Imphal Review of Arts and Politics


A Daughter Recalls the Lives and Times of Manipur’s First Doctor – Part-5

Book Title: And He Opened the Window

Author: Binapani Thokchom

Translated from Manipuri by the Author


Dr. Gobardhon, ]adonang and Higgins:

Dr. Gobardhon was again posted at Tamenglong. Tamenglong district of Manipur is home to the Zeliangrong Nagas, comprising the Zemi, Liangmei and the Rongmei. A young man Jadonang, born in a Rongmei village called Kambiron, grew up into a mystic and as he collected followers, began weeding out negative religious beliefs, which harmed his tribe. It began as a social and religious reformation, which gradually turned into a movement against the British rule. Very soon, the British faced a minor revolt against some of their unfair practices in the form of civil disobedience, and no tax campaign. Dr. Gobardhon met an SDO named Higgins. The officer noticed something different in Dr. Gobardhon’s lifestyle in the hill district. He was interested in the doctor. One day, a storm occurred. The SDO and the doctor talked about many things. Higgins took notice of the way the doctor dressed; Gobardhon wore hat, neck-tie and waistcoat. All his clothes were dirty for there was none to wash them. The doctor was very busy treating the sick people. But he took bath every early morning and marked Chandan on his nose. Higgins inquired,

“Doctor, why do you smear mud on your face?”

“Saheb, it is not the mud. We, the Manipuri Hindus always place Swarna Maye Bhumi on our face. It is our tradition.”

The British officer had experience in such things for he was associated with Bengalis for a long time. The British officer asked,

“How is your life at the high hill areas? You also want to serve in the valley area? Everybody wants to get posting in the valley.”

“How can 1 disobey the government order? 1 don’t mind about the posting area. Order is order.”

“I know that the newly graduated young doctors do not wish to serve in the hill areas at all. I do appreciate your patience.”

In the year 1931 there was a survey of census everywhere. The census enumerator, who went to enumerate population of the house, reported to the SDO-Tamengiong that the village elders of Kambiron did not allow them to count the temple of Jadonang as household on the ground that no one lived in it. The enumerator instead of just recording the fact gave false report that the temple was occupied by persons who sort of worshiped Jadonang as god. Jadonang also told the people not to pay any revenue to the British government. J.S. Duncan, the SDO reported that the Congress faction from Lakhipur district was indirectly responsible for Jadonang’s movement of not paying tax to the British Government. The SDO reported it in writing as,

“Jadonang is well known to me as a mad sorcerer. In 1928 AD, I put him in jail in Tamenglong for telling the people that the British Raj was coming to an end that the Kabui Raj was to be established in its place.”

Dr. Gobardhon met Jadonang at Tamenglong. He understood that Jadonang was organising something against the British rule but he did not know much about it. The SDO Duncan always enquired Dr. Gobardhon about Jadonang during the talks in the evening. Dr. Gobardhon simply told the SDO all that he knew about Jadonang; that he was a man of few words, his looks were different from the other hill tribes. He had handsome looks and medium height. But Dr. Gobardhon did not reveal about Jadonang in detail. Because he knew Mr. Higgins, the former officer had already given statements about Jadonang.

That he was being held high and respected by the superstitious Nagas on account of his vagaries, there were enough evidence that villagers from the Naga Hills had come to him with tributes. Jadonang was directly responsible for the collection of tributes from the Naga Hills villages. During the period of his movement, four Meitei itinerant traders were killed in Kambiron for insulting the religious sentiments of Zeliang people. The British blamed Jadonang for the killings. Later, Jadonang was arrested; he did not resist the arrest nor attempted to escape. He was arrested under Section 108 of IPC from Silchar.

Forty days after his arrest at Lakhimpur by the wilful stratagem of a Police officer, Imtiaz Ali on the 19th February 1931. Jadonang was lodged at Imphal jail. Thousands of women from the market went to see him. Jadonang appealed to the Governor of Assam and Governor General of India too. But his attempt was not fruitful and after a virtually mock trail, death sentence followed. A large crowd of people, both Nagas and Muslims gathered to witness the hanging of Jadonang behind the Imphal jail between the two trees on the east bank of the Nambul River, to the south of Residency. Gaidinliu of Nungkao village in Tamenglong was his lieutenant when Jadonang was hanged. She became the leader of rebels, martyrs and freedom fighters. She was only 16 years old then. She had the same feeling and attitude of Jadonang. For a year she dodged the British, but was captured and imprisoned for life. She was released a few years before Indian independence only.

