Book Title: And He Opened the Window
Author: Binapani Thokchom
Translated from Manipuri by the Author
(In the year 1979, I, Binapani Thokchom, the writer of this biography, went to the residence of an ex-Darbar member, Mr. Samarendro Singh at Moirangkhom Sougaijam Leirak to know something more about the exile to Thanga Island. I had never been to that house before, anyhow I introduced myself as the youngest daughter of Dr. Gobardhon. They allowed me to enter into the big house and sat in the common room for quite a long hour. The ex-Darbar member came out after his breakfast. I started talking to him. But I found that he was completely deaf, he could not hear anything. The conversation was disappointing. He spoke whatever he wanted to say; it was not answers to my questions. Ultimately I noted down whatever he had to say. That was a short story of a man called Chaoba who had been exiled to Thanga island.)
Chaoba was the son of one courtier, a cruel man. He did not forgive his son till death. Chaoba and Tharo were from the same locality. Since early childhood, they had been playing together. Chaoba loved eating and Tharo was an expert in making and preparation of food items. Tharo’s mother was invalid, she could not walk because of her left leg. Tharo learned to tackle all the household chores. She was an extraordinarily good girl. When Chaoba was 16 years old, he looked like a gentleman of 20 years. He was strong and stout, brave and outspoken. Tharo was silent and obedient. Each and every day Chaoba brought eatable things from Mahabali forest. Things like raw fruits, fishes from the Imphal River and Tharo would prepare for him to eat. The touring and roaming of Chaoba was not appreciated by his father.
So he always rebuked Chaoba for doing nothing important and wasting time. On the contrary, Chaoba wanted to get rid of his father. He spent most of his time talking with Tharo. He brought her full bags of figs; mango and she made tasty food items for him. As Chaoba grew adolescent, his love for Tharo increased. Tharo also knew only Chaoba in her life. There was an understanding and intimacy between the two. But they became the topic of local gossip. There were many people in the town who liked to gossip. Tharo’s mother was shocked. She thought with a heavy heart about the fate of her daughter. She warned both Chaoba and Tharo that people were talking.
“I warn you not to come frequently here and there, people are talking about you both.”
“I will beat the gossipers” said Chaoba.
The talk of the town ultimately reached to the ears of Chaoba’s father who had a very high hope of engaging a daughter-in-law with one of the princesses of the royal palace. The news about the intimacy made him fume in rage with blood in his eyes. He told his wife not to mention the matter again. Chaoba’s mother did not hesitate in reaching Tharo’s house. She chided both Tharo and her mother mercilessly. They bowed in the kitchen till the horrible sound faded. Both mother and daughter cried together. After that the house remained in complete silence. When the evening came, the sun slowly set down between the two big emerald hills of Thangjing, Chaoba entered and appeared before Tharo with full bag of ripe and sweet Heining (a local fruit).
“Eat! See how sweet these are!”
The atmosphere was completely changed. Tharo did not answer to Chaoba. Being astonished, he looked around and saw her face and eyes were swollen. He could not guess anything of what could have happened. He stepped out and hastened to his home.
After sometime, Tharo had to marry a man unknown to her. Chaoba could not believe the message. He said to himself,
“I can not accept it.”
He became restless and wandered here and there. He saw the wild fire blowing in blue and red across the Nongmaijing hill down to the maiden. He felt like burning within. Tharo still remained in his heart.
Hardly two years elapsed after her marriage; there spread the epidemic of small pox in the villages. Many people had died. Some survived with small pox marks on faces and all over parts of the body. Doctors were deputed from Dhaka to control the disastrous disease.
With this terrible disease, Tharo became widow at the age of 16. She returned at her maiden house.
It was a hot summer. The south-western wind carrying rain did not occur till the month of Ingen (July in Meitei lunar year). Drought was declared. There was no com in the fields but there were thousands of people with nothing to eat.
Chaoba’s family had plenty of paddy grain in the stock. He started distributing the food grain in the locality. He found Tharo with Black chandan on her forehead which shocked him.
“Do not put the black thing on your forehead!”
Tharo was speechless but answered in deep heart,
“I had been obedient to you since my childhood.”
Chaoba loved her thousand times more than before. But the pure love was forbidden by the society. The laws of society could not be inquired by the king himself. Their love was acknowledged by everybody. So it was resolved that both of them should be exiled from society till death. Chaoba ‘s mother said,
“You are a bachelor you can’t marry a widow!” They had been sent to Thanga Island, not allowed to carry anything, any materials to use. Only the officials would take them in the government boat, sent them off and came back. Chaoba was delighted with the verdict. They lived in the island. Chaoba felt, direct touch with Mother Nature could not be a punishment. The middle aged Tharo was up with the fishing net, went for fishing into the water. Her friends made fun of her singing about her calm and serene beauty. Seeing her in a cloth with many patch works and a band around her waist they teased –
“O Tharo (lily)! 0 Tharo
Blooming in the Loktak
How calm thou art
It’s been since many ages
Thou hath worried for thy parted spouse
Don’t worry! Don’t worry maiden!”
