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Comrade lives Phizo’s dream

Kohima, Feb. 18: Sebi Dolie is an old man. His hair has turned silver and skin wrinkled and his hand shakes a bit as he arches to cut wood with a saw.

Yet, there is something about him that speaks of strength. The man who rues his failing memory, clearly remembers his reasons not to participate in this election, which he calls an illusion.

In fact, it is hard for him to forget, for he was in charge of the life of Angami Zapu Phizo, the founder of the Naga sovereignty movement, as his bodyguard.

Now at Khonoma village, the birthplace of Phizo, 18km from Kohima, the man initially refuses to speak, embarrassed by his failing sensory organs, which were once his pride.

A bit lost in the mist of memories of his life’s 86 years, he began, “Phizo was a man of extraordinary optimism. He would just never give up. And he instilled that optimism in us.”

His enthusiasm slowly rising, the man continued with the story of his leader.

He said his association with Phizo began following his return from Burma after meeting Subhas Chandra Bose, who encouraged him with his idea of a sovereign Naga state. From Burma, Phizo returned to Khonoma village and started the first movement for Naga sovereignty.

“We travelled all across Nagaland to spread the campaign,” he said.

In a wave of fading memory, he was amused by a sweet one. For Khonoma village, he said, wrestling is the most popular sport and Phizo would always win.

“The leader always said wrestling was not just about techniques. It is all about will power,” Dolie recalled.

He does not like to talk much about himself. However, when asked if there was any incident when he saved Phizo from a near death situation, he detailed the system he had planned to hide his leader.

He said they made good use of buffalo horns as a communication device.

“In those times there were two groups of people seeking Phizo. One was the Indian army — to capture him — and two, the Ahoms — to seek advice. For each, a separate tune was played on the horn. And this way, Phizo was always safe,” he said.

The recollection about the Ahoms, that could trigger a storm among historians, was, however, vague. He was unable to recollect if there was any contact between any Ahom group and Phizo.

“In 1952, two men from Assam came to Phizo to seek advice. Phizo had told them not to join the Naga movement as it was not their battle. The Ahoms had agreed to be a part of India,” he said.

He also said another Assamese man had settled down in Kohima at that time to teach in the first high school run by Nagas.

But the man’s smiles and enthusiasm transformed into a melancholic blank stare when it was mentioned that the Naga movement has now split into different strands.

“I feel very sad because Phizo wanted us to be united. We had all taken an oath to fight together and struggle for a collective future,” he said.

He then revealed his reason for refusing to talk initially.

“I feel shy now to talk about the Naga movement to outsiders,” he said.

He said it also disturbs him to recall how the Indian army treated them.

“In war we kill each other but the Indian army had skinned people alive even in Khonoma,” he said.

The warrior, though, has not given up. “I will never vote, no party flag will flutter above my house. This is my pledge and I will keep it till my last breath,” he said.

The point to ponder was if he felt left out as everyone around, including his children, were participating in the elections.

The man said everyone, including the politicians, nurture sentiments for Naga sovereignty in them.

He said the elections are only a phase and shall pass like an illusion. “People can be killed and buried but ideas live on. I shall never surrender.”