terrors and trials of life. I have experienced the warmth of His feathers as I nestle under His wings and feel protected and cherished. God’s words were true to the psalmist as he wrote it thousands of years ago. It was true to a child during the outbreak of plague and it is true to me today as I pen these words.
This is a true story. I am a living witness to God’s promise in Psalm 91:16 – “with long life I will satisfy him/her and show him/her my salvation.”
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