All burst into laughter. In truth Tharo suffered no more. The Loktak Lake was providing everything and there was no lack of anything. The kindness and sympathy from her brother Chaoba gave her peace of mind.
In exile, Dr. Gobardhon also met an eminent man called Khwairakpam Magho. He was born in Ningthoukhong village in 1890 A.D. His father’s name was Khwairakpam Gokul Singh (Keirungba) and his mother was Laishram Kombi.
Magho was a Manipuri who could pass Matriculation examinations from Shillong exam centre. He was an intellectual and wanted justice by birth. He always complained about the injustice done by higher authorities and wrote representations. Soon he became the petition writer at the court of His Highness Maharaj Churachand.
As the king ordered his troops to be ready for the war, there was commotion in the administrative staff and employees of the government regarding the drafting of local troops and porters for the German war. This was only meant to help the British Empire. People opposed to it and took mass casual leave but leave was not granted. Magho, the petition writer was also ordered to go to Germany. Magho disobeyed and as a consequence of his disobedience he was sent to exile like Dr. Gobardhon. They stayed together and discussed about many problems. They digested the problems but there was no way to solve those.
(Later Magho was sent to Burma along with criminals to exile. But he escaped from Burma came through Mandalay to Calcutta. He studied law for three years and became a lawyer. He came to Brindaban along with devotees and served in the Brinamchandra temple as a janitor over there. Maharaj Churachand knew all about Magho’s movement but no more steps were taken up against him. Sometimes, the king also felt hatred at the unwanted punishment given to the people of Manipur by Phirangees. A man called Mono from Wangjing village was sentenced to death by the Britishers. Immediately, the king calIed upon Magho. And Magho accepted as a petition writer and wrote an appeal to the Viceroy.
The appeal was discussed and the Viceroy cancelled the death sentence. Thus, Mono of Wangjing was saved by Magho. When the Second World War broke out, there were so many Japanese soldiers out in the village of Ningthoukhong. Some people from Manipur had also joined the INA, a part of axis forces. There was scarcity of food supplies for the Japanese army. Magho was charged again for giving rice and foods to the Japanese soldiers. But there was no evidence or proof of the charge. Magho did not disclose anything about that matter to the government authority. He was caught and put in jail for 4 years. After independence, Magho became the pioneer advocate of Manipur.)
One fine morning, Dr. Gobardhon narrated about his dream to Magho,
“Last night I dreamt I was lifted into and embraced by the Almighty”
“That was such a blissful dream”, Magho commented.
Soon Dr. Gobardhon was summoned from exile due to the spread of Cholera. The Maharaja himself came down upto Moirang in his red flagged car to fetch Dr. Gobardhon. The King said,
“You are extremely needed by the people, people are dying everyday.”
As per the summons, Dr. Gobardhon came back from exile. He personally reported to the Darbar of the royal palace. He had been given orders to be stationed at the Sana office of the Royal Palace) to check around the whole urban area; he became a mobile doctor also at the same time. He was given two horses (black and maroon-brown 25 rupees each paid by himself) and medicine for free distribution.
Cholera was indeed a vicious epidemic. There were so many deaths; sometimes if there are more than one death in the same family the bodies were cremated upon a single pyre. Meiteis believed that the epidemic was caused by evil spirits so they chanted hymns sacrificed black chickens and burnt incense sticks outside the gate so that the evil spirits would tum away from their houses. The same practice happened around the city and its adjoining villages. It was Gobardhon’s duty to report everyday to the king about the epidemic, the affected areas and deaths.
One morning Dr. Gobardhon found the king rather sad and silent. Gobardhon bowed and asked.
“Your Highness, What happened to you, you look unwell?”
“Doctor, my daughter has been unwell for quite sometime.”
“May I have a look at the princess’s condition?”
The Maharaja permitted him to look over the princess. At once, the doctor went into the princess’s room with some orderlies.
The princess was lying on the bed. When Doctor enquired about her condition, she did not give any answer. The doctor was disappointed and helpless since there was no response from his patient. Being dejected, he came out of the room. While walking through the corridor, he found that though the new palace had plenty of big windows they were all shut and the rooms were kept dark. Ventilation in most Manipuri homes was bad. Windows were not many and mostly remained shut. Direct sunlight or even diffused sunlight was insufficient inside the dwelling-house. Most roads were dusty.
Dr. Gobardhon went to the king and had a long talk. He also requested to keep the windows open at the day time so as to allow the air into the room. Immediately, and the king ordered his servants to do as the doctor had said. Later each and every time when doctor Gobardhon crossed through the corridor up and down, he heard, the orderlies shouting to each other,
“Hey! Open the window! The mad doctor comes.”
Some others said, “Look at the funny man! A mad doctor!”
“A pseudo sahib!”
“A messy sahib!”