Dr. Lamabam Kamal died in the year of 1934, February 4 at his own quarter at the jail. He was a professional doctorcum Poet. He wrote a famous romantic love story called “Madhabi” and other beautiful poems. Since the young Dr. Kamal expired, Dr. Gobardhon was called upon for jail duty immediately. So he left his posting area and started 10 hours journey on the horseback. He also knew that there was social and political unrest in Manipur. After Manipur lost its freedom and sovereignty, the British extended its colonial rule through the Political Agents. The people of Manipur was longing for a taste of democracy and secularism. Many renowned and educated persons and the followers of Hijam Irabot were arrested and kept in the jail.

Dr. Gobardhon replaced the late Dr. Lamabam Kamal for 24 hours service, in the jail quarter. There was a little condolence of the staff for the young doctor’s departed soul.

Dr. Gobardhon met Keisam Kunjabihari:

Amongst the imminent political prisoners Shri Keisham Kunjabihari was also there. Kunjabihari went on hunger strike within the jail premises. On the third day, Dr. Gobardhon was ordered to take action of force feeding. But when Dr. Gobardhon went for action, he found Kunjabihari lying on the ground. He said,

“Please do not do that to me, doctor! You know, I can’t eat without taking bath; the jail authority is not giving a Khudei (towel) to take bath.”

Doctor Gobardhon understood what the striking prisoners wanted; he reported it to McDonald and McDonald himself came and supplied 2 towels to each of the prisoners.

Keisham Kunjabihari was born on March 13, 1916 at Keishamthong Top Leirak. He was a renowned social worker and one of the distinguished and committed pioneer of journalism in Manipur. He was a student of Johnstone High School and passed matric in 1938 under the Calcutta University. He got married with Thokchom ningol Ngangbi Devi in 1940 and got five sons and three daughters.

From the very childhood, Kunjabihari showed leadership qualities in many fields; particularly in the field of journalism which had begun from the 30s, before the Second World War. The daily newspaper “Ngasi” took birth under his editorship to create a big name for decades. He was totally opposed to any policy or programme which looked oppressive and antipeople and he would criticize the government in strong terms in his editorials. He went to jail three times as Editor of the “Ngasi” for writing against the policies of the then government. Kunjabihari was a strict follower of Gandhian thought; he never sought personal gain and advantages throughout his life. He was deeply involved with “Monoharsai” movement in Manipur. He would play “Khol” and also sing the traditional Manoharsai Sangeet. His elder brother Ojha Bishwaroop Singh was an unchallenged maestro of “Khol”. During those times, when the trend of ostracizing families and individuals on religious and customary grounds was on the rise, he along with some followers came to rescue of the families by giving required Sankritana performance etc. free of cost.

The Panchayat court had sentenced him to six months imprisonment as a punishment for publishing a criticism by Kunjabihari in his newspaper in connection with “Digboi firing”. During his jail term, he met Dr. Gobardhon.

Kunjabihari founded many Hindi schools and took up the leading role in Hindi teaching in Manipur. Ngasi Rastralipi High School is running till today at his homestead land, a portion of which he donated for the purpose.

Keisham Kunjabihari died at the age of 79 years i.e. 20th June 1995. He is remembered as a prominent leader of all social reforms and political movement of his times.

Dr. Gobardhon versus superstition:

After a year’s stint at the jail, he went back to Mao. Although Christianity was spreading widely among the hill tribes of Manipur, superstitions were not fully erased. One day, the doctor found a girl being chased by the hill people throwing stones. They wanted her out of the village. Her house was burnt down and her properties destroyed. She ran as fast as she could. Her face and body were all bloodied. A crowd of villagers followed her. On seeing her, doctor asked the chief,

“What is going on? What happened?”

“Hepu! She is carrying a very dangerous disease; she is under the spell of’ some evil witches. She bites on the neck, many people have died. The witches make people ill. She can’t stay with us. She caused us swelling at the neck. It happens when she casts her eyes on the person.”

“No, you are wrong!” the doctor retorted.

“We do not find any disease like that.”

But the chief said. “It is our age-old tradition not to keep anyone who has fallen under the spell of the witches.”

“One day, you would realize; what you are doing is wrong!”

