After staying for more than ten long years in Arunachal Pradesh, I had shifted to Guwahati in 2021. I was trying to cope up with the new atmosphere. One evening, I met a young assistant professor of history Dr Raktim Patar who was teaching at a college in Upper Assam. This meeting proved to be a boon for me. During our discourse on different historical issues, he narrated one heart-touching experience of a remote village of Nagaland. "Sunil ji," he asked me, "Do you know, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had stayed for nine days and nine nights in a remote village named Ruzazho in Phek district of Nagaland, during 1944?" Writing here candidly, I could clearly notice emotions emerging from the professor's heart and tears gathering around his eyes while he was revealing his ground zero experiences of Ruzazho. From his mobile phone, he even showed me some pictures and videos of the village he himself had taken while visiting the memorial home where Netaji had stayed. It was no less a thriller while listening Dr Patar narrating how through tremendous ordeal of a difficult terrain in Northeast India that Netaji was leading INA.
I had spent three years in Cuttack for my my graduation, the city where Netaji was born and had to spend his school years. Nevertheless, Netaji had always been a source of tremendous inspiration since our college days. For us, the students of Ravenshaw college, Cuttack, it was no doubt an endless motivation that Netaji had studied from Ravenshaw Collegiate school. But here in Northeast, Dr Raktim Patar's description of the tribulations that Netaji had to go through, aroused lots of enthusiasm within me. I was thinking intensely to visit the village which was supposed to be my lifetime incentive.
Where There is a Will:
Days went on and on. On a significant day in September 2021, fortunately, I met with a gentleman at a seminar in Guwahati which was organised to discuss about the unsung freedom fighters from Purvottar Bharat. He was Er. Vekho Swuro, a soft-spoken gentleman, incidentally, from the same village Ruzazho. Vekho Swuro was describing how his father, now 102 years old, had been chosen by Netaji Subhash Bose to lead INA activities of that area. Also in the meeting, elderly Ullas Kulkarni ji, no less a guardian figure to me, was present. Seeing great passion within us, Vekho Swuro invited both of us to visit his village. Ulhas ji and myself promised him to visit Ruzazho during coming Durga Puja break which he gladly accepted.
The Journey to Ruzazho:
On 12th October 2021, the 6th day of Navaratri, Ulhas ji and myself took the morning Janshatabdi Express to reach Dimapur and the next day, with a local respectable person Benjamin we travelled to Ruzazho. The whole journey of five hours was quite interesting. The beautiful mountains, green forests and sometimes, the melodious streams, all gave the same feel of my earlier Arunachal Pradesh days. The busy capital city Kohima on the mountains was a captivating scene with different cement-concrete forms within the green ups and downs. A unique sound of insects within otherwise lonely mountains reminded me exactly of the same sound I had heard from a movie "Nani Teri Morni" made at the backdrop of Nagaland by director Akashaditya Lama. It was about 5 kms before reaching Ruzazho, under the pine trees, Vekho Swuro and his small team of young males and females had gathered to welcome us. One smiling pretty sister Ata was leading her team to welcome us with traditional handwoven cotton mufflers of Chakhesang tribe. A wooden platform had been raised over which we all sat upon and enjoyed hot coffee that these villagers had prepared for us. We could see our dream village Ruzazho from distance within mountains and valleys with golden sunshine scattered all around. "Netaji had stayed in this village that you people are seeing now," that was how Vekho introduced us to his glorious village. It took another twenty minutes to drive into Ruzazho. The Swuro family had gathered to welcome us. We enjoyed our palatable lunch from out of vegetables like bambooshoot, potato, tomato, fern grass, banana plant, pumpkins, soyabean and local rice etc which was tasty enough with touch of tradition. We took little rest.
Netaji and Azad Hind Fauj at Ruzazho:
In the afternoon, we met Vekho Swuro's father, the 102-year-old Shri Poswuyi Swuro ji, the much awaited living man of legend. Poswuyi Swuro was born in 1919 into an affluent family of 11 members. In 1940, for his school he had to walk to kohiya which was seven kilometres away. This unforgettable discussion with Poswuyi ji was led by Ulhas ji. I had carefully suppressed my emotions while eagerly listening to this great man who had spent some golden days of his successful life with Netaji. The senior Swuro was keenly explaining experiences in his own language while the younger Swuro was translating that into English.
