It was an uneventful Monday morning of August 6, 1945. At about 7am, the Japanese’s early warning radar had detected the approach of some American aircraft, headed for the southern part of Japan. What the Japanese saw was no big threat. Little did they realize that the three aircrafts were on a secret mission, and they were carrying the atomic bombs! The 393rd Bombardment Squadron B-29 Enola Gay piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, together with two other B29s, had left North Field airbase on Tinian in the West Pacific. The flight had taken about six hours. Major Charles W. Sweeney was on the second B29 carrying instrumentation – the Great Artiste. A third aircraft, later named Necessary Evil, was commanded by Captain George Marquardt. The squadron was heading southward.

At 08:15 (Hiroshima time), “Little Boy” was dropped from a height of 600 metres. Weighing 60 kilogrammes, the bomb took only 57 seconds to reach its target, and by now news about a blast equivalent to about 13 kilotonnes of TNT, shocked the world. Hiroshima was hit! The atomic bomb sent Japan into a state of shock. Infrastructure damage was estimated at 90 percent of Hiroshima's buildings being either damaged or completely destroyed. Over 92,000 Japanese were killed instantly. "Practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death," Japanese radio announcers said in a broadcast captured by Allied sources.

            Three days later, on August 9, President Harry Truman of the United States warned Japan to withdraw its army from South East Asia.

The warning was stern. However, a defiant Japan refused to surrender. On August 9, an even larger bomb known as the “Fat Man” was dropped over the city of Nagasaki – this time, killing some 40,000 Japanese civilians. A day after, on August 10, 1945, Manchuria which had earlier fallen into the hands of the Japanese, was annexed by the Soviet Union. Things were moving fast in favour of the Allies.

            By now, the Japanese government was deliberating over the decision – to surrender or not to surrender. To the Japanese, practising the Bushidō way of life, surrender was a big disgrace. They rather die than to surrender. Hara Kiri was the traditional Japanese form of honorable suicide, which was largely practiced by the Japanese feudal warrior class in order to avoid falling into enemy hands. It was a tough decision for the Japanese Government to surrender to the Allies.

            Finally, the breakthrough came on August 15, 1945 when Emperor Hirohito himself made the solemn announcement that his government was surrendering. The Imperial Rescript on Surrender was read over the airwaves, where Emperor Hirohito attributed Japan’s defeat to the nuclear attacks on its two major cities. His address highlighted that “the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage". However, this part of his surrender message was censored when the Allies occupied Japan after the war.

World War II had finally come to a close when Japan was forced to surrender. As in any wars, in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the overwhelming majority of the dead were civilians. In Malaya, the civilians were not spared of torture and death. John Kuruvilla, then a bachelor, was among those whom God had spared throughout the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, but many of his friends and people he knew became victims of Japanese brutality.




A New Era


As soon as the war ended, efforts were made to revive the economy of the country which had been devastated by the war. Where once rubber was the main export commodity, the war had slowed down its production; synthetic rubber was fast replacing the natural rubber as a good substitute.

By September 1945, Malaya had returned to the British Military Administration (BMA). They continued to govern the country until the situation returned to normal, before the civil government took over in April 1946. In an attempt to win back confidence of the local people, the BMA provided compensation suffered during the Japanese Occupation. John Kuruvilla received his compensation of a few hundred dollars for goods lost and damaged during the war.


I did not know what to expect, but there was no harm for us to submit our applications anyway. While many people were submitting higher claims, I only submitted what was lost during the time when we were trying to escape from the invading Japanese army. Looters had taken advantage of our absence and they broke into the house to steal. Surprisingly, the BMA approved the compensation and paid me for what I had reported as stolen or damaged.”


            As a young man, John Kuruvilla’s generosity had always motivated him to reach out to those who had a need. With M$100 that he had, John Kuruvilla gave M$10 each to his friends and relatives to pay for their transport back to their estate, where they were supposed to return to their original work. John Kuruvilla, however, chose not to return, because he saw a window of opportunity opening up for him to venture into several businesses with friends, but a lack of experience and understanding of the nature of business caused the businesses to fail. At one point, with his friend, an agriculture officer in Sungai Petani, whom he only remembers by the first name, Mahmood, they ventured across the border into Thailand to sell some food items, but when the business became unprofitable, they had to quit.  At another juncture, they tried to supply rice into the villages. It had, however, never crossed their mind that they were running foul with the authorities, because rice was a controlled item. The business flopped.

Like the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, it is the tough that get going,” John Kuruvilla soldiered on. The failures had not discouraged him to pursue a right business. Before long, on Nov 11, 1946, Kedah Medical Hall was set up at No 4 Jalan Ibrahim, located in the centre of Sungai Petani. It occupied a 2-storey shop very close to the famous Sungai Petani town clock. John Kuruvilla was always well dressed in mostly long sleeved shirts and he was responsible for running the business. It was also a family store. Friends used to drop by for coffee and snacks, which John Kuruvilla would order from his neighbours. There was a popular corner shop three shoplots away which sold Hainanese food. It was his favourite, so he used to call their bee hoon (vermicelli) dish the “No 1 Shop Fried Bee Hoon”. His other favourite dishes were the Ma Brown Cantonese style koay teow and the char keow tiaw at Bright Hotel.

There was one worker to help out in John Kuruvilla’s pharmacy. Zainol was a family friend, shop assistant and even the family chauffer. He was a very helpful person. However, he left to set up his own business, while another worker replaced him. Zainal remains a close family friend till today.

The shop was rented from Meyyappa Chettiar of Penang. Although the rent was controlled at M$81.25 a month, there was a goodwill or ‘tea money’ of M$4000 to be paid. The money was raised through the sale of his house in Bedong for M$5000 and some rubber he had bought with Japanese currency of M$100,000. The rubber sheets fetched slightly over M$500 when it was sold.

The pharmacy was a partnership between John Kuruvilla and two other partners, Mammen John and C.A. Panicker, who each took up a share worth M$4000, while P.N. Pillai (father of local activist, Chandra Muzaffar) contributed M$2000 to the capital. For the next 10 years, the pharmacy – the first in the State of Kedah – was highly profitable. Many people, including 65-year-old Professor Dr. Ismail Rejab of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, who grew up in Sungai Petani, still remembers Kedah Medical Hall for what it used to be the biggest pharmacy in town.

John Kuruvilla was a contemporary of former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. When Kedah Medical Hall was set up in 1946, Dr. Mahathir was continuing his studies in the Singapore Medical College. After graduation, he worked with the Government before he finally set up his own private practice in 1957. In his early years, he also started a pharmacy and named it, MICO, an acronym which meant Malays, Indians, Chinese and Others.

John Kuruvilla was a business associate, a friend and a political supporter of Dr. Mahathir. In his later years, Datuk K. John Kuruvilla writes about Dr. Mahathir:


“He was a very nice man. On weekends, he would go to Penang, but on his way back from Penang, where he could have bought the medicines himself, he would come by the Kedah Medical Hall and buy his medicine from me. He was also a very good paymaster who made sure that he paid everything cash. Sometimes, Dr. Mahathir would ask me to count the money myself and take it.

“Later on, when he became Prime Minister, I would still visit him during Hari Raya Haji or Hari Raya Puasa at his house in Alor Star. Whenever he saw me, he would call me by name.”


            (On one particular year, when Datuk John Kuruvilla visited Tun Dr. Mahathir during the Hari Raya celebration, he was too afraid to say anything. “I had to be very careful how I would talk to him. I do not want to be misconstrued,” he points out).






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