Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

MK Binodini (right) with bosom friend Thounaojam Ongbi Sougaijam Sorojini (left) at Redland with caretaker family
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MK Binodini – A Piece of Shillong Will Forever Remain Manipur

My morning newspapers gave me a rude greeting on September 6. A headline in the Imphal Free Press read “Students draw govt’s attention to Redlands” and another in the vernacular Ireibak proclaimed that this historic bungalow is being used by certain private parties to make money. “Shocking”, I had muttered to myself over my morning cup of hot aromatic tea.

A lot many others have also been commenting on the sorry state of affairs, official and non-official, involving the Redlands in all these years over the pages of various local dailies. I have been following all these commentaries closely, especially those that had to do with the atrocious legal entangle this bit of invaluable property of Manipur was thrown into. I remember how delighted I was one fine morning when I read that the court case finally concluded and the verdict was in the favour of the true owners – Manipur.

Redland, once a royal home, now little care for.

For me, a piece of Shillong will forever remain Manipur. Redlands will never cease to occupy the warmest corner of my weary heart. So much of my childhood memories are inseparably associated with it. It reminds me no less of the happiest and loneliest moments of my teenage life. Thoughts of Redlands are always full of nostalgia. All the images of my girlhoods, the laughters, the mischiefs, the joy and anguish come flooding back to me in torrents, often leaving me in tears. Tears that I cannot even be sure were aroused by joy or sadness.

Redlands was my father Maharaja Churachand’s home away from home. This was where he relaxed during his breaks from work at home. This was where he stayed during his many official trips to Shillong, the British Provincial capital of those days. This was not the only house he owned here though. There is an interesting history as to how my father ended up ultimately with Redlands.

Maharaja Bodhchandra

The first property he owned in Shillong was a charming little hillside house on Shillong Peak called Rose Cottage. I was too young then and have only very vague memories of this cottage. He then acquired a lakeside property on the banks of Shillong’s famed Ward’s Lake, where today are located some of the most important institutions of the state of Meghalaya, including the Raj Bhavan. The house was called English Bye. I remember this house distinctly and I am inclined to believe this was my father’s favourite. Here was where he used to bring his home grown cricket team and race horses along with jockeys to give the British a run for their money in their own pastimes.

But the British administration began eyeing English Bye and this is not surprising considering its scenic location and centrality to the British administrative headquarters. They came to persuade my father so much to part with it in exchange for another place they would provide. My father ultimately agreed, and he was given Redlands, and its adjacent cottage known as Les Charlette. This is how Redlands came to be Manipur’s. This is the prime land that a thoughtless grandson of my father, in one of his avaricious fits, sought to sell to a Khasi businessman for a song. Thank God the illegal deal has been struck down by the court even if it is after more than two decades.

Artist impression of the signing of the Manipur Merger Agreement.

The news story in the Ireibak in particular disturbed me. How can the government allow Maharaja Bodhchandra’s own bed be used by anybody else, not the least the caretaker of the house? This house is also where Maharaja Bodhchandra signed the controversial Merger Agreement. This is the house where his father, the ageing Maharaja Churachand, rested on the final journey of his life to West Bengal where he breathed his last. How can this place be allowed to be defiled by anybody?

It hurts me so much to be told of such disrespect to this house, which was also virtually my childhood home. I stayed here while I did my college education. To act as my local guardian, my father brought my fond uncle, the late, Paromananda to stay in an adjacent cottage. His widowed wife, Aunt Sobhasini survived him and continued to look after the house long after he was gone. After a wayward heir of Maharaja Churachand sold Redlands, the new owner tried to throw my Aunt and her family out of the Redlands’ premises in 1980 calling her a trespasser. On March 25 my Aunt lodged a case with the Laitumkhra Police protesting the act. A marathon court case ensued involving the Manipur government, and now the case has gone in favour of Manipur. It may not be official, but to this day, there can be no better guardian of Redlands than my aunt Sobhasini.

Maharaja Churachand is survived by so many direct descendants to this day. I am the youngest of his three daughters. There are several surviving male bloodlines too. The venerated, (late) MK Priyobrata Singh too was one. None of us have any interest in claiming ownership right to what is truly Manipur’s now, but at least for the sake of reviving the historicity of the Redlands, would the state administration consult us in matters of its upkeep and search for roots.

(This story was written by the late M.K. Binodini, fondly Imasi, and transliterated by Pradip Phanjoubam, more than a decade ago. It has been minorly updated to reconcile timelines, especially in reference to people who were alive then but are no more now)

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