Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

MK Binodini and sister
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The Last of the Meitei Sahebs – Part III

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 once came across a photograph of young Bhaskar Manisana in full ceremonial attire of a prince. Bhaskar must have been 12 or 13 at the time. The dress must have been the one his royal uncle, the King of Manipur, Churachand Maharaj, presented him.

We have also heard stories of how Churachand Maharaj had taken the boy along to Delhi to attend a Durbar of Emperor George-V.

Time to end my tale. Or should we rather say, time to begin it. I did not know what or where I was heading for when I started probing into the life of this fascinating cousin of mine. I did not for once think it was a creative endeavour that I was making. But something about his man egged me to go on and on. Today, I dare say some other energy has come alive inside me. My genial cousin has awoken in me, a new creative urge, making me restless and wanting to write and create. Like the Arabian Nights, new images, new ideas, keep taking form before me even while in sleep. My intutition tells me it is the shadow of my old creative instinct hovering over me. I know I am just about to make a departure from a search that is semi-academic in nature into the creative world. This is the beginning of the beginning. However, I have to close this book before I open the next.

I received a call just the other day from our dear nephew. Sanajaoba, the son of Bhaskar Manisana, telling me he has read my writings about his father in the Free Press. They were sheer poetry, he told me asking me if I could furnish him with some more copies of the newspaper for his collection. It was quite a touching experience hearing from relatives who had receded far away into time and memory. I remember him as a sweet child, following us to our playfields and joining in our play. We used to fondly refer to him as Sanahal. He is today a well-known senior advocate. The call made me recall my nephews and nieces. There is Major Deepak too, who is married to my niece, Bhaskar Manisana’s eldest daughter. If not for a chance encounter with him, I may not have been writing these accounts of the man who is undoubtedly the last of the Meitei Sahebs.

I know my story is getting much too personal, and I am aware that there may be among the readers who are bored with my rambling. As for me, I am happy that the Bhaskar Manisana who has emerged from the past before me today is no longer just the man in the Manipur State Administrative Report. He is on the other hand, Prince Bhaskar who as a child I had glimpses of and admired. He is no hero, but just a simple man of mixed personality. It is not a biography that I attempt. I would rather say it is in the nature of the Lava and Kush twins of the Ramayana that Valmiki created. Part real and part fiction.

Tamo MK Priyobarta, fondly known in the state and outside as just PB, asked me “Tombi, what made you write of our cousin? What inspired you to dig into our family roots? Well written ……. extremely readable……” Tamo PB was close to Bhaskar as they were both Darbar Members.

“Will you tell me more about him,” I asked Tamo PB.

“It seemed like only yesterday. It was exactly at this spot that I ran after our elder cousin and played,” he said pointing at his garden. Our grandmother sat there and watched. He pointed at his courtyard.

“Tell me more” I kept nudging my brother, forgetting that he was weak and confined to a wheelchair.

“He trusted me. At the Durbar he always took a seat by me. He always wanted to know my opinion, my decision on every issue that came up before the Durbar. ‘Yaima what do you think’ was his favourite question to me,’ Tamo PB continued.

Upon my further insistence, Tamo PB muttered “Loveable character really,” repeating the exclamation over and over again as if a flood of memory of good old days was beginning to well up before him. “He was a man free of biases. He was also firm in his decisions and not one to be swayed by influences easily. A thoroughly lovable character,” he said.

One question came to my mind. What kind of a man was Bhaskar Manisana’s father? I have heard the whispers amongst the people that the man who should have been king is not Ningthem Pishak. (Infant king) Churachand, but his eldest brother Dhumbra Singh? I am told Dhumbra Singh was extremely protective, and even possessive about his youngest brother, Churachand. This was specially so when the King was in his teens. Dhumbra Singh assumed the role of the buffer between the young King’s private and the public life, defusing many a potential scandal resulting from the king’s teenage pranks and mischiefs. It’s quite a touching story actually. As a child, I heard that their father, Chaobiyaima, one of the sons of Nara Singh Maharaj, was the least outgoing and worldly wise of his siblings. He was extremely shy, so much so that he was nicknamed as “Sana Phiruk Khumbi” (the prince in purdah).

However, their mother, Moirangthem Chanu, was of a well-known and affluent family. She became a widow early in her life and kingship lineage having passed out of the Nara Singh lineage two generations ago, in Manipur’s chequered recent history, was forced into penury and difficult times having to fight it out to make ends meet and raise her children. Dhumbra Singh being the eldest, had first hand experience of what hard times can mean. If not for his broad shoulders that eased the burden on her widow mother, she would have been crushed, they say. Cruel fate did not however leave Dhumbra alone. He too became a widower and he and his widow mother were left to raise his own children. Nayansana, Manisana and Sanatombi. The children were naturally attached to their grandmother, Moirangthem Chanu, and as a matter of fact, we got to see our cousin Bhaskar Manisana often in our royal residence only because he frequented his grandmother.

As I write on, I realise that my journey is really a personal pilgrimage, and not just the annals of one fascinating man of a past generation. I realise that beyond the scope of approved history, there is a mysterious realm of the living. A world as full and pregnant with life as can be. A world that has all the ingredients of life, complete with all the sufferings and joys, elations and depressions, successes and failures, tears and laughters ……. It is my belief that the essense of this life that is hidden behind the records of history, can only be captured effectively by the pen of the artist. My quest for the background of my cousin, Bhaskar Manisana, my lonely journey and exploration into the past, are all to have a glimpse of this life.

Bhaskar Manisana was a rebel without a pause. He disregarded… Nay! He braved popular opinion that he was a crackpot and lived as faithfully to the demands of his instinct as he could. He was, in a way, a revolutionary. His educational background is impressive. Primary school in Shillong, then Princes Mayo College. He was an able administrator too. Immediately after completing his studies he joined the state services and became the private secretary to his young uncle, the King of Manipur, Churachand. Not long after, he became a Darbar Member (minister) and then the judge of the Chief Court. He retired as a judge.

According to the tradition of the land, the king’s eldest son is considered the heir to the throne. If the eldest son for some reason or the other is not able to inherit the throne, the next in line for kingship is the next eldest son. The hierarchy of inheritance to the throne of Manipur is thus decided in the descending order of the age of the male heirs. However, this tradition has been more often than not broken in the course of the history of the place because of extraordinary circumstances. Evidences of this break of tradition are not uncommon even in the relatively recent history that we are familiar with. It was with a knowledge of this disregard for a historical tradition that the British, after they took over Manipur, decided to change the kingship lineage from the children of Gambhir Singh Maharaj, who they believed were rebellious, to those of Nara Singh Maharaj. Again, in keeping with the tradition, it was not Amusana (Churachand) a minor at the time of his coronation, who was the rightful heir to the throne, but his eldest brother Dhumbra, Bhaskar Manisana’s father.

This is why some still say that the Dhumbra Singh’s eldest son Bhaskar has a stake to the throne of Manipur. When Churachand Maharaj was on his death bed in Nabadwip, we are told that cousin Bhaskar Manisana visited him. We do not know what passed on between the King and his nephew there. All we know is that Bhaskar Manisana did not even bother to contest for the throne after his uncle left for his Heavenly abode. He simply kept out of the race and continued to live his enigmatic life the way he always wanted to. He was happy in him own private world and he seemed contented to live in it without depending on anyone else or anybody else’s reflected glory. So, much has been said about this mysteriously charming man, many of which are outrightly unfair to him. My effort hence is also to bring out the aspects of him that remained hidden from public view in the hope that a fairer picture of him would emergence before the public.

(Last part next week)

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