"When the terrible World War II was announced, all schools were closed," said Swuro. That was when he suddenly had to return back home without completing studies. However, he had the privilege of meeting Netaji during "Delhi Chalo" campaign in April 1944. Poswuyi continued to open one chapter after another on the Azad Hind Fauj (INA) from his memory lane simultaneously increasing my anxieties. "When I met Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the INA and Japanese soldiers had come to our village Ruzazho. As Netaji arrived on a horse back, a sword was hanging around his waist. Recalling the great icon he said, "In fact, Netaji was a more handsome, brighter and stronger personality than any of his available portrait today. When locals gathered around, Netaji asked everyone if there was any educated person in this village. All the villagers took my name and said that I (Poswuyi) was the only one who had passed Class three."
"The next morning Netaji appointed me as DB. I was entrusted with the responsibility of administration of the area. My elder brother Vesuyi Swuro was a soldier in the Assam Regiment. He was also appointed as a translator by Netaji as he had come home on a six-month leave. Along with this, he gave responsibilities to Gaon Burahs of ten different villages for performing the role of village heads whose main duty was to organise a public meeting. Everyone in the surrounding villages was informed that Netaji, INA and his fellow Japanese soldiers had been camping in Ruzazho for nine days. We took care of the arrangements to provide them with rations which included rice, vegetables, salt and maize. These were provided free of cost by the villagers. In those times, even our homes did not have enough food to give to our children," narrated Poswuyi, was the saga of great sacrifice and patriotism on behalf of the people of Northeast India.
"None of the villagers, however, would ever complain while donating food items free of cost, even though their economic condition was not good enough. In addition, most of the villagers were mobilised as porters. Their job was to supply rations, arms and ammunition to various destinations of INA. They were risking their own lives while fulfilling responsibilities. Apart from this, they used to do varieties of works like digging soil and setting up camps on hills, making raw materials available and many such things," Swuro ji summed up.
"As per Netaji's order, I as DB, had to frequently visit nearby villages to collect rations for Azad Hind Fauj. The ration collected was stored at a local place called Vuta Choku or Japan Wobu Ku. Popularly named as Japan Pig Stock Centre, from where various INA and Japanese soldiers were provided with rations," explained Swuro ji.
Both the brothers Poswuyi and Vesuyi were leading the INA and Japanese army from the front. "Once we received reports of the presence of a large number of British troops while marching towards Zunheboto on such a mission. We had no other options left, but to wait at night at Satakha which was 50 kilometres from Ruzazho and eventually, we were forced to return back to the base camp. On our way back, the British troops tracked and attacked us near the village of Dzulhami killing three Japanese soldiers and a Naga soldier on the spot, the rest of us returned back safely saving our precious lives," Poswuyi's eyes welled up in tears as he recalled.
What was most heartening was when Poswuyi explained in his tearful eyes, "At the end of nine days before bidding adieu Ruzazho, Netaji told the villagers in his last speech that after winning the war against the British, he would come back to this village again and make arrangements for the construction of school, hospital, while facilitating road development work and drinking water connections through pipes. These things are still remembered by the villagers through oral stories."
A little quieter, taking a deep breath, Poswuyi continued, "Alas ! Netaji did not return, his dream of rural development remaining unfulfilled. And still, some innocent villagers believe that one day Netaji will definitely return back to Ruzazho." His throat was suffocating while uttering these words. In fact, Poswuyi's memory was very touching.
The Evening at Netaji Memorial House:
The ever youngman in spirit Shri Poswuyi ji had so much to offer us - memory, history, inspiration and dream. But we could not be merciless to him. We took leave from him and walked around the village with Vekho turning a perfect guide to us. We went to the historic place where Netaji had addressed the villagers for the first time. We met with two more villagers who had assisted INA, still alive and still energetic, especially while recalling their hero Subhash. We walked further into the village and in the middle of the traditional houses, the memorial house where Netaji had stayed for nine days and nine nights was there. This was a traditional house of Naga design having the thatched roofs meeting at top of the triangle and the base of this triangle was obviously the base of the house - quite beautiful a structure.