The main cause of death in the hills was due to Goitre. Goitre was the terrible silent killer of the day. Deficiency of iodized salt or lack of common salt in everyday meals caused the illness. It was Goitre not the evil spirits who killed people.

Dr. Gobardhon proposed to the medical department for free distribution of common salt at the hill areas. But the proposal could not be effective. On the other side of his life, he was quite a happy man at hill districts. Doctor went for hunting along with the local hunters out there. He did not eat meat but ate only fish where ever they went the animals hunted were for them only. He had a double barrel gun bought for 150 Rupees. He was a very good marksman too and the tribal people admired him for his marksmanship. They called him – Hepu-Appa-KappaDoctorpa. They brought for him Bethu (fermented soybean), fire wood and spring water. But his attendants who came along with him from of Imphal and from of Ningthoukhong village constantly complained to him of their uneasiness in the hills. One after another, they tried to flee from the hill station. They were afraid of hearing the roars of tigers or some wild beasts at the night hours. The strong cold winter wind was also intolerable. The water of the little stream which they used was all frozen into ice; it looked like mirrors lying. There was fog almost round the year.

Some attendants cried and requested to grant leave. Only Dr. Gobardhon’s wife alone stayed with him along. The residential quarter of the doctor had always been up above the high hills or at some isolated areas near the hospital. So his wife Pati Devi had no neighbour for a little chitchat. However, every night just after the dinner, the Doctor narrated her stories, very interesting stories from Arabian nights, the great epic of Mahabharata and Ramayana. After the completion of the two great epics, he also narrated the Bible. He felt very glad when he saw her listening intently with bright eyes. He also taught her knowledge such as, if a child suffers from continuous fever about three days, it might be pneumonia; if a child constantly biting its teeth with some unusual cracking sound, it would be symptoms of having infested with worms. He taught her these minor symptoms of ailments.

People suffering from some kind of insanity, should try to understand what the patient had in his mind or things he saw in his eyes or what kind of sound, dialogue, music within. Dr. Gobardhon as well as his wife could speak the tribal languages. His wife played the role of a nurse while the patients. One day a tribal youth came to examine doctor. He was a patient of psychological disorder. Dr. Gobardhon asked,

“Do you sleep well?

What do you think?

What kind of sound do you hear?

Do you have any dialogue/music within?

These questions were the first and foremost enquires asked by the doctor. Although the answers were different, he could listen to the answers and he understood then.

One SDO called Duncan had a serious problem while being posted at the hills. He praised Dr. Gobardhon who could speak Thadou and Kabui languages fluently.

“Excellent! Doctor, it is very nice of you! It is really wonder Duncan said.

“We can learn the languages of people living across the seas. And why can’t we learn languages like our own varied dialects? It will not take years or months to understand the local languages. ”

SDO Duncan got convinced at what doctor said.

“Doctor, you are different! I can’t believe it.”

“Then you are not sure of what you do.”

They laughed together happily.

One day, Dr. Gobardhon’s old friends Nongmaithem Thanil Singh and Damodar Chandrapal had sent a message to him saying: Imphal town was in chaotic condition. Dr. Gobardhon took casual leave and came to Imphal. He was very upset and concerned with the bad incident that befell on his friend Hijam Irabot. Though he could not offer full time service to him and his followers, he contributed first aid medicine and other medicines without authorization through Laishom Leibaklei secretly.

In Manipur, the Khongjai tribe used to rebel against the king now and then. One such rebellion is still known as the the Khongjai Lal. There were many casualties during the war. There was a camp at the Akan village. Dr. Gobardhon was deputed there in the war field as a war doctor. He looked after the wounded soldiers of both sides. It took a long time in subduing the rebels as the Lushais and Khongjais had teamed together. They ambushed from above the hills and bushes and there were frequent firings. The hill people were not aware of the rules of war. The white flag of doctor’s camp was also attacked. One day, while the doctor was standing outside the camp, the sound of the firing was heard nearby. Tonu, his attendant was also with him. Both of them rushed among the Uyung (Tussar) trees and lied down.

Doctor Gobardhon told, “Tonu! Keep your head down!”

