Footprints of the past | Milaap

Footprints of the past

Around 12kms south from Imphal (the capital city of Manipur), a sleepy village possessed one of the important memories of World War II. In 1944, on a small hillock, a dramatic battle took place between the Japanese Army along with the Indian National Army against the British Army. This small hillock is named as Red Hill concerning the bloody event it has witnessed. Many have lost lives and others their loved ones. War stories are unlikely to have non-melancholic episodes. Also at the same time, not denying the persistent pain of aftermath, the unjustifiable pain of physical and emotional wounds.

Fig: Red Hill, once a battlefield-now just a memory

I was standing at a battlefield of World War II in the 21st century and I would not be exaggerating to admit the fact that I could sense eeriness in the wind. Maybe it was the connotation of the space as a battlefield, or maybe it still holds the faded footprints of those echoes and laments. I might never know. I might never find out how fierce was the battle, or how scared were those boys. I might not even be able to relate emotionally to the significance of this place, although I can liberate myself of the battle through the pages of a history book. However, I would not deny that being at this place was more than just an individual who was looking for a story. It was of experiencing the experience of being on a battlefield, the experience of standing at the past in the present. There were still half-burnt candles on the stairs lighted by the tourist on their visits, and I wondered how many half-fulfilled dreams were buried under this earth.

Fig: To honour the brave soldiers who laid out their life for the sake of their country, Government of India and Japan came together to build ‘India Peace Memorial’ in 1994.

Fig: Inscriptions on the walls

After spending a thought-burdened time in the Red Hill, I entered India Peace Memorial which was located on the west side of the Red Hill and the first person I encountered was the keeper of the memorial. Chaoba told me how since 1994 he has been maintaining a chronicle of visitor list. He has been officially appointed by the government to look after the memorial. Meanwhile, he has not received his salary of 18 months. He admitted that without any confrontation. He showed me the recent register. I noticed the number of Japanese visitors was higher in May, which made sense. I wondered how they feel when they come to a foreign land to pay tribute to their loved ones. I do not have an answer either to how will I endure to know that my past has some traumatic connection in a foreign land.


Fig: A register that holds the name of people who visits to take solace in the past 

Fig: Chaoba told me that the three rocks denote the position of three countries during the war 

While reading through the stone inscription of 1944, I witnessed the fading layers of the rock. I anticipated and dreaded my radical thoughts on fading memories. I thought of how long will this place be remembered, or how far their tales of bravery be retold, or how often a kid in Japan will have a bucket-list of visiting Red Hill to touch the earth where her great-grandfather lost his life while saving many lives or to breathe the air that once her father felt.

Fig: Imphal Peace Museum, preserving of remnants of violence and display of Manipuri culture

My last stop was the newly inaugurated Imphal Peace Museum. I walked towards the museum whilst trying to unburden myself of the melancholia. I noticed that the museum was a great initiative and lots of thought has been put into it, I would say. The most emotional rush of the museum was to glance into the names of the people who have lost their lives in that eventful but unfortunate battle. I wanted to touch their names which were grandly inscribed on intriguing bamboo nameplates, but I couldn't. I guess I would never know why. Like any other museum, it has remnants of their lives, a few broken glasses which they might have used for reading, a few broken pens that might have written letters to their loved ones, a few shattered utensils that might have fed them, a few tattered uniforms that belonged to a son-or a brother-or a father-or a friend, a few worthless bullets that once transformed them into weapons.