Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Bhaskar Manisana
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The Last of the Meitei Sahebs – Last Part

Continued from previous issue. This is the last part of this amazing account of one of the last of the Manipur’s blue bloods, by one of its best-known daughters and revered writer of renown, the late M.K. Binodini was translated by Pradip Phanjoubam in 1999 from Manipuri and subsequently published as a newspaper article in Imphal Free Press.

I am happy today. Happy that my effort at this quest for facts about a fascinating cousin is opening up doorways to creative avenues. I am happy that my search for the background of cousin Bhaskar has led me beyond merely factual details but into the world of the creative writer, discovering not just what history had to say about the man, but also a bit of the intricacies about him and of the time he lived in. When I started off, I did not know I was heading for this, now I am delighted that I am in its midst. For an artist, the return of creativity is joy unbound. The Bhaskar Manisana that I hunt now is no longer just a figure from the pages of history, but a man with his own peculiar sensibilities and idiosyncrasies. What I have discovered, or reconstructed and recreated, pleases me immensely now.

Scholar and writer, Nirad Chaudhuri once said, “I am a Bengali and an Englishman… I have tried to combine the cultures.” My cousin Bhaskar Manisana was like him. He was a Meitei Saheb alright, but that did not mean he ceased to be a Meitei altogether. He was not really the city smart type, but rather the country Gentry variety.

I remember an episode that left a mark on my life and also on my impression of cousion Bhaskar. I was a child then of perhaps eight years. My father the King had hired a large building in Calcutta at Manohar Pukur Road and we shifted there for three months while my sister Tombi Yaima, also known as Tombisana was undergoing treatment for tuberculosis there under the supervision of specialist, Dr. Bidhanchandra Ray. We had with us about 30 domestic helpers, and I remember the stay there as extremely exiting with lots of play around the lake, riding bicycles and no botheration of books and other mundane chores. Of course my mother Ngangbi Maharani was also with us and her strict supervision deprived us of complete freedom, and that was the only spoil sport. My father, because of his other responsibilities could not be with us all the time, and kept shuttling between Imphal and Calcutta. Whenever he was around, there were lots and lots of visitors. One day, cousin Bhaskar also visited and stayed at our temperary residence for some time although we did not know what for. He may already have been an important official of Manipur at the time. While he was around, one day a vendor brought a charmingly, plump, little puppy to our Calcutta house. I immediately fell in love with it and asked my father if I could have it. He called cousin Bhaskar and asked him what he thought of the puppy and if it was worth buying it. To my dismay, cousin Bhaskar advised my father not to buy it as it was only a mongrel. I still remember the episode and how bitter I was with my cousin on that day. All of us kids hated and cursed him in our hearts. Who is this stranger, why did he have to land up here, I had though then. In later years, I realised among the many passions of this cousin, dogs were one. He not only bred them but was an excellent trainer as well. His collection included Great Dane Harlequins, Bull Terriers, Grey Hounds, Labradors, Retrievers, Spaniels…… the list can go on. Even today, his estate is lined with kennels, albeit empty and weather beaten. My father was also a dog lover. So were most of us. We had lots of dogs at the palace, most of them bought from Mayur Bhunja Estate in consultation with cousin Bhaskar who was also their unofficial trainer.

This is Bhaskar Manisana, the last of the Meitei Sahebs. Even today they say he was a pucca Saheb – Meitei Saheb.

PB who knew him more intimately had said he was a man without biases but also a man with definite likes and dislikes and could not be easily swayed. These were the rought guidelines within which I attempted reconstructing cousin Bhaskar’s personality. I enjoyed the guidelines for its resoluteness but also loved it for the ambiguity. I cannot work under any restraint on my creative freedom. This is why I hate writing articles with pre-defined deadlines and sizes for newspapers. I did write sometime, but they were real tortures. Writing for Imphal Free Press was different. It editor, my son Pradip, gave me all the freedom I wanted by not attaching any conditions. I just write as I please. That freedom gave me room for nurturing back my creative instincts.

Whenever I think about cousin Bhaskar, the pictures conjured up before me are not those of the Victorian ball room correctness. The billiard rooms, golf, bridges were not his wont at all. I am reminded most of novelist Thomas Hardy’s landscapes and characters. “The Mayor of Castertridge” and “Far From the Maddening Crowd” type of atmosphere most suited the personality and lifestyle of the last of the Meitei Sahebs.

