Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Bhaskar Manisana, a dog lover, with his terrier.

The Last of the Meitei Sahebs – Part II

Continued from previous issue.

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 can recall the last time I met my cousin Bhaskar Manisana. It must have been 1961 or perhaps 1962. My two sons were well into their boyhood. They had already begun attending school. The kids had left for school that day. So too their father, Pabung Doctor, for office. I was just relaxing and whiling away my time strolling aimlessly in my courtyard, when I became aware of someone trying to open the gate to my house. As I glanced back, I faintly caught the glimpse of the figure of a man walking in. It’s him! Yes! it is Tamo Bhaskar Manisana. What a surprise! It was almost unbelievable! I rushed out and bowed, touching the ground before him, in obeisance. He had aged considerably.

“Wangol,” he called me in his general, affectionate voice, “I came to you to ask for something”.

I was even more surprised by this. He was a millionaire. He would have ranked as one of the richest in the state at that time without a question. He was thrifty to the finest detail, a quality many thought bordered on miserliness. What could Tamo Bhaskar Manisana want from me was the thought that raced in my mind. The situation was peculiarly interesting. For those brief moments before the query was elaborated, this simple, unfinished question from my cousin, transformed into a suspense of sort. I think I just stood there in front of him not knowing what to answer or do next.

“Do you remember the flowers our Imasi grew in her garden” he continued after sometime. “Do you remember the Violet beds” he said naming the flower in English, and then as if in afterthought, repeated its Manipuri name. “Peruklei it is called. Do you remember.”

The suspense acquired an air of mystery as well.

“Do you happen to grow the flower in your garden?” he asked finally, resolving the suspense.

Of course I know, I know who he means by Imasi. She is my mother Ngangbi Maharani. We also know that shy and retiring flower called Violet and known as Peruklei in Manipuri. The flower is rare in Manipur and they say it is not indigenous to the region and that it was the Sahebs who had brought it to Manipur. I remember the residences of the queens were literally surrounded by the flower. I then also recall flowers were a passion of my cousin Bhaskar Manisana. A stream of the most pleasant memories from my childhood rushed back into my mind filling me with joy. Yes of course, there is an abundance of Peruklei in my garden. They have been there always and there are there even now.

“There is plenty of it in your humble sister’s garden.” I told my cousin, proud of the knowledge that I would be able to oblige him.

“Can you give me a few saplings. Just a few.” He knows it very well that flower lovers are rare and that most of them are very reluctant to part with their prized possessions.

I called my gardener and instructed him to prepare a few saplings of the flower for my cousin. While the gardener was at the job, Cousin Manisana strolled around my garden, admiringly inspecting the flowers and vegetables. It filled me with such pleasure to see his silent approval of my efforts at gardening. This elderly gentleman known for his Western tastes and sensibilities, was as little forthcoming in giving his stamp of approval to aesthetic efforts of others, as much as he was tight-fisted in pecuniary matters.

“Very well! Very well! I am so happy that I have found it in your garden,” he muttered as he walked on. “They have all died and disappeared from mine. I have been hunting for them for quite sometime now. Then I suddenly remembered you, and here I am. Good, good, just give me two saplings. Just two will do.”

Peruklei (Violet) struck a silent chord between my cousin and me. It’s a classy flower and one of my favourites always. Its leaves are like those of our peruk herb, and the petals have a violet hue. Something like our Sangbrei flowers.

“Listen Little Sister. Don’t grow too much vegetables in your garden. Just sample them carefully and grow only as much as your kitchen needs them. No point growing too much. Its a pity letting them go waste,” Cousin Manisana advised me as he strolled around….. watching ……. smelling ……. enjoying.

Amazing man! He must also be one of the most misunderstood men too. But that is understandable, after all his taste and inclinations were oceans away from our little paradise. I am told some even tauntingly referred to him as the “Crow eater Saheb”.

That was the last time I met him. He passed away in 1968. Only the other day, someone mentioned in passing to me that at the time of his death, a flower vase was discovered in his king size, tastefully built, Western style bathroom, attached to his much talked about country house surrounded by sprawling green lawns.

A flower vase with Violet growing in it.

This is only the beginning of my journey. I now know a little more about my fascinating cousin Bhaskar Manisana but I want to discover more. I have to know more about the last of the Meitei Sahebs.

Well it is true, I was always fascinate by my cousin Bhaskar and wanted to unravel more about the somewhat mysterious and aloof life he led. Now I am discovering that the more I dig into the pages of his life and times, the longer the way ahead of me becomes. Each new page, each new chapter, leaves me with the insatiable thirst for more information. At the end of each chapter. I find myself unable to leave my quest and compulsively open the next chapter. Why or how was he so different even at the time? People saw him as an eccentric to the core, even thought him to be deranged. Still, I want to discover the essence of his personality. He was reclusive and aloof alright. But there was something about this man that made it difficult for anybody to ignore him.

Some may say that I write about this man because he is my cousin. That I am self-indulgent in making this journey into my own and my family’s roots. That I want others to read about my background. Well, I cannot deny all these charges. I am a writer, and which writer does not want his or her writings to be read and appreciated.

What an amazing thing is human memory! There can be nothing as pleasurable as a trip down memory lane, encountering past experiences, some as vivid as if they happened only yesterday, others in a haze, needing great effort to get a clear picture out of. A friend asked me, why I am doing this. These are material for an extremely readable book. Why are you wasting them by having them published in newspapers? He does not understand my urgency. He does not understand the urgency of an artist to see his or her creative energy take shape. He does not understand the thirst of a writer to have his or her work in print. I definitely could not wait. I had to tell the world of my journey and discovery.

So then, I will continue to write and tell my story through newspapers. Life is short and you never know what will happen tomorrow. I am impatient, I am in the evening of my life and I fear I may not have the time with me to wait for my recent writings to come out in book form. My mind is still clear and I know I have made the right decision.

Some also may say that Bhaskar’s story does not such a lot of print space. Who was he anyway? How important was he? I have no inclination to answer these questions. There is no point. But there is a Meitei saying. If you have the taste for it, anything can be fun. I discovered this fun, this joy as I moved along in this quaint quest of Bhaskar Manisana’s past. This journey has been among others, a rediscovery of my own roots. Bit by bit I pieced together information about him and with them I could recover and build up an image of him.  I had thought his story would fit well into my own memories. Well, I have let the cat out of the bag. I do not claim I am writing history. It’s just memories. My own.

Bhaskar Manisana was no ordinary man. I consulted Pandit Khelchandra on the matter. The well known authority on Manipur history took out volumes of Manipur State Administrative Reports and proceeded to explain in details the events with authentic support evidences.

I must say I was intimidated by the newly acquired knowledge of enormity of the project. For a moment, my enthusiasm deflated. How was I ever going to digest all these information, I had thought. I am not a scholar or a research student. I told the Pandit frankly that I was overawed. What I needed was not so much hard and dry administrative records, but little details about his life through which I could have a peep and see the personality hidden behind the cloud of mystery that surrounded him. Details that I could weave around my own experiences and understanding of the man and his time. I always knew Pandit Khelchandra was a perfectionist and would not settle for anything lacked factual evidences. I did however get what I wanted from him, or rather I got as much as I could digest without difficulty.

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