Few people across the country would believe that the Second World War was fought on Indian soil too. But while the War Cemeteries in Kohima and Imphal have been attracting large number of visitors from Commonwealth countries whose soldiers had fought there, numerous literary works in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have also kept the war – that ended 70 years ago on this day – inseparable from the people.
“The Second World War had left a deep impact in the minds of people across the region. In Assam, a whole generation of writers, including Jnanpith award-winning Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, Syed Abdul Malik, Hem Barua, Jogesh Das had written interesting novels, short stories, poems and plays with the War as the backdrop. Among them Jogesh Das later got the Sahitya Akademi award for his book Dawor Aru Nai,” said Guwahat-based novelist and playwright Arun Sarma.
Sarma himself had written at least one short story related to the War, apart from referring to it in one of his several novels. “I was then a high school student. I knew a local boy who had found a temporary job in an army camp nearby. One day he took me there on his bicycle, and I spent the whole day there. I not only had lunch with the soldiers, but also came home with a bunch of chocolates, much to the envy of my friends and cousins,” Sarma, winner of both Sahitya Akademi and Sangit Natak Akademi awards, said.
Jnanpith-winner Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya, whose novel ‘Iyaruingam” is about the early years of the Naga movement in the backdrop of the just-concluded World War in the mid-1940s, also wrote several short stories about the war, the most significant being one titled “Agyat Japani Sainik” in which he wrote about a Japanese soldier who died in captivity. His yet another remarkable short story “Sei Ekhon Jagator Katha” reflected in a wonderful manner the conditions that the war had generated in the society.
Jyoti Prasad Agarwala’s “Lobhita” on the other hand is an outstanding play which juxtaposed two contemporary events, the Second World War and the Quit India movement, and unfolded the story of a woman who learns to face the changing world without fear and inhibitions.
Manipuri literature too has not lagged behind in capturing the World War, especially because Imphal, and for that matter the entire state was in the grip of war for more than a year. “RK Binodini’s series of short stories are particularly worth mentioning in this regard,” said Imphal Free Press editor Pradip Phanjoubam who had translated some of them into English.
“It was a time when the World War descended on Manipur, with the people not only witnessing bloddy battles in their villages and neighbourhoods, but also saw the sudden impact of materialism that had a huge impact on traditional values,” Phanjoubam said. Other authors who documented the War in Manipuri included Haobam Tomba, Sarangthem Bormani, E Nilakanta Singh and L Samarendra Singh, the last two known better for their poetry.
That the Second World War continue to remain inseparable from the minds of people across the region is however best proved by the fact that authors of the present generation – born decades after the War ended – too continue to write stories related to it. While ‘Mari’, an English novel by Easterine Kire of Nagaland has been a best-seller for several years now, Guwahati’s Siddhartha Sarma’s novel ‘Grasshopper’s Run’ had bagged the Bal Sahitya Akademi award in 2011.
While military historian Robert Lyman had applauded Easterine Kire for bringing to life for the first time “the authentic voice of the Naga people amidst the horror of the war that overwhelmed their mountaintop home in 1944”, one critic has said that Sarma’s Grasshopper’s Run “has the depth and punch of John Boyle’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but there are also several nods to Kipling’s Kim.”