Tucked away in a remote corner of Nagaland, 93-year-old Vezo Swuro narrated of times when he was closely associated with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at Chesechu village in Phek district,
The village is situated at a distance of 65 kms away from the capital Kohima.
Swuro was not part of Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), but served him when he and his guards had made camp for about two months near the village during the World War II skirmish known as the Battle of Kohima.
Swuro wearing an INA cap given to him by INA members recalled that he was just 16 years old when he first met Netaji.
He often used to bring meat, fruits, rice and other edibles for the freedom fighter.
“With neither group understanding the language of the other Bose had made it known to us that he wanted to eat chicken meat by making the sound of a hen. Everything else was communicated through sign language,” Swuro said.
“I served him as a guide and used to take him around the village and sometimes to the top of Suthoka Peak from where Bose used to survey the surrounding villages through his binoculars,” he said.
The Suthoka Peak was renamed as Netaji Peak after the great leader.
“Netaji sometimes climbed atop a tree for better view. He also witnessed the fighting between the Japanese and British troops in the Great Battle of Kohima,” Swuru said.
Swuru however, did not recall why and how Subhash Chandra Bose had arrived there with his INA followers or bodyguards mostly Bengali and Punjabis.
He only remembers that they came by the Jessami, Phek, Runguzu route and made Chesezu their camp.
Other interesting anecdotes which were narrated was how Netaji always gave the first bite of his meal to his Burmese cook before eating it.
Those who accompanied Netaji put up at the Inspection bungalow, while Netaji himself stayed at his camp known as Shophi Dzukhu now known as Netaji camp.
Swuro said Netaji had come on a horse accompanied by a large number of guards.
“Netaji was carrying a sword, two hand grenades and a pistol when he first entered our village a day after the Japanese troops arrived on April 4, 1944,” Swuro said.
Swuru also narrated the penultimate day when Netaji disappeared from the place.
He and his friends who had visited the place were asked to dig a pit with some equipment and while doing so British aircraft bombers flew low overhead with a deafening noise, twice.
The low flying aircraft which missed the camp by a few feet, did not scare Bose who maintained a deadpan expression.
“I felt so scared that I decided to return home to my village a few days later. That day the British troops came to the village and prepared to attack the camp,” said Swuru.
“The attack lasted for several hours at the camp. The next day when a few elders and I went to the camp it was empty,” he said.
They had discovered the bodies of two Bengali persons at the Inspection Bungalow, who they later buried.
Swuru said that at the camp everything had been burnt, could have been bombed, blood stains were found but the whereabouts of his Sahab was not known.
The villagers also discovered bodies of soldiers piled up near a pond located near the camp.
The villagers dared not go near because of a bomb like object spotted on top of the bodies.
The pond was abandoned and slowly the bodies got washed away by the rains and some bones and skulls later recovered near the river were burnt.
Another pond was also there which was exclusively used by the Netaji.
“Once when I was a bit older I went to Kohima and found a poster of Netaji being sold in a shop. I bought the poster and told the shopkeeper casually that I had met this man (sahab) who had resided near them for a couple of months, ” Swuro added.
Tour operator Kejaroko Pieru had organized a function to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji on January 23 which Swuro attended.
Pieru said that Nagaland’s association with the Netaji was a matter of pride.
“We are planning to preserve the ponds, camp site and the Netaji Peak and promote them as tourist spots,” Pieru said.