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Transit tales

Viswema,a village in Nagaland’s Kohima district,has its own stories—of World War II,weary Japanese trudging through,and the NSCN(IM) and its leader Th Muivah....

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Viswema (kohima) | Published: May 16, 2010 10:05:43 pm

The red tin roofs in Viswema tell a story. This village,tucked away in the Naga Hills,20 km south of Kohima,was a transit point for Japanese troops on their way to Kohima during World War II. After the Allied Army defeated them in the famous Battle of Kohima,the Japanese,worn-out and deflated,took the same route back.

“After the war ended,the British supplied us these tin roofs. Only the wooden motif on the roof is ours,the rest is British,” says K.N. Pusa,82,a retired state government employee who has always lived in Viswema.

The village may have been unlucky for the Japanese but Viswema,one of the south Nagaland villages with a predominant population of Angami tribes,is now considered lucky for anyone wanting to launch a new project or programme.

So last week,Naga rebel leader and general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland,IM faction (NSCN(IM)),Thuingaleng Muivah,drove in to Viswema,from where he was to start his much-hyped journey to Somdal,his ancestral village in Manipur. It’s another matter that the Manipur government denied him permission to go to Somdal and he is still waiting in Viswema. But that’s not enough to dent Viswema’s lucky charm.

“This is an ancient village. We do not know when our forefathers founded Viswema. But oral history tells us that our ancestors first settled up at Kipizwu,some two km west of our village. As the population increased,they came down here,” says R. Ketsore Mekro,chairman of the Viswema Village Council.

Viswema,says Mekro,means betterment of people. “It is an Angami word,” he says,adding that the Angamis,who live in Viswema and the southern part of Nagaland around Kohima,are some of the biggest names of the hill state—A.Z. Phizo,founder of the Naga movement,former chief minister Vizol and present chief minister Neiphiu Rio.

Muivah may not be an Angami (he is a Tangkhul from Manipur) but it was here,at Viswema,way back in 1964,that he was first appointed general secretary of the Naga National Council headed by Phizo.

Speaking at a public reception that the Viswema Village Council hosted for Muivah last week,he said,“This is my first visit to Viswema after that historic day in 1964. Since then,I have not looked back and have never lacked in sincerity in taking forward Phizo’s movement for a sovereign Nagalim.”

But not many people in Viswema owe their allegiance to the NSCN(IM). “I don’t think there are more than 10-15 persons from our village in the NSCN,” says Mekro. “We have more people in the civil services—the IAS and IPS and the state civil and police services. Many of the women in our village are serving as senior officers with the state government,” he says. “And sports too. Our boys have represented the state in Santosh Trophy and other football tournaments and one of them,Holse Khrieo,has represented India twice in sepak takraw (kick volleyball).”

But it’s Viswema’s World War stories that get everyone talking. “I remember the Japanese arrived here on April 4,1944. They came on foot,heavily armed,marched through our village during the night and reached Kohima at around 4 a.m.,” recalls Pusa. “After their defeat,while they were retreating,the Japanese stayed for about seven days in our village. We had all fled to the jungles,” he says.

The bombs dropped on Viswema and a couple of villagers were killed in those air raids. “I remember seeing Japanese soldiers in torn uniforms moving away after their defeat. They left this village almost naked,” he says.

“I was then about 12 years old. We ran through the jungles as the Japanese marched through our village. I think they wanted to go down to Jorhat and then Guwahati. We spent three nights in the jungle and then took shelter at Zakhama,the next village,” says Savil Kikhe,78,pastor of the village church.

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