Book Title: And He Opened the Window
Author: Binapani Thokchom
Translated from Manipuri by the Author
Some newly trained doctors appeared one after another in the Meitei community. They were Dr. Ningthoujam Leiren, Dr. Laishram Kriti, Dr. Bheigo Singh, Dr. Lamabam Kamal and Dr. Tonsana.
Dr. Leiren and Dr. Gobardhon were very good friends, they had a lot of respect and regard for each other. Dr. Leiren had a cousin sister called Tampakleima, she was known for her beauty and she had very long hair. Dr. Leiren proposed marriage of his sister to Dr. Gobardhon. He accepted the proposal. As a customary rule at that time, Dr. Gobardhon gave a sum of Rs. Fifty to the bride’s family and tied the nuptial knot Dr. Leiren with Tampakleima.
Dr. Leiren was given a posting in the hill district of Manipur but he rejected the government’s order because he thought the order was a punishment meted towards him. And as a consequence, he was terminated from his job. After that event, Dr. Leiren started a school caIIed, “Public High School”. Simultaneously he also started a newspaper publishing house caIIed, “Yakairol” and became the editor in chief of the newspaper. Now his profession was diverted completely.
After serving three years in Kakching, Dr. Gobardhon was transferred to Ukhrul. The British political agents were much concerned about the health and welfare of the hill people. By this time, Christianity was spreading throughout the hill districts of Manipur. Many Christian missionaries came and converted many Tangkhul villages to Christianity. The tribal people gave up their ancient culture and religion, but celebrated the traditional festivals. Numerous churches had been constructed at various places in the hills and the sound of church bell ringing could be heard in the meadows and streams of Manipur.
Dr. Gobardhon went to Ukhrul with thirty porters given to him by the state government. He took his two horses along with him as he preferred riding than sitting and being carried on the bamboo palanquin. The roads were new, vulnerable and stiff. There were high hills on the right side and the left side with terribly deep gorges. The sounds of wild running streams could be heard hauntingly. They were a team and the goal of the team was to reach the next Parou (local guest house) before nightfall. It was a well coordinated effort and a lot of hard work and determination to reach the desired Parou for the day. The Parou is a little rest house organized by hill chieftains of the given area. Even at the Parou, it was always surrounded by dense forest. It would be an understatement to call it the sound of wilderness for at this time the place was pitch dark and very unpredictable. The howling of jackals and the roaring of tigers could be heard at night. There could be any wild beast hiding somewhere in the thick tall crammed bamboo groves. The chief of the village served the doctor. Considering the nature of people in the hills, it was more of courtesy than obligation to welcome and serve any guest or high government official. For the first time, the cold drinking water served by the chief was denied by the doctor. The doctor said that he accepted only boiled water and also advised the tribal to make a habit of drinking boiled water. He also showed pictures of germs contained in the water; he told them that the germs were so small that they could not be seen with the naked eye. He then showed them· the microscope and made them see with their own eyes the germs in the water. The tribal were now convinced with what the doctor had said. Then the next day he continued his journey to his final destination.
Travelling from one Parou to another was about a distance of fifteen to twenty kilometres. The journey was volatile; the hill tracks were new, sneaky and susceptible. The team wanted to avoid the night trip, so the porters kept their pace as fast as they could and made their steps with a rhythmic voice,
“Hoi hoi, hoi, hoi …” literally no meaning but just to match the footsteps. The sound would get louder and louder as their pace speed increased. They could hear the sounds of rocks and hill soil falling down to the wild and fast running stream. It was a sound of danger and risk they were taking with their own lives. As darkness fell, the horses would stop and begin to neigh.
After those painstaking and unpredictable journeys, Dr. Gobardhon’s wife Tampakleima refused to accompany him in hill areas. So Gobardhon’s elder sister Leima proposed his engagement to another woman from Uripok locality named Paonam Bhagyapati Devi. He married her as his second wife. The new woman, Bhagyapati was a very polite, courteous and obedient lady. She came from a poor family but she regarded her husband to be as good as god. Dr. Gobardhon stayed with his second wife for five years in Ukhrul. The hill people considered Dr. Gobardhon as their own father and they lived like one big family. The tribals fetched water for the doctor and his family from the streams that ran below the hill. The practice of excommunication and purification of Meitei Hindus, the British colonial policy of divide and rule, the acceptance of the narrow theory of ethnic exclusiveness etc. had created a schism between valley people and hill tribes. But Dr. Gobardhon was a different person; he had no issue about drinking and eating things that the tribal touched or prepared. He also started attending church every Sunday with local men. He even bought a bible and started reading it. He believed that Jesus Christ is the son of God, sent to save human beings from evils. Even Bhagavat Geeta says God is in different form, and God incarnates in various ways for different people. Dr. Gobardhon attentively listened to the gospels of the Bible.
“Jesus left the crown of Heaven,
Discarded his throne as a king,
Descended to Bethlehem in a horse stable.
The Almighty came to earth”
Jesus brought with him the timeless
Essence and value of life …
To free humans from the prison of sins
And evil but eventually he was crowned with thorns.
He gave up his life for the people he loved
The foxes have their caves,
The birds rest in nest in the trees
But the son of God had no home,
He spent his life in the vast empty grounds
Of Galilee till his last breath.
-From Holy Bible
Each and every Christian in the hill area knew that Dr. Gobardhon was a Hindu by religion but non-Hindu tribal people loved him very much. Dr. Gobardhon always treated the hill people like his own brother and sisters. There was a philanthropic nature toward hill people in Dr. Gobardhon’s character and invisible strings of human love bound them. He was never treated as an outsider by the hill people. On the other hand, he never forgot to read “Shri Shrimad Bhagavat Geeta” as he was a true believer in the teachings of the Geeta.
