Centre of GRAVEity

THERE’S ONE good thing about being a cemetery. You can always be grave.

There are disadvantages too, such as having to remain silent.

Silence, you might say, is golden. I say it’s deathly, if not deadly. So I, Kohima War Cemetery, have decided to break it.

If you follow a racket game, you’d know what battling it out on a tennis court means. I was more of a practice ground; few would dare to take on a deputy commissioner on his official court.

They did fight it out on me in 1944, but it was a completely different ballgame – the battle to recapture Kohima from Japanese invaders. Victory came three months later, at the cost of my sporting spirit.

I thought they would heal my wounds – the cavities that bullets and mortar shells had left behind. They filled them up with epitaphs instead, of 1,420 soldiers who “gave our today for your tomorrow”. A playground thus courted death to be tennis elbowed out by a cemetery.

Frankly, I never imagined I would hold all the aces after the makeover. I can’t thank the Japanese enough for making me Kohima’s most prominent landmark, a tourist destination.

I am not sure if a cemetery is an ideal advertisement for tourism. Why not, you might argue. Death, after all, has ruled Nagaland for decades since World War II. And if the guns took a break from felling enemies, they were bringing down brothers. Maybe, that’s what they mean by having one foot in the grave.

But I have seldom lost sleep because of firearms. They haven’t been half as deafening as the vehicles honking by my periphery. I guess one has to pay a price for being parked at one of the noisiest and most congested T-points on earth.

The highway that skirts me is numbered 39. I am told the chaos in my vicinity is nowhere near to what happens as the highway snakes southward. Beyond a certain point, my commonwealth cousin in Imphal loves saying, Mao-sam hamesha morbid raheta hai.

Forgive the meandering… I tend to be too emotional sometimes. This happens when you display the dead on your terraced surface. Most of those who lie buried symbolically were not top brass, but they sport a brass top.

Now brass is a fairly expensive metal, and the brass-plate epitaphs often keep vanishing. This, I believe, is minor offence in a place where law and order is shared by parallel governments and getting down to brass tacks is a case of passing the buck. And a cemetery can only do what it does best – remain silent.

But things are not as gloomy as you think. The languid solemnity I exude is somewhat compensated by the liveliness a few paces away. For, bang on the T-point across my tapering end is a café that strives to shape dreams of a New Nagaland. And opposite my entrance is an outlet of musical instruments, one of many underscoring the musical road the frontier state has taken to counter frustration-induced rebellion.

Music – I have learnt to think beyond dirge – is being pushed as an occupation that will ensure a decent living for the youth so they won’t have to worry where the next meal would come from.

When you think of meal in Nagaland, you think of pork. You can get it from a couple of slaughterhouses on the other side of the highway kissing my northern edge that takes you to Dimapur 74 km away.

I know it isn’t ideal to sign off with porcine casualties. But then, it’s a cemetery’s job to deal with death, the only guarantee in your life.

(This is an autobiography of Kohima War Cemetery, Nagaland, India)


About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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