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The lady who survived British cannons during WW-II

Moirangthem Khabi Devi explained she could live so long because of the bond of love that she shared with her children, grandchildren, and great children over the years

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Imphal: Sitting on her little reed mat, she felt relaxed yet fatigued. Her frail eyes sang stories with sad endings. Indeed, life hasn’t been easy for her. Moirangthem Khabi Devi explained she could live so long because of the bond of love that she shared with her children, grandchildren, and great children over the years and which also helped her exorcise the horrifying memories. 

It was somewhere in the middle of April 1944, that the retreating forces of the 17th British Columns of the British Imperial Army were stationed at a defensive position at Bishnupur, along the Tiddim Road. By the time, a combined force of the 33rd Japanese Divisions and Bahadur Intelligence Group of Netaji Subhas Chandra-led Indian National Army attacked the British forces pushing them further towards Imphal. 

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The retreating forces destroyed all the standing crops, hundreds of houses were burnt to ashes and thousands of villagers, especially at Moirang, Thamnapokpi, Ngangkha Leikai, Naransena and other nearby villages were forced to flee to save their lives. Many took shelter at their relative’s houses and hundreds dug pits at the bank of Loktak lake to protect themselves from the unrelenting bombing and firing.

It was one fine evening that had changed and shattered her life forever. Cannon fire from the British troops from Bishnupur fell on their pit killing four members of her family. Her father Khwairakpam Thouranisabi, brothers – Girani,  Inaobi and Haoba died on the spot. Girani was her elder blood brother and Inaobi and Haoba were younger brothers from the second mother – Yumsangbi. A lone girl in the family, Khabi Devi, 17 by then, was seriously injured on her stomach but her mother luckily escaped unhurt. 

Their entire village was devastated.  Khabi and her surviving folks had nowhere to run and hide. She can’t remember much after the incident. Later, she was shifted to Sendra by fellow villagers on a boat where she was treated by Japanese doctors, who came at night.

 They continued to visit her and her family for a few days to enquire about her injuries and health. The villagers provided rice and some vegetables in return to the Japanese soldiers. Many of them were provided local cloth to wear to avoid the British soldiers and the prying eyes of local informants.

The Japanese soldiers were very kind and generous to the villagers whenever they requested them for something, but very brutal if something happening in the surrounding localities made them feel insecure, Khabi Devi remembering those dreadful days, narrated her story to The North East Affairs

Many youths disappeared, probably killed by the Japanese soldiers, while they were stationed at Moirang. Some of the Japanese soldiers who were very notorious and terrorized the villagers were also killed by the locals, she disclosed.

When she returned home to Thamnapokpi, the war was almost over. Time would heal all the wounds but her fears and the horrors of deaths in the family still haunt Khabi. War doesn’t bring anything except deaths and destruction. What’s all this war for, she asks. 

As she continues the last leg of her journey of life, Moirangthem Khabi Devi, now at 95, doesn’t want to recall those fateful episodes. As they say, life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away, what Khabi wants is to enjoy the last moments of her life with her loved ones, not with those painful memories.

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