“Niranjano Nirakaro Vaktanang Pratikamada”
(God is existing in infinite forms; there is no definite form of God)
Tamenglong was the worst posting of Dr. Gobardhon’s life. There was not a single person to help him, no proper means of transportation and communication. One compounder came. But he neither read nor wrote properly and above all, he was extremely disobedient.
He would wash syringe in cold water or sometimes warm water for which Dr. Gobardhon seriously warned him not to repeat the act. When composing medicines, he was careless of the ingredients amounts, consequently there was a quarrel. Gopal deceived the doctor by giving unclean bottle to put enzyme solution. Dr. Gobardhon chided him,
“Why do you do so? So you are liar. Did your parents teach you to lie?”
Instantly the compounder hurled the bottle towards him and it hit the doctor. “You should not have thrown the bottle. Come out at the open! Let us have a real fight!”
Gopal subsided. Dr. Gobardhon filed a case regarding the incident. Both of them were summoned to the Cheirap court. There were three of them including Hijam Irabot. According to the verdict of the court, Gopal spent three months behind the bars.
Just after the court hour, the Maharaja enquired,
“Doctorl Did you chide him by mentioning his parents’ name?”
“Yes, Your HighnessI” There was a pin drop silence in the room and Darbar members smiled and said,
“He is an honest manI”
After the first great Nupilal, Dr. Gobardhon was posted at Churachandpur. Government orderlies were not there for the purpose. He had selected some relatives from Ninghtoukhong. He went along with them to Churachandpur.
As the wave of World War was spreading and so also the Indian independence movement, there was unrest in Manipuri society as well as in India as a whole. Many countries were against the supremacy of the mighty British Empire. Germany, Austria and Hungary were deadly against the mighty power of Britain; Russia and France also joined the hatred club. It resulted into the First World War. All the nations hated British colonial rule. The same hatred prevailed among the Manipuris whose independence had lost to the British. The British took advantage of the internal conflict between the half-brothers of the Manipuri royal family. People’s movement against the British colonial rule arose in many parts of India and that’ was known as “Quit India Movement”. The Indian people staged their agitations like non co-operation, civil disobedience and the then Simon Commission of British government was rejected. And slogans were raised,
“Go back, SimonI”
All of a sudden, there was widespread news among the Manipuris that some Manipuri troops were to be sent to help the British in the First World War. The news worried each and everyone; and the Maharaja announced orders to his troops to be ready for the German war. Everybody, except the king and his nobles, was against such a command. Dr. Gobardhon was also summoned to serve as a war doctor. At that time, he was paid Rs.85 as his monthly salary. Dr. Gobardhon had been following the orders of the king but for the first time in his career he refused the order. As per the summons of His Highness, he came to the royal office and gave a presentation justifying his refusal of the order. King Churachand Maharaj was influenced by, associated with and attached to-the British policies since the age of 5. When he came back to Manipur after finishing his education at Ajmer, he became almost one of them. The British appreciated him and bestowed a title. The Jalianwala Bagh massacre was shocking news and spread like a wild fire throughout the country. It reached Manipur also, but none could open their mouths against the British as they were holding the highest authority and the Maharaja of Manipur was their puppet king. On 4 December 1917, His Highness was bestowed C.B.E. (Commander of British Empire), in recognition of his services in connection with the Great War which broke out in Europe. On the 1st January 1918, he was promoted to the hereditary title of Maharaja. The Viceroy and the Governor-General, Lord Chelmsford, issued a sanad dated 1 January 1918. It read:
“I hereby confer upon Your Highness the title of Maharaja as a hereditary distinction for your services in connection with her War.”
Dr. Gobardhon bowed to the king and he took a seat and sat in complete silence and also for the first time he felt anger deeply against the Phirangies (Britishers); he felt tortured and humiliated by the foreigners. He only wanted to serve his own nation and not Phirangies’ colonial attitude. He remembered how the male citizens of Manipur were severely tortured when the Bungalow of Chota Sahib was burnt. Their punishments were rude and unreasonable and the British treated the people as slaves.
Breaking the silence, the Maharaja of Manipur demanded him to give reasons for his refusal to obey the order. But Dr. Gobardhon only bowed and knelt before the king telling he would never go to that war; any punishment for denunciation would be accepted and returned home defeated.
Next day, there came the order proclaiming his exile to Thanga Island till the order is revoked. Everybody felt panic as they understood that an exiled man never came back in those days. Dr. Gobardhon was sent to Thanga Island and he went willingly although his mind was spiralling. Moirang was also a place of exile and it was recorded in the chronicles and ancient writings. During the reign of king Bhagyachandra, a man Rupananda was transported to Moirang in 1798. When king Modhuchandra was on the throne of Manipur, criminals were exiled in Ithai Island. Those exiled never came back.
When he reached the island, he found himself so lonely in the midst of the vast lake, waterlogged about 20 kilometres spread in all directions. There was no means of transportation, nothing to eat but water everywhere; some grasses were grown but not enough and unmanageable for building a hut. Groups of some isolated people lived there and they were considered as low caste people. The autocratic government made orthodox classification among the people and Dr. Gobardhon was a victim of it. In the meantime, he was extremely worried to see the lepers on the island; The lepers hid their disease and survived eating less than the minimum requirement of diet. From further investigation, the doctor could find the fisherman ate dead but big fish found from the bottom of the water. He strongly objected to eating rotten fish and analyzed the consequences. The advice was not followed. For this ignorance, he cried alone in grief.
At Thanga Island, a young couple was collecting fish nets from the Loktak Lake. And the man sang a madrigal (Khulang eshei) loudly in the vast water while his young woman was collecting small fishes. They were young lovers and they were also outcasts living in the Thanga Island; they were Chaoba and his loving Tharo. There is an interesting story about the couple.
Author and translator