Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Classic Group of Hotels
Cover of first Manipuri novel "Madhabi" by Dr. Kamal.

The Poet Lamabam Kamal: Life and Times – Part 2

From the volume Confluence: Essays on Manipuri Literature and Culture complied and edited by B.S. Rajkumar.


Continued from previous issue

Kamal‘s Education

Sir James Johnstone who was the Political Agent in Manipur sought Maharaja Chandrakirti’s assent to establish the Johnstone School at Imphal in 1885. In the beginning it was established as a Middle English School when classes were open only upto the VIIIth Standard. Education in Manipur followed the system of Class Vth to 1st. After completing the Vth Standard a student can get enrolled to Class I, then to Class II upto this standard they belonged to the lower Primary School. The Middle School consisted of the Vth and VIth classes. The Class VI examination was known as minor. Someone who has passed Class VI could become a clerk in the government offices. From class VI to X are called the High School. System of teaching and learning process as well as the curriculum followed the Assam Board. In the earlier stages of learning they used Bengali text books only. Next they started translating some text books into Manipuri and started learning from it. In these days most of the teachers in Manipur were made up of those Meiteis especially requested for the posts from Cachar. There were none among the Manipuri people who had been educated in the western system of education.

After passing the village Lower Primary Examination in Classes I and II the prevalent custom was to get admitted to the Class III in the Johnstone School. As the number of students increased they established three Ucha Primary Schools at Thangmeiband, Moirangkhom and Chinga for students of Class III and IV. Out of the total number of students passing out of the school only 40 (Some say 50) students were selected for admission to Johnstone School. So Ucha Primary Examination was regarded as an important examination in those days. It was a real tough task for students to get admissions in Johnstone School which, was known as the Big School in those days.

Lamabam Kamal Singh after studying first in the 20th school among the LP schools called Lilong Hindu Primary School studied next in the Moirangkhom Ucha Primary School. Next after passing out Class IX from Johnstone School (it could accommodate upto Class VIII only in the beginning. In 1929 the poet Chaoba 1896-1950 after passing out Class VIII from this school was given a scholarship of Rs. 17 per month and was sent for further study to Shillong. He got admitted in the Shillong Govt. High School. He passed the Entrance Examination in 1921 under the Calcutta University) Kamal secured the third position in that examination. He grew up a very brilliant student and secured the first or second position in almost all the examinations he appeared. He studied under Scholarship from the Manipur State authority. In those days it was very difficult to study further without state scholarship. It was hard times for students as well as the state of Manipur financially.

Picture him going to school to Moirangkhom, then to Johnstone to and fro from far off Langthabal daily in the dusty road years after school bag slinging sown his shoulder – it was a pitiable sight indeed! It was only possible by dint of his iron will, his indomitable desire to overcome all the difficulties in his way till he met his goal. It was really difficult to recognise Kamal as he returned home from school. Because he was all covered with dust from head to toe. Road communication was in pitiable shape, and on the farless road he struggled with dust in summer and mud in rainy season like many others. The roads were evergreen with long grasses with the dust and the mud, Kamal could hardly be discerned when he reached home. It was only with a steady will that Kamal undertook the long way to and from his house to school.

Students were scarce at the outset of western education in Manipur. People regarded learning in English to be a pollution. The authority gave them free assistance in matters of stationary and writing instruments such as ink, pen, slates. Then there was a certain rise in students’ interest in learning the new sort of education. As the students were economically in very bad shape, they were given monetary incentive -Rs. 2 p.m. for urban students and Rs. 3. p.m. for rural students. It is known as Student scholarship. L.P. School teacher enjoyed Rs. 15 pm, the third teacher received Rs. 7.50 and the Chowkidar of the school received Rs. 3/-per month. Most students were dressed in dhoti that cost ten annas. Many of them found it ever difficult to possess a decent pair of shoes. The cost of digging an area of 10 ft width and 5 deep pond that engaged ten able-bodied persons was one siki. The Bullock cart used to be the main transporation for the Manipuris. Most of them used to walk by foot. (The state of poverty in those days is well described by Dr. Leiren in his article in the Yakairol journal where he writes “Salt that is really cheap happened to be costly for most of the people how to much so that one would use it after draining away the water for fear that with it the salt will give no taste. Most people could not use tall grasses for thatching they took recourse to the cheaper charot thatch their houses.– October 1935) In the family of ten siblings they could not provide education for any other of them besides Kamal. The good student the well mannered and hard working Kamal now has passed the Matriculation. And he was ready to go to Dibrugarh to get trained in the medical profession.

Medical Studentship in Dibrugarh

Lamabarn Kamal Singh stood third in the Matric Examination known as Prabesh. It was a custom in those days to send students in the first and second position for studies in the arts stream whereas those in the third and fourth position to send for studies in technical profession studies. Though Kamal has wanted to follow the arts stream he had to study medicine. For this the Government reserved two seats for medical students. In 1922 Kamal got admitted to the Berry White Medical School at Dibrugarh for LMP (Licentiate Medical Practitioner), a course four years. For this course he received Rs. 35/- as scholarship from the king of Manipur. The Institute was established by a Dr. John Berry White. Kamal was to finish the course in 1925 but due poor health during his studies he passed in 1926. In 1947 this Institute became the Assam Medical College. In those days it was the only place in the North-East for studying medicine.

To complete the LMP course was not a joke especially in those days. It was a seat reserved for first divisioners only. The first two years of the course consisted of a physics paper and then a paper on chemistry which were compulsory. One has to pass through both the papers. Then a vigorous three month military training was also incorporated into the course. They hired a military instructor especially for this. The training was designed keeping the students sound of health and mind. It took two days from Imphal to Dimapur with a night’s hall at Kohima (Earlier people used to travel by bullock-cart.) People had to stay the night at Kohima town as the roads were too small for two vehicles to pass one another side by side. So they had to stop to give way to other coming vehicles. Vehicles as big as a jeep vehicle only which people popularly called the ‘six cylinder’ with a very limited capacity of passengers plied the Imphal Dimapur road. It carried both passengers and different loads. Sometimes the passengers themselves had to push it up over steep inclines. Besides it there was a man pulled bullock cart that was particularly meant to portion things. it was really a perilous journey what they had to undergo in those days. People went from Dimapur to Gauhati by (now Guwahati) train for the cost of Rs. 3.25. Kamal got education facing all such hardships.

continued next week

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