Kohima: Life and society
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Fighting Over a Tennis Court
Battles have been fought in some odd places: in sewers, on iced lakes, in factories, across impossibly high mountains… But a battle on a tennis court is surely unique? Other strange examples: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com The scrap in question took place in April 1944 at the bungalow at Kohima and was one of the most brutal of the Second World War, which is saying something. On the one side, Indian Army soldiers Ghurkas, Britons, of course, Indians and a sprinkling of Dominion men; on the other other, the long suffering warriors of the Japanese fifteenth army in its reckless but deadly earnest attack on the Raj. In retrospect the Japanese ambition to steal into Delhi was insane. In fact, the rush up from Burma in 1944 was the strategic equivalent of a banzai charge. However, that charge had to be stopped somewhere and it fell to a handful of Commonwealth troops at Kohima, under Slim’s watchful eye, to do that, even if they were outnumbered almost ten to one.
Kohima had a tennis court because it had an imperial bungalow, the home, in fact, of Deputy Commissioner Charles Pawsey in pre-war times. The idyllic Pawsey estate and the heavily jungled hillsides round about were to become the iron bar on which the Fifteenth Army would break its teeth and at the very centre of this rapidly prepared army-trap stood the playing area. The tennis court became, in fact, one of the most contested bits of real estate of the conflict and from April 9 it stood between the armies, the Japanese and Indian Army building trenches on either side. This British diary entry sums up the position well enough:
“The Japs… have got dug in under the concrete base of the tennis court. This is peculiarly situated on the top of a twelve-foot bank, so that tanks cannot get at it and grenades and flame flowers cannot reach it. Mortar bombs are ineffective and the troops are too thick on the ground for the mediums to have a crack.”
Grenades, mortars and even artillery were all brought to bear on this ‘peculiarly situated’ island and 13 and 17 April the Japanese came close to driving the Indian Army troops off the tennis court and the ridge where the wreck of the bungalow stood. The 17, in fact, is one of the great ‘what ifs’ of the war in the east as the Japanese had broken the Allied position in two, the bungalow was theirs, the tennis court had almost been taken: but they were too exhausted and reinforcements came up on the Commonwealth side in the morning. If there had been twenty fresh Japanese reserves on the evening of the seventeenth, if excellent British artillery had been knocked out… As it was those who served could boast at the end of the campaign that not a single Japanese soldier had got to the western side of the court alive.
It is a great pity that we have no photos of the tennis court from before the war or no accounts of drinking iced tea while Charles played Dorothy from 1938. (Or do we?!) It is, meanwhile, to the very great credit of those responsible for the site today that the lines of the tennis court have been retained, even if the tennis club house has been replaced by a memorial stone (top of steps).
Also one last thing that has always bothered this blogger. Lord Mountbatten a man who caused a great deal of trouble in his over active life once said that Kohima was ‘the British/Indian Thermopylae’. This, of course, in typical Mountbatten style, misses the essential point about Slim’s gamble there. The Spartans lost… The Dorsets, the West Kents, the Ghurkas, the Chindits, the 161 Indian Brigade and the other disparate Commonwealth forces carried off perhaps the most remarkable ‘British’ land victory of the war: aayi ghurkali!
Kohima, the Capital of Nagaland State, has lots of historical backgrounds. One of the most significant chapters in the history of this picturesque City is the British India Government occupying it and later becoming their battlefield fighting against the Japanese troops during the Second World War in 1944. After 69 years of this historic British-Japanese war fought in this region (Kohima-Imphal), it was finally adjudged as the “Greatest British Battle” ever fought on this planet.
The present “Old DC Bungalow” which has been already converted to “The Heritage Bungalow” in 2009 and used for the commercial purpose by maintaining Suits, Conference Halls, and other facilities since then. This is the bungalow where Sir Charles Pawsey, a British colonial administrator, served as the Deputy Commissioner of the then Naga Hills during the Burma campaigns of 1942 to 1944.