Our great host Vekho led us into the memorial house. We saw many old and extremely big rice storage baskets made out of bamboo, the kitchen where food was prepared for Netaji and the cot on which Netaji was resting upon. It was truly a great feeling to see those things related to Netaji. A tremendous vibration of unique kind was to be felt inside. I took a little soil of the house and put it on my forehead. That was a spontaneous tribute to the Great Hero.
The whole village of youth, women, children and even the old, had gathered in front of Netaji memorial house for the special cultural program. About hundreds of young male and female participated in a beautiful traditional war dance wearing traditional attire with swords in their hand. The mesmerizing sound they were uttering was truly unique, never heard before. The women of Ruzazho performed a unique traditional song cum dance 'Lozū li' which they used to sing while weaving their traditional garments in different phases, from making thread out of raw cotton to making garment from thread. That was really so lovely a way of working, relaxing and upholding their great cultural legacy at the same time.
The Unforgettable Night:
After the end of the obstinately superior cultural programs, we sat around the kitchen fire while the villagers were relaxing with their mugfull ricebear 'Hezo' which was part of tribal custom. We had some pleasant gossips and exchange of jokes with the villagers. I realised as if these villagers are born with two natural gifts of life - smile and innocence. I felt as if Netaji himself was somewhere around. In the rainy months of April 1944, he would have been busy strategising with INA commanders around this same kitchen fire, as it used to be cold over such mountains, even in April. While immersing within thoughts, I had a surprising idea trespassing into my mind. I asked Vekho, "Can I spend tonight inside this memorial house?" He was quite surprised, but did not hurt my urge. He discussed with his fellow villagers. The villagers looked at me with suprise. One old lady told me, "We believe Netaji's soul still stays inside this house. If your soul leaves your body to join Netaji's soul, that will be a tragedy for everyone." I assured them, "I'll not depart so soon for sure as I have miles to go." They all returned me a painful smile. Finally, adorable Vekho gave the green signal, but with a condition - "One village braveman would accompany you as a guard to provide security if at all anything untoward might happen." I agreed.
A bed was spreaded over the cot and a heavy quilt given to provide me warmth which I badly needed during that remarkable winter night over the mountain village. A brave villager with rifle was chosen to stay, few metres away from my bed.
All the villagers left the house wishing me good night. Ulhas ji was to stay at Swuro's home. The lights were off. I was drunk with the spirit and memories of the great patriot Subhash. It was truly a heavy night which hardly approach. I recalled that was the 7th night, 'Mahasaptami' of the auspicious Sharadiya Navaratri, known as 'Kalratri', dedicated to Maa Kalratri. Goddess Kalratri is considered to be the one who rescues from troubles.
It was the same bed which had given space to Netaji in 1944. I thought it's better to have as much deep meditation as I could. To my expectations, it was truly a superb experience while fixing mind with the Supreme while sitting on the bed. I remember I was awake till 1:00 a.m. midnight and then I slept, but at about 2:30 a.m. I got up from sleep shouting, as I saw a terrific dream. The village man nearby too got up and asked me, "Sir, what happened? Are you okay?" I realised instantly that I had shouted. I told him, "It is okay, nothing to worry." And then, I had a very, very sound sleep through out.
In the morning, at about 5:30 a.m. I got up and opened the door. I found some villagers had already gathered to see whether I was still alive and okay. They were very happy to find me okay. They all cheered and congratulated me for my night stay at the memorial house.
We had a morning breakfast with the village Council members. I told them I had an extremely memorable experience in my life journey from Cuttack, Odisha, where Netaji was born, upto Ruzazho, Nagaland, where Netaji fought war with British. Ruzazho would be a forever inspiring memory for the rest of my life. Ulhas ji and myself offered 'prananam' to Shri Poswuyi Swuro ji - the greatman of inspiration who was still adoring and following Netaji's footprints. Finally, we bade adieu to the lovely, kind hearted and innocent villagers of Ruzazho. The village girl Ata, an excellent host and her team were standing in the middle of the villagers to bid us a final farewell. All of their hands were still waving until the curve of the next mountain appeared.
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