I visited my cousin Bhaskar’s residence the other day. The last time I was there was when I was only a child. I do not remember who I went there with but I do remember it was lunchtime. I vaguely recollect finding Cousin Bhaskar lunching with his entire family around him when we arrived. I wonder now why it did not occur to me that I should have visited his residence again before I embarked on writing about him and his life. Perhaps if I did this, there would have been more finer details and nuances about this somewhat mysterious man. I did think fondly of his children, my nephews, and had been longing to visit them. They all seem so distant now. Other than his eldest son, Sanajaoba, and his daughters. I do not think I would be able to recognise his younger sons if I met them in the streets. So I sent them a message first that their aunt would be visiting them at their residence. Moreover, I did not want to be surprised with an empty house when I reach there, or worse still I did not want to be confronted by bewildered faces and gaping jaws when I announce that I am one of their aunts.

My nephews were waiting for me when I reached their house. Nephew Kamal’s widow was impressive. Very presentable and good looking. I introduced myself to them, but no sooner than I did this, it became evident that it was a superflous exercise. Before I realised it, they were kneeling and humbling themselves before me. “Ineshi (revered aunt), of course, we know you,” they said. Mineketan is the youngest of my cousin Bhaskar’s sons. He is a little more sociable than his elder brother who incredibly resembles their father. He seldom spoke. Just sat quietly all the while. Their estate is large, but it had struck me as larger when I visited it as a child. Its profile too had altered considerably. The old wooden bungalow too had disappeared. In its place is a concrete house belonging to Mineketan. The tree-line drive-in, the pukhri, the old wooden cottages for his domestic helpers, the kennels for his dogs, although badly maintained, were still very much there. There were other objects to remind of the accentricity of Bhaskar Manisana. The motor boat, the old jeep, the Dodge truck, wooden duck decoys for his shooting expeditions, the fishing rods, they were all there. They were all carefully preserved by his children. In contrast, I recollected with sadness, the royal estates left behind by my father Churachand Maharaj, now mutilated beyond repairs and sold bits and pieces by his children. It is difficult to find the entrance to my maiden home now. After the visit to my cousin’s residence, I suddenly had an urge to go to that old dilapidated building that once was the King of Manipur’s residence. This old shabby place was where I was born and spent my childhood. Tears had swelled in my eyes and I sudenly felt sorry for my royal father. He too, like my cousin Bhaskar was the meeting point of the East and the West during the British days. The estate left behind by them today seem like the shadows of a past glorious era.

It is rather embarrassing to acknowledge that the royal dynasty that I write of was under a colonial yoke. All the same, it must also be acknowledged that the period is of  immense historical relevance and hence I thought it was my duty to put some of what I know down on paper. The visit to my cousin’s residence left me retrospecting. How alike in looks are my father, Sir Churachand and cousin Bhaskar. The similarities do not end with physical contenance. In fact, they were both Meitei Sahebs. Or rather, they were Meiteis and they were Sahebs at the same time.

My nephews struck me as very simple, straightforward people. Their children were so well mannered too. Their welcome was simple and warm. They flitted in and out of the room serving us tea and biscuits, creating not even a rustle. The crockery they handled did not even once clink. I was impressed. The royal glamour of the past era may have vanished, but the blue blood that ran in their veins showed in every movement they made.

I remember a Japanese girl I met once. She had come to Manipur as a resource person for a discourse on Creative Film Making.” Her Canadian husband, Prof Earnet Guisila is a well known professor of Media Art. It was a very tumultuous time in Manipur, with not a single day passing without some violent act or the other. I remember we were worried how we were to make these two foreign guest at home while in our care. We decided that the State Guest House would be the most convenient and safe place for them and checked them in there. We paid them as much personal attention as we could. One day, taking advantage of my age, I asked the Japanese women, Tamio, to make tea for me. She obliged. When the tea was ready to be served, she suddenly went down on her knees and holding the tea cup in both her hands, reverently handed it over to me. I was bewildered, but touched to the core as well. How beautiful, I had thought. Well, our own tradition is not any less. My cousin’s granddaughters reminded me of the rich tradition we have inherited from our forefathers. The thought made me immensely happy.

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