The part of this battle centered on Sir Pawsye’s bungalow was known as the Battle of the Tennis Court because this Tennis Court of him was there. Showing great bravery and loyalty to the local Naga people, Pawsey refused to leave Kohima during the siege by the Japanese that lasted from 5 April to 20 April 1944, and did what he could to bolster morale and support Colonel Richards the Garrison Commander. The Nagas remained completely loyal to him and by way of thanks their tribal leaders were introduced to Lord Mountbatten at Kohima in August 1944. The advancing Japanese troops could be halted by the British at this war by coordinating their troops from Imphal side. The present Raj Bhavan and Old DC Bungalow areas should be rather preserved and declared as War Memorial Sites and opened to visitors. The various war-related documents, artifacts and wreckages collected from in and around Kohima and adjoining villages should be displayed in such War Memorial Site. Such War Memorial Site with the interesting items, comments, write-ups, photographs, would be a pride of the Nagas and the future generations would know such important histories from such monuments.
We have many other locations, buildings, offices which have historical attachment over the years. The Kohima Local Ground, Old MLA Hostel, Old Secretariat, Old DC Office (already dismantled and already replaced by new one), Old Kohima Town Committee Office, Naga Hospital Kohima, etc..
The Kohima Village (Bara Basti) has its own history as the second largest Village in Asia. We should think of building a Museum in the Village with various historical records like artifacts, items and names of those who made significant contributions for the growth of Kohima, defenders of Kohima from external aggression in earlier days. It will definitely attract tourists, researchers, besides reminding the younger generations of their past forefathers and histories of the Angamis in the Kohima Village.
The evolution of Kohima: 1980s vs. 2013
The Times of Kewhira
‘Kewhira’ is a term used by the Angami and Tenyiemia people while referring to Kohima. The people of Kohima village are called Kewhimia and Kewhira simply means ‘the land where the Kewhimia people live’.
Vehicles 1992: New Market colony. In those days Aambassador cars used to ply as taxis between Kohima and Dimapur.
Cost of living 1980s: 2 kg of pork cost just Rs.120.
2013: Rs.120 cannot even fetch 1 kg of pork.
Rs.2 would bring 8 tamul pieces.
2013: Even Rs.10 cannot fetch 8 pieces of tamul.
School fee: Rs.60 per month. 2013: school fees can be anywhere between Rs.600 and Rs.1000 per month.
Radio: One work of wonder that never abandoned t youth was the radio. The radio was there right from the start. Some of these radios were abandoned by the Japanese soldiers during the Kohima battle of 1944.
Listening to the Angami dialect program at 6:05 pm in the evening was a regular part of the evening routine. And it was always a special treat whenever songs of Thekelie, Pfulhoutsü, Ruth Belho, the Jütakhrieko, the Living Quartet etc were aired in this Angami dialect program. Likewise, listening to the western music at 7:30 pm was also always a cherished moment.
Television. TV sets (Orson TV was a brand in the late 1980s) were purchased from Dimapur, as were VCPs (Video Cassette Player). With the arrival of the TV and the VCP, the radio took a backstage. There was only Doordarshan channel but that was enough. Watching the Hindi feature films on Saturday and Sunday evenings became an indispensable part of lives in Kohima. Moreover, the Chitrahaar which came every Wednesday and Friday at 8:10 pm was also never to be missed.
The VCP: renting video cassettes from the video libraries in Super Market also became a regular and much sought after activity, often with relatives and sometimes even people whom the hosts had never known in their entire lives would come with movie cassettes to view at their home.
Football 1986: Something happened faraway in Mexico and a name invaded football-loving Kohima. It was the FIFA world cup played in Mexico that year. By the time the world cup ended the name of Maradona was on the lips of everybody. This was the case with me even though Maradona did not shine much in the 1990 tournament.
Kohimaites would often hear about a football match that was played at the Kohima local ground. The match was played between the Nagaland team and the Mohan Bagan (the No. 1 football team in India at that time). It was an exhibition match and the Nagaland team was represented that day by the Nagaland Police team. Thousands of people thronged the Kohima local ground to witness the match and history was created when the Nagaland team defeated their illustrious rivals by a solitary goal.
Naga-style wrestling There would be wrestling tournaments at the Kohima local ground. It was the times when Kikrusolie and Khriesakhotuo Suokhrie were ruling the wrestling arena (in the Angami circle) and they were Angami heroes and idols.
