Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Classic Group of Hotels
Poster of Radio Drama Urieri Madhabi based on Dr. Kamal's novel "Madhabi"

The Poet Lamabam Kamal: Life and Times – Part 3

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


Chandraprabha as his wife in Dibrugarh

Not much is known about his student days in Dibrugarh. Still two very important things took place during this time – marriage with Chandraprabha (Prabha) on the death of his mother. How did Kamal and Prabha meet. When and where? It will yet remain a mystery. Probably they met at the banks of the Brahmaputra river where there is a large settlement of Manipuris. As students of the medical college they would have visited this settlement. The sombre complexioned Kamal might have met with the fair complexioned Prabha on one such an occasion. They saw one another, it led to their closeness paving the way further for them to fall in love as they get married. Who could have prevented them from falling into love? Kamal and Prabha’s love in Dibrugarh became the source of a big scandal, people found it a perennial subject to talk about to ruffle feelings of the two lovers. Even among his associates there were cases of animosity among them for Prabha’s sake. But who was there not to forget himself once he saw Prabha’s looks? So fair, her hair so long falling on her back, she was the proverbial apsara of swargalok. The two became fairly close, so close that soon she was seen to be visiting and helping him in preparing food. It took five years for Kamal to complete the courses of four years. He eloped with Prabha and they were formally wedded to one another at the end of the fifth year. It was a hard decision for Kamal, because he was still a student in those days, not fit enough to lead the life of a family man. Moreover he knew quite well that it was sure for the royal authority in his state to ex-communicate him once he took Prabha as wife. But Kamal was resolved to face the challenges whatever they might be. Dr. Kamal declared. “Let my dead body rot for taking this so called socially boycotted woman, but I will not leave Prabha. Let it be a lesson to societyhe said. He had endured all, the aunts, the sarcastic comments, the jibes and jeers, Thus Kamal made Prabha his wife while still a student.

Who was the centre of debate Chandraprabha, the ill-fated girl? Her place is called Maijom village, about three miles in distance from the Medical School, spreading by the side of the Brahmaputra river; she grew up in a Thokchom family. There was another Manipuri village called Jaganath bari or Ghambara. In the past these two were quite popular villages, nowadays, due to frequent inundations by the Brahmaputra most of the inhabitants had shifted to different places. Maijom village was mainly preoccupied with the preparation of puffed rice and sugar manufacturing. Chandraprabha’s parents were Tamradhwaja and Haorungbam Ningol Savitri Devi. Tamradhwaja was a courageous person and he took a big part in the jungle cutting operation during the time of opening of railway track line in upper Assam. The English officers were pleased with him and he was given a post in the police constabulary. Later on became an Inspector of Police in the Assam police force. Brajendra