As I drove from Kozhikode to Kottakkal last summer, my eyes suddenly spotted the word Kozhichena on a small signpost. Did it ring a bell? It did. Of my first and only visit more than 60 years ago, under strange circumstances. Of the Japanese threat and of our school’s long march to Kozhichena in my second year in high school.
Kozhichena’s claim to recognition lay in its being the training hub of the Malabar Special Police (MSP). The MSP was a para military force , set up by the British Raj soon after the Moplah Rebellion in 1921,to handle all forms of disorder in the Malabar region which then was part of the Madras Presidency. The MSP was specially trained in the brutal tactics of torture. Even we , the children, had heard of their skills of savagery. In the pre- independence period,MSP used their tactics indiscriminately on whoever fell into their hands, be they communists, communalists or congressmen.
Kozhichena was known for little else. ..Till, one day in 1942, an incident suddenly gave it a brief moment of heightened attention.
In 1942, British India was at war with Germany and Japan. With the national leaders in jail and the Japanese advancing rapidly in South East Asia, the country was in jitters. Burma had been overrun and the Japanese were planning to advance to Imphal in India. They had even occupied the Indian islands of Andamans and Nicobar. The press did not publish half the things they knew or heard and there was no way to check the veracity of stories that were spreading. There were rumours that the Japanese had even tried to drop a bomb on the East Coast off Calcutta. They could target a soft spot and create panic amongst the local population.
Even our school was not insulated from these anxieties.
One morning, at around 11 o clock, we heard the sudden roar of an airplane right above our school. It was an unfamiliar roar as Kottakkal was no where near the flight path of an airline. We rushed out of the classroom and one of the teachers spotted a plane fading into the distant eastern sky. Soon the roar came back , this time louder, and the plane was visible right above our football ground, a spacious stretch that was the pride of all Kottakkal. It dipped and flew lower as if they had mistaken our football ground for a makeshift airfield.
All teaching came to an end. Speculation started-whispers, fears, discussions on why Kottakkal , of all places, should be targeted by the Japanese !We were disturbed and soon alarmed by the news that came in at around, that the plane had been forced to land at Kozichena on the MSP’s parade ground.
Now we knew, or thought we knew, what they were targeting. It was not Kottakkal , it was Kozhichena!
Nearly four and a half centuries ago, the Portugese, the first western invaders had landed at Kozhikode. (Calicut). Here now are the Japs trying to land at Kozhichena!
The two ‘Kozhis’ had nothing in common except that they were located in South Malabar.
The news of the landing was the signal we were waitng for. For the long march to Kozhichena. The school was closed and all, students, teachers and staff started off, united by a common sense of anxiety and excitement. After all, most of us had seen neither an airplane nor a Japanese. We walked barefoot a good four kilometres through narrow winding lanes, broken occasionally by lush green paddy fields- a shortcut that reduced the distance by two kilometres. Discussing what all this amounted to. The MSP, for once, appeared as our saviours and its face suddenly looked human.
As we approached Kozhichena and the MSP parade ground, excitement mounted. One of the senior teachers had the courage to walk into the MSP Superintendent’s office and congratulate him. He came out quickly pointing to a crowd at the far end of the ground blocking the view of the plane.We walked again and pierced the ring that formed around the plane. We were ready to rush into an airplane!
What did we see ? Nothing more than huge disappointment written across faces around a decrepit small plane. It was not the plane we had imagined! There were hardly any seats, it had a damaged wing. We were told that it was nothing but a training aircraft!
Where were the Japanese? We guessed they had been removed to the hospital. We would probably have walked to the hospital if one of the policemen had not broken the story. It was a trainer and his trainee and they were not grounded by the MSP but had forcelanded because of some technical hitch. To add to our disappointment, the Japanese we hoped to see turned out to be Indians and, one a Malayalee and were being treated for minor bruises.
We did not stay long. It was past 4.30 P M and the sun was going down fast. It would take us another two hours to get home. Anxious mothers would be waiting for us. Many of them may not have even got to know about our long march.
This was the biggest non- event in my school life in Kottakkal. But the huge disappointment remained. My legs were aching, more so as we had failed to see a regular passenger plane and the face of a Japanese.
The thought of walking another four kilometres was agonising.
As one of the youngest and probably softest students in that group, I could hardly hold back my tears. I tried to look brave. As I walked back to Kottakkal, I comforted myself with the thought that , on return , my mother would massage my aching legs and put me to sleep with a story , not of the Japanese or the British but of our own warriors from the tales of Mahabharata and Ramayana.