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Review: Road of Bones

books Updated: Feb 24, 2012 20:03 IST

Ishan Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times
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Road of Bones

Fergal Keane

Harper Press

Rs 499 pp 550

Proper nouns such Palashi, Alamo, Somme, El Alamein and Stalingrad form the many checkposts of history. These places take on a quality that is more than just a location in which a major battle was lost and won. They became sites where history swivelled and was made to turn. In the case of World War 2 history, Kohima, the capital of modern Nagaland, is such a proper noun that when tapped, provides us with the forgotten story of “empires colliding in a world where high imperialism was already an anachronism, and where defeat might have profoundly altered the story of the end of the British Raj”. In this book, award-winning journalist Fergal Keane brings to life the pain, drama, courage and importance of a small band of British-Indian troops defending the remote village of Kohima in 1944 from soldiers of the 31st Infantry Division of Japan’s Imperial Army.

The hard-won victory not only ended the Japanese march eastwards from Burma into India, but also marked a turning point in its militaristic designs. Keane details the two-week siege in March 1944, providing illuminating pictures of soldiers and their leaders in the theatre of war. In this, he swivels his viewfinder to capture British, Japanese and Indian narratives. Keane has done to ‘forgotten’ Kohima, what Anthony Beevor had done to Stalingrad.

The siege of Kohima is also an important chapter in Indian history. As Keane points out, “The battle was fought on the territory of a tribal people loyal to the Raj, but whose fate is one of the most haunting strands of this narrative.”

Ishan Chaudhuri is a Kolkata-based writer