Movies at video parlours In the 1980s and even in the 1990s, when one reached the junction below the Kohima north police station, one could easily notice and spot all the big colorful posters put up on the sides of the streets. These posters were movie posters put up to advertise the many movies that were being shown in the many video parlours run in Kohima town. The stretch of these video parlors started from right below the Kohima north police station through the heart of Kohima town up to the TCP gate. All kinds of movies including Hindi movies, Hollywood movies, Chinese martial art movies and the very undesirable X-Rated movies were available in plenty for viewing. Some video parlors were also stationed in places like the Tinpati junction, the high school junction and the BOC junction. The video parlors situated deep inside the Super market complex were notorious for showing the X-Rated pornographic movies from morning till late in the evening. These parlors were a hot den for criminals, drug addicts, school dropouts and rebellious teenagers and young adults.
During the 1986 FIFA world cup, many of these video parlors in Kohima did booming business by showing live matches to the soccer-crazy citizens of Kohima on payment. Since all the live matches used to come at night, youths used to go to the parlors deep in the night, book their tickets and enjoy the matches. Even though the matches were shown at night, the parlors were always packed to the full with no empty seats.
But with the advent of Cable television, personal computers and the internet, these video parlors made a slow but obvious exit from the face of Kohima town. Thankfully now, movie posters do not adorn the streets of Kohima town anymore.
In the 1980s, school children were often made to draw pictures on themes like ‘a rainy day’, ‘a picnic’, ‘A Day at the Super-Market’, ‘A railway station’, ‘An Airport’ and ‘Traffic Jam’. Whenever they were made to draw pictures on Traffic Jam, their teachers had to take a lot of time in explaining what a traffic jam was. This was so because during those early years, traffic jams were yet to be experienced by the citizens of Kohima. However now, all the school going kids witness one or the other form of traffic jam almost everyday.
Religion 1972: a historic event which took place in Kohima. This was the Billy Graham crusade which took place at the Kohima local ground in November 1972. The visit and the preaching of this world-renowned evangelist in Kohima is even in the 21st century an unforgettable episode and an inspiration for many.
Cinema There used to be a very popular cinema hall in Kohima town at the site of the new NST bus station. This cinema hall was called ‘Ruby’ cinema hall and all kinds of movies were screened here where hundreds of viewers turned up everyday to view. In the 1960s and 1970s, this Ruby cinema hall was probably one of the most happening places in the whole of Kohima. Even a bomb blast took place inside the hall during a film show which obviously resulted in casualties. However, even after the blast, the screening of movies in this hall continued for some more years before it was finally shut down. This Ruby cinema hall is long gone and now even the new NST bus station which was constructed at this site was, in the second decade of the 20th century, dismantled to build a car parking spot in its place.
Cable television invaded the homes of Kohima in the later part of 1991. With this new connection, doordarshan became the most boring thing in the world. With the cable connection, the entire world of television viewing got revolutionized and much more enriching and gratifying. It opened doors to worlds which had never been parts of Naga lives in the past. Some of the programs which became an instant hit with the viewers were Santa Barbara, Riviera, Baywatch, The Bold and the Beautiful, Donahue Show and a few others.
After the conquest of Naga homes by the cable TV, the next invasion was done by the Internet as more and more people with their own personal computers got connected to the Net. Consequently, cyber cafes started to adorn many nooks and corners of Kohima town. And as it stands now, Internet has now become a part and parcel of Naga lives with its many effects – both good and evil.
Eating out In the 1970s and 80s people would visit hotels having momo and chow in their menus. It was always a cherished moment to have a plate of momo or chow along with tea whenever such opportunity offered itself.
‘booze joints ‘ In the 1990s, the Keziekie colony of Kohima was famous for booze joints. Mr Khrietuonyil Noudi writes: But now, it is really relieving and gratifying to see that a big church called the Koinonia Baptist church had been constructed at this very site where booze joints once abounded. The manner in which this church came to be built at this very site is really a story of good triumphing over evil.
Nicknames of places Along with the passage of time, many of the words and names that were a regular feature of our vocabulary also got relegated. For instance, words like ‘Peracüzie’ and ‘Pezielietsie’. Peracüzie refers to the high school colony in present-day Kohima and likewise, Pezielietsie means the Tinpati junction in present Kohima. However, these names are hardly heard today and the upcoming generation would be totally alien to these terms and names.