Even the children joined the shouting. He heard all the versions but paid no attention to them. He smiled and murmured “Anyway, windows are open now”
Within six months, the Cholera epidemic came under control. But unluckily when the summer came, malaria struck in the southern districts. It spread wide from Tongjei maril and affected too many nearby villages of Churachandpur, Moirang, Keibul, Lamangdong and Ningthoukhong.
Dr. Gobardhon was ordered to leave Sana office and stationed himself at Lamangdong for six months. But his jurisdiction was far and wide covering all the affected areas. The spread of malaria and Kala-Ajar was like wildfire throughout the, western districts of Manipur. He saved people at his best level as a mobile doctor. But the villagers were hard to believe him. They had their firm belief that no doctor was needed with regard to this epidemic. They believed liver cirrhosis or enlargement of liver was due the breath of evil spirits and hence bulging bellies. For the cure of this, they would massage their bellies. But the doctor wanted to take blood samples from the patients in order to diagnose and control the epidemic. He repeatedly ordered the maibas not to meddle with the patients’ belly. On the issue of taking blood samples from the patients, rumours spread against it suddenly. There was superstitious belief that anyone could kill anybody with the blood by means of black magic. So they all decided not to give blood. On the contrary, they began to look upon the doctor as a bad omen and the cause of the continuous deaths in the village. The local Maibas strongly opposed those systematic treatments which they had never known earlier.
One day a young boy of sixteen came to the doctor and requested for necessary treatment. He said,
“I have been suffering for more than one month. Every day I have high fever. Now I am very weak. My body is still trembling. I am ready. Please treat me!”
“It is the usual thing, a patient of malaria shows periodical severe fever with acute shaking and trembling. Anemia due to loss of blood finally dies.”
Dr. Gobardhon told him and provided medicines to the patient. Before giving injection, he took blood from the patient. He wanted to take blood samples from patients in order to diagnose and control the epidemic. Just at the moment, villagers and Maibas about thirty in number came and surrounded him. They had plans to assault the doctor; and they shouted,
“You are a Churanthaba. Why are you trying to take blood from the child? Let us flog him quickly.”
Manipuris at that time believed that there were some people who, took blood from the children and offered it to evil spirits; they were known as Churanthaba.
Dr. Gobardhon wanted to avoid the mob. He turned back and tried to escape from them. He smartly jumped on the horseback after running some distance. The villagers were after him with knives, bamboo sticks etc.
“Catch! Catch him. There goes the Churanthaba, the killer!”
After galloping fast about 15 kilometres, he reached his native village-Ningthoukhong. He met all his friends and relatives. They all felt sorry; some really cried. It was a great risk to the doctor’s life. All of them consoled him and asked him not to go around as a mobile doctor. But he said,
“No! 1 am a doctor; I will do my duty at my own risk.”
He halted one night at his birthplace, Ningthoukhong. There, he visited all his friends and to the elders he touched their feet and bowed; he was blessed by all. All of a sudden, he remembered and enquired about his younger step brother Jarma Singh, his step-mother’s son. He learnt that Jarma was sick and could not come out. Dr. Gobardhon went personally to his brother’s house to see him. He also came to know that recently he had gone to Cachar on business purposes, to procure things like Pana mana (Betel leaves), lantern and fine cotton cloth. Immediately he ordered his brother’s wife Kamini to boil water. He boiled two/three syringes for giving injection. He prepared the medicines and gloved himself. When he was about to give the injection to the patient, his step brother fled. He fled away outside the house yard. Gobardhon shouted at the top of his voice with rage in his bloody eyes at the wife of his brother.
“Go and search your husband! Bring him now! Why don’t you try to understand who I am?”
But Jarma Singh was not to be found anywhere, he had hidden himself somewhere. All the previous anger and misunderstanding had fallen on his own brother.
Gobardhon became tired and furious. He immediately jumped on the horse and drove hard to the Sana Office. He wrote a lengthy application mentioning all the prevailing scenario of the southern villages. Lastly, he mentioned that, his own brother Jarma Singh had insulted him.
After reading the representation, immediate action was taken up. Red Turban Kotwals were sent to fetch Jarma Singh from Ningthoukhong or wherever he was hiding.
“No one should give him shelter!” announced the local police department.
The Kotwals arrested Jarma Singh, the next day. He was chained and handed over to the doctor. Soon he was given injection and his blood sample was taken out and tested. According to his blood test, he was found to be infected by Kalajar. Day by day, Jarma Singh got better after taking medication.
After one month, another announcement proclaimed: each and every person living in the state of Manipur including hill districts should be vaccinated against small pox free of cost. The one who disobeyed this order would be punished and would get 25 lashes for women and 50 for men alongwith a fine of 1/4 of one rupee (siki) to the king’s court.
Soon after the announcement, some people came out voluntarily and got vaccinated. There were rumours about the vaccination among the hill tribes also. Some Kukis belonging at the remote areas fled in groups leaving their own villages alongwith all the domestic animals and fowls they owned, to avoid the vaccination. They presumed the vaccination was some bad thing to be put inside their bodies. In another sense, the fine was also too much for them. So to flee from home was the only means for them.
Author and translator