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A knock on general Stilwell’s door

world Updated: Aug 26, 2011 00:44 IST
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I rattled the door of General Joseph W Stilwell until a sleepy Chinese woman let me inside the old ivy-covered villa edged into a hillside with a monorail slicing its top.

I was the only visitor standing in Stilwell’s military meeting room, peering at a large brown map on the wall of a jungle trail winding through the India-China border in 1944.

It was a few days before the Pentagon report, released this week, reported deep mistrust persisting between Asia’s largest nations and said China has deployed advanced nuclear capable missiles along its disputed border with India.

In this lane in Chongqing, it is hard to imagine another slice of shared history from not long ago.

Two desolate museums in Chongqing, China’s wartime capital during the Sino-Japanese war, are some of the last places in China to record the forgotten history of a border from where India once came to her neighbour’s rescue.

They also extol the ‘friendship’ between the Americans and Chinese, the world’s greatest rivals today.

The World War II jungle trail from Ledo in Assam ends in Kunming in China.

It was renamed after Stilwell, the American general who lived in this Chongqing villa, and commanded the allied forces in the China-Burma-India theatre.

I was the only visitor in Stilwell’s bedroom where he slept on a hard bed covered with a coarse green blanket.

A plank covered part of the open rotting floor.

The windows opened to an urban forest of cranes, towers and dozens of bridges in the world’s largest municipality where the locals no longer talk about India’s role in China’s nationalist history. Stilwell’s bedroom connects to his spartan office with a rusting typewriter and telephone.

I crossed the lane and climbed the stairs of the Flying Tigers museum. Every 75 seconds, a plane took off from India or China on a busy day,’’ said the captions under photographs of shark-faced planes flying the Hump route, the only Himalayan air route to buttress China’s resistance against the Japanese.

There were pictures of labourers in Assam building dirt tracks and carrying wounded soldiers.

I was not alone in the little museum.

The Chinese museum attendants lay sound asleep on chairs joined together in front of faded photographs hailing the heroes from the US and India.

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