When you go home
tell them of us
and say for your tomorrow
we gave our today
Inscription on the war memorial of the 2nd Division at the Kohima War Cemetery
The Battle of Kohima was called the "Stalingrad of the East", so vital was it that the British wrest the land back from the Japanese who had conquered it. The Japanese had already overrun Singapore; had closed down the Burma Road, thus isolating China; and now having conquered Burma had forced the British and the British Indian armies westwards. It was imperative that the Japanese be forced back.
Yet, this battle finds little mention in the annals of war history. Let alone the world at large, even in India, people have little knowledge about this momentous event. The author, Easterine Kire, has done a laudable job in bringing a forgotten fact to life. Mari is the story of a young girl whose happy life is jeopardized as she turns seventeen. Living in the lap of nature with her loving family, Aviu's life changes in her seventeenth year when a British soldier, Victor, falls in love with her and proposes marriage. However, before they can take the vows, the Japanese offensive begins and Victor is forced to go to the front. In fact, Kohima becomes the front even as Mari (as Victor calls Aviu lovingly) and her family migrate towards other villages. The only person not to leave the village is Mari's mother who decides to stay back and look after her aged parents who refuse to leave their birth-place. Scattered in all directions, staying at times in make-shift refugee camps and even jungles (with tigers prowling by!), Mari's family undergoes the hardships associated with the war.Sick with fear about the fate of Victor, Mari also discovers that she is carrying Victor's child. When the battle ends, Mari is no longer the callow, innocent girl of yore but a woman who has faced some of life's blackest moments. Yet, life has more tests in store for her...
Based on the life of the author's aunt, Mari is a forgotten story told in a simple way:
For Mari and the others of her generations, WW II and the Japanese invasion of our lands was the most momentous period of their lives. Everything happened at the same time. Growing up, falling in love, war, homelessness, separation, death and parting and, finally, peace. All my oral narrators told me this about the war: 'It altered our lives completely' (viii).
There were certain things that surprised me immensely. One is the respect shown to a woman's decision. An unwed girl's pregnancy would lead to havoc and bloodshed in many parts of India, yet Mari's family is supportive of her decision. There were some questions too that I wanted to ask. Did the issue of racism never raise its ugly head as White men fell in love with Mari? Did no one in Kohima support the Japanese against the British who were the colonial masters of India at that time? Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had after all launched a millitary offensive against the British in India with the help of the Japanese. How was it living in Ludhiana (part of the Punjab that had been butchered during partition) in the 1950s? And what about that appalling decision that allowed Reverend Supplee to re-open the school after the war but did not allow the traders to open their shop? The plea (if it can be called that!) was that the traders had left Kohima during the war but then Rev. Supplee had left with his family even before that. As usual, there are different laws for the white and the black men.
Opening Lines: Kohima. It is dusk now.
Author: Easterine Kire
Publication Details: ND: Harper Collins, 2010
First Published: 2010
Pages: xiii + 171
Submitted for the Guilty Readings Challenge.
I am aiming for a guilt free year. This book was lent to me by a friend who praised it immensely. I showed an immediate interest in it since I am interested in the history of forgotten events. Yet this book remained on my shelves for months and every time I'd see the friend I would hope desperately that she not mention the book.
Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 books in 52 weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, Outdo Yourself, 2013 Women, Historical Fiction, Let Me Count the Ways, New Authors.
Also submitted for the Literature and War Readalong.