Kohima is a quiet town. Quiet on the outside, but look closely, and everyone is screaming within, silently. The manifestations of anger here are many and suppressed. It shows itself in a villager’s dao or maybe in that soldier’s uniform or in as a little child playing in the alley and in those quiet eyes that stare at us from the dingy houses in the bylanes. The anger is all around us in a cry for independence and a daily struggle for survival.In the middle of this chaos stands the Kohima War Cemetery. It is a gruesome reminder of the battle in Kohima between the Allied forces and the Japanese during the Second World War. The graves of the soldiers of the Allied forces lie in rows next to each other with a simple stone plate to tell the tale of the boy who lies six feet under.I use the word ‘boy’ for a reason. The soldiers were no older than twenty-five. Most were much younger. Lives cut short by a pointless war in which all nations were destroyed in victory or defeat. As I walked past the epitaphs, one in particular caught my attention. As I read it, it felt like something within me was sinking and falling away, leaving behind a void. A void with a question. A 22-year-old soldier’s parents had inscribed on his headstone:
“Our Beloved Son, gave his life so that we may live,Someday we will understand.”
The question wasn’t whether that ‘someday’ ever came. The question is that even today in Kohima and so many other parts of the world, parents are still looking for ‘someday’. At that moment nothing matters- patriotism, politics, war, peace, independence, courage, victory, defeat…hollow words. All that mattered was that a boy had lost his life. I began to wonder what his last moment could have been like. That one last painful, painless moment. The pride of having fallen at war? Or the regret of a life unfinished? Could anyone ever know?My eyes welled-up for a stranger who lay there below the ground. Why? Because his reality was no different than mine. A cruel irony, as I stood by a soldier’s grave, a convoy of military trucks passed by on the road below. There were boys there too. A fragile boundary between the soldiers above the ground and those below it, even sixty-three years later. Sixty-three years after a boy’s parents wished to come to terms with his death, we are still struggling to come to terms with our lives.
Someday we will understand