After a while, there was no sound of firing. So Tonu raised his head up and looked for the doctor. He stood up looking suspiciously that the doctor might have been dead. Then the firing started again. Tonu was hit at the head and died instantly. When dusk came, there was silence. Villagers came out and reached the camp to help the doctor. Dr. Gobardhon could not do anything except watching the red blood of Tonu spreading on the ground recklessly. Tonu was lying on the ground cold and completely motionless. Doctor Gobardhon felt shocked, however slowly he tried to calm down himself. He bowed and knelt before the dead. He gently touched Tonu’s face and chanted Harinam and prayed to the Almighty to let Tonu’s soul rest in peace:

Vasa Gobindang

Smarana Gobindan-Gobindag

Vajahimuramati vasa Gobindan

Punarapi fanamang punarapi Maranag

Punarapi janamang punarapi Maranag

Remembering Tonu: There is a very touching story of Tonu and the doctor, how the former became the attendant, a co-worker. Tonu was the only son of Konjengbam family. He was a sincere and truthful person. He did not hide anything.

At one time he was suffering from tuberculosis. In those times the infection of TB was kept in secrecy by all the people. But one day Dr. Gobardhon met Tonu on his way to some village. At the first sight, the doctor suspected and found his health deteriorating. He asked Tonu some questions and slowly Tonu revealed his secrecy. Further, the doctor checked his nails, tongue and eyes.

“Do you cough very often?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Is there fever in the morning and evening?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you noticed blood in your sputum?”

“Everyday. ”

Tonu felt so emotional and helpless; tears rolled in his eyes.

“Doctor Babu! Please cure my illness. I did not have the courage to open my mouth for such a long time. You know everything like a god.”

The doctor consoled him, saying, “The human beings now have known about the germs which cause diseases. We have to search where they are. Medical science would eradicate every germ from this world. We should never keep them secret. Foolish people are helping the enemy by hiding. I will cure your ailment.”

From that day onwards, Tonu came to the hospital every day. After three months, he got fairly cured of the disease. Tonu came to see the doctor every day at home as well as at the hospital. He regarded the doctor as god himself. He kept talking about the doctor to everybody he met at the hospital.

“You do not know who this man is! He is not an ordinary human being. He is a saviour; he saved me from the jaws of death.”

The doctor could detect all kinds of symptoms of diseases at the slightest glance. Later, Tonu became an attendant! water carrier by post. It was such a shocking moment when Tonu was hit bya bullet. He felt rage burning within his heart against the warring tribes. He tried to calm down as he was trembling. He recollected the words in the Gita,

“God has created to annihilate the human beings.”

During the war, there was a number of casualties; he served them all day and nights alone. It was so difficult to work together with the untrained hands. He was not given proper appliances even when he had to take out some bullets from the wounded.

After the war ended through negotiation, Dr. Gobardhon was conferred upon gallantry award for his courage; two medals-one silver and one bronze by His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur.

In Mao, the tribals had remained without a doctor for a long time. Dr. Gobardhon could speak many tribal language he communicated with the tribals of Mao, Maram also.

Meanwhile, the superstitious belief and religious fanaticism were growing day by day in the valley. The Phirangees were spreading their arms to dominate the land slowly. There was only one man who had taken up steps against the dictatorship. There also emerged many groups among the Manipuri society. Among them was The Nikhil Hindu Manipuri Mahasabha (it became the Nikhil Manipuri Mahasabha later). Their goal was to avail of the fundamental rights for the people. The king Churachand condemned certain individuals as outcasts. Individuals or families who were declared outcast by the king could be purified again after paying some fees or fine. But many people or families could not pay. They remained untouchables. Even the dead was not to be given proper rituals in such families. On these occasions, Hijam Irabot would come forward for those people. He alone performed the appropriate ceremonies. He sang rituals hymns and cremated the dead bodies alone.

In the year 1939, Gobardhon was posted once again, for second time at Mao, and also in charge of Kangpokpi and Maram. It was the most hectic and risky responsibility imposed by the superiors upon him alone. However having no other alternative, he somehow managed. Patients were called to come and to assemble at the residence of the Lambu. With the help of Lambus, he could conduct his works. Most common diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, indigestion, he made syrups in big bottles by himself for free distribution. Patients were very happy to find the red liquid digestive syrup. For cuts and wounds, he distributed tincture iodine. Each and every patient party brought presents for the doctor, things like small chicken (well packed), dried beef, pumpkins, maize and red berry fruits. Dr. Gobardhon accepted the vegetable presents only. Later, it seemed that people knew by-heart the names of above-mentioned medicines – hajam, tincture iodine and penoxide for children’s worm. Moreover, the Lambus also tried to know much about medical knowledge and learned from him. He was quite happy to know that the Lambus thought him to be their own man. So he gave simple medicines like potassium permanganate, sulfa guanidine and quinine for fever. He gave cod -liver oil only for the Lambus because it was not enough for everybody. There was no particular quarter for the doctor to stay. His dining room was attached to the dispensary only. He constructed a kitchen and a bath room for himself by cutting round wood from the jungle. He also made his dining table and chairs. By the time when the SOC quarter was built, another a three-room quarter was also made for the doctor. So he was stationed at Kangpokpi.

