‘THE JAM SAHEB’S OFFER WAS GOOD FOR EVERYBODY. JAMNAGAR WAS FAR FROM ANY POLITICAL CENTRE, SO IT WOULD NOT REMAIN IN FOCUS.’
JOURNEY TO INDIA
Josephine Salva learnt to sing in Gujarati; where Zbigniew Bartosz, aged 8, learnt how to be popular.
“The Maharaja visited our camp with his pockets full of toffees, which I was entrusted to distribute…. I have never had so many friends,” recalls Bartosz, now 74.
The Polish children met the Jam
Saheb’s children during festival days.
Says Hershad Kumari, the Jam Saheb’s eldest daughter: “We would meet them when we went to spend our summers in Balachadi from Jamnagar. They would also come over during my father’s and brother’s birthdays. When they arrived in Balachadi they were in bad shape due to malnutrition, disease, the arduous travel, but they slowly recovered.” The Jam Saheb told the children he was the father of the people of Nawanagar, so he was also their father. The children called him ‘Bapu’. On the days they were feeling cheeky, they called him ‘the Big Jam’ – but never, of course, to his face.
THE OTHER LIVES OF POLITICIANS We would go swimming and from the Balachadi beach look up at the Maharaja’s palace on the hill. JOSEPHINE NOWICKA SALVA returned to Balachadi 72 years after leaving it in 1946. She died a week after her visit. As I was growing up, father told me stories about jungles. Jamnagar seemed like Jungle Book... We got gifts from international organisations. Sometimes we were sent instruments we didn’t know how to play. The Maharaja brought teachers from the military band to teach us.
Polish children such as Gutowski, Stypula and Salva made their way from the USSR to Balachadi as World War II raged in Europe. Polish leaders in London began to persuade the British government to convince the Soviets to release the families of Polish soldiers and evacuate them to safer areas. [After Nazi Germany’s attack on the USSR in 1941, it joined the Allies.]
India, then a British colony, was suggested as a possible destination. But it was easier said than done. The evacuation of children of Polish soldiers forced to serve the Soviet Union would mean for the Soviets, a PR failure. Their children, once free, would carry tales of suffering and hardship. For the British government, it would be a huge financial inconvenience.
The book, Poles in India 1942-1948, based on archival documents, quotes an extract of a letter from the British Minister of State in Cairo to his Foreign Office in London in 1942: “…. Action must be taken to stop these people from leaving the USSR before we are ready to receive them (and then only at the rate we are able to receive and ship them away from the head of the Persian Gulf) however many die in consequence.”
It was at around this time that the JamSaheb stepped in. With his friends in other princely states, he raised ~600,000 between 1942-45 to build the Balachadi camp. The camp had more than 60 buildings, including a chapel, laundry rooms, a stage to hold Polish cultural programmes, a community centre to hold Saturday evening dances for growing adults, plus sports grounds.
As the head of a princely state in British India, the Jam Saheb had a measure of autonomy and he was going to use it. “The Jam Saheb’s offer for the kids was good for everybody. Jamnagar was far from any political centre,” says Polish ambassador to India Adam Burakowski on the sidelines of the event ‘Generation to Generations’, co-organised by the Polish embassy in Jamnagar recently. The other organiser
Every time the Maharaja (left, in black coat, at a production of ‘Cinderella’) visited the children’s camp for a programme, he donated ~1,001. The extra rupee, he explained, was a deposit for the next successful show.