Besides bad food, heat and boredom, what William Ma remembers about the Deoli concentration camp is the parrots.
Ma was just eight when his family was rounded up from West Bengal along with 3,000 other Chinese Indians and transported by train to a former POW camp in Rajasthan. The 1962 war between India and China had just ended, and they were to be imprisoned in the camp for five years.
The parrots used to flock to neem trees in Deoli, and Ma remembers thinking: “Even the parrots have more freedom than us.”
William’s grandfather worked in the tea gardens of Hasimara in West Bengal, and cleared the forest during World War II to build an air force base that is still in operation. His father was born there and later moved to Kalimpong where William’s mother’s side of the family was involved in the Tibet trade.
There was no school in camp, so William and his brother Lynden were taught by their father, who made them memorise the Oxford English Dictionary. Another boyhood memory of William’s is the camp loudspeaker playing the sad Bollywood song Bees Saal Baad over and over again, as if to send the message that the inmates had no future.