The Boy and the Biscuit
Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

Biscuits as ration to the British soldiers WWII

Wordwar II British Biscuits Ration

Veeraswamy Krishnaraj

 June 5, 2016

Incident date Early 1940s

There was a boy in a small village nestling by the highway going north and south, east of India. He knew no other village or town besides his at that age. The Dalit quarters were close to the highway. The upper caste people had their houses way off the highway. There were two temples, one dedicated to Draupadi and another to Siva, Parvati and their children. There was a pond nearby, where the buffaloes cooled off and the Dalit children splashed and romped. The upper caste mothers did not allow their children to play in the murky waters of the pond with the buffaloes and the Dalit children.  

Military trucks and white soldiers in camouflage plied along the highway going south (Early 1940s). The children lined up by the highway taking in the sight standing in the cool shade of Tamarind trees. The soldiers were throwing biscuits to the children from the speeding trucks. The Dalit children and the upper caste children never saw biscuits before. The Dalit children picked up the biscuits and ate. The upper caste children did not pick up the biscuits because their parents told them not to pick and eat off dirt floors.  The drumbeats were rumbling at a distance coming from the Dalit quarters. There was a death in the quarters and the drumbeats marked the occasion. The story told by the children was that a Dalit fell off the coconut tree while picking the fruits and died. The caravan of army trucks drew the children away from the funeral procession. A few days later, another drumbeat procession took place. The story was a Dalit couple were getting married. Raman saw the processions in the past at the edge of the Dalit quarters, unbeknownst to his parents. Later in years, Raman found out his parents were egalitarian in their belief. His father exemplified this belief by selling his cultivable land to a Dalit and refusing to withdraw the offer when an upper caste man offered a higher price.

Raman walked off the side of the highway and asked his mother to make biscuits for him. She quickly made some. That was the beginning and the end of savoring the biscuit for Raman until he went abroad for pediatric training. 

Yes, that Raman was me.

More on my childhood

Later in years, the boy went to the adjacent village where his mother was born. She was one among the five siblings, the youngest among the girls 4th down the line but older than the boy. Maternal grandpa was a stickler to a routine shave from a village barber once a week. He had his own shaving knife. I saw the barber shave his hairy hands up to the lower third of the arms and the pubic area.

There were two humongous trees in the huge backyard: A peepal tree and a tamarind tree. During the spring season, the tamarind tree sprouted tender leaves, flowers, and pods delightfully and mildly sour. We gorged ourselves on them. Once I had sores (impetigo and ecthyma) on my hands and feet. My mother took the fall leaves of the peepal tree, ground them up with cooking oil and applied the herbal mixture on the sores for days. Yes, they healed. I have the marks on my legs as the sores (Ecthyma) were deep and left scars.

After late dinner and under dusk and early night, the adults and the children assembled under the open sky in the moonlight, roasted peanuts on the open flame and ate them. That was the time stories about relatives and from Itihāsas (Ramayana and Mahabharata) were told and retold by adults to the children, and parallels were drawn with current events among people and places in the villages, towns, and the country. Those days, no current incident went without reference to the Great Hindu Epics.


Villagers had homemade firecrackers for Dīpāvaḷi (Festival of lights). The next-door neighbor’s boy older than me decided to make his own firecrackers. One of the ingredients was charcoal. He brought some chunks of charcoal to make them into powder.

The charcoal chunks were placed in the cavity of the mortar. A wooden pole served the purpose of a pestle. The older boy pounded the charcoal and I was asked to gather the errant flying bits and put them into the cavity. As I did it, he rammed the pole into the cavity and my finger. My right middle finger terminal phalanx was smashed and bled. Adults were called for help. One adult brought a dollop of cow dung and applied it as a coolant and treatment. Later, the adult cut a cavity in a lime and capped it on my finger. Yes, it healed with a transverse scar at the terminal one-third of my right middle finger. The nail is intact. I wonder now as a pediatrician how I did not contract tetanus and a bacterial infection. Maybe I had subclinical infection with tetanus and developed immunity. I never had immunization against common diseases during my childhood or during my medical school days. We as medical students went to see patients in the Diphtheria Ward. No one gave us vaccinations. It appears we had subclinical infections and developed immunity against diphtheria. When I was in the USA as an Attending pediatrician in a hospital, we were tested for immunity against measles, rubella, hepatitis A and B…  I was immune for all, though I never had immunizations. That goes to tell, I was immunized against these diseases by subclinical infections during my childhood.

I had yellow jaundice as a child. I was visiting my aunt. The village medicine man (this time, a woman) came and gave me ground leaves as internal medicine. The jaundice cleared up. No complications. I have immunity against Hepatitis-A.

The same boy, who rammed my finger in the firecracker fiasco, as a teenager smoked cigarettes. I was shirtless in the village at that time. He seared my abdominal wall with the lit cigarette.  It healed and left me a scar which over years disappeared. He was a relative on my maternal grandpa’s side. His family was rich by local standards.

I met the boy, then an adult decades later. We exchanged knowing glances but no words transpired between us.

I was in the higher secondary school in a town. A monkey used to come to the backyard of our house belonging to my maternal uncle and sat on the Spanish tiles of the house next door. The Margosa tree was on our property. It was midday. I had nothing else to do. I took a stick, and flailed it in all directions before the monkey on the roof. It bared its teeth. I should have stopped my antics. It was a contest between me and the monkey: Who will blink first? The monkey won’t quit and I kept flailing the stick. It saw a threat and jumped on me, bit me on the finger and took off. My parents took me to the doctor. He gave me a shot. What it was, I did not know then or now. It healed. That was the last time I saw that monkey.