The harvest in 1939 was poor. During those days, there were some 14 rice mills in the state. Marwaris and some Manipuris would buy off the entire production, mill it and export it to British India. And it became the cause of the 2nd Woman’s War. In the harvest season, the price of paddy soared to alarming Re 1/-per sangbai. Womenfolk were furious because no rice was available in the market. The people were deprived of rice; they could not fill their stomach. They were hungry. On December 11, women agitators requested a rich Manipuri mill owner on the bank of the Nambul to stop milling. He agreed, if it was for the good of the country. On December 12, hundreds of women demonstrated before the state office to give message to the Darbar to ban export of rice and shut down rice mills. The president of the Darbar, Mr. T.A. Sharpe, said that such an order would require the approval of the Maharaja who was then at Navadweep. He went with the women to the telegraph office in the British Reserve and telegraphed to His Highness. The demonstrators remained there waiting for definite orders from His highness. The demonstrators swelled to a few thousands. The political Agent, Mr. C. Gimson, was on tour. Some sepoys of the 4th Assam Rifles cleared the demonstrators.

Some women received bayonet injuries in the process ..

Irabot hated colonialists’ mode of levying taxes like Chandan Senkhai (the tax for putting tilak on the forehead), one rupee for divorce which should be paid by both sides. Just after the “Chinga Mipham,” the government issued an order to arrest him at first sight. Thus he had to go Hijam Irabot underground. He went in disguise. The Kotwals were after him, secret agents followed him. His speeches at the meetings were very influential.

“Why menfolk remain silent while our women had been beaten up, hurt and tortured in the jail?”

He continued, “Look, friends, Manipuri gentlemen! Our houses are burning. We need not talk in the meetings; we should rise and save our land.”

Irabot always helped the women. He later became a real hero of Manipur, a backbone of revolutionaries.

After December 12, 1939 Imphal town was in a chaotic condition. Rice exportation from Manipur was completely stopped. However, the enmities worsened. Members or followers of Hijam Irabot increased. The government also took serious action against them. On receiving a reply from His Highness, the Darbar banned export or rice from 13 December. Women agitators led by Tongou Devi turned their attention to stopping rice mills in the British Reserve and the State territory. Khwairamband Bazar and Police Bazar were boycotted.

During those days, Dr. Gobardhon happened to be at Imphal. Dr. Gobardhon was very upset with the bad consequences that fell upon his friend Hijam Irabot. There was a confrontation between the women agitators and the police, the security forces. Among the women, one woman Laishom Leibaklei was also hurt. Dr. Gobardhon gave first aid to the injury at her leg and shoulder.

He met his old friends-Nongmaithem Thanil and Damodar Chandrapal. They told him about the serious illness of Daroga Thambalsana (he owned the Roopmahal). Thambalsana had once served as Kotwal to the royal palace and he was a good friend of Dr. Gobardhon. Thambalsana was a very wealthy man, but he was known to be quite miserly. Just after the information he hastened to Thambalsana’s place. His condition was very serious and he was lying on a death bed. He was very weak and only a Kerosene Podon (local made lampton) was burning with smoke in his dark room.

“My friend, what do you eat?”

“Doctor Babu, I have no appetite.”

“Please eat fresh fish and egg!”

“No, I can’t.”

“Please replace this Podon, or your lung will be spoiled!”

Next day, doctor came again for the second time, there was no lantern; the same smoked lampton was burning in that room. He was suffering from acute tuberculosis. The local Maiba was pressing his abdomen when he coughed. The doctor went back. The next day, the news spread, “Daroga Thambalsana passed away”.

One day Dr. Gobardhon happened to meet Irabot. It was in a trial between one staff called Gopal and Dr. Gobardhon. They embraced tightly, smiled and praised for each other for action of bravery. Dr. Gobardhon exclaimed, “Our sufferings will bring tomorrow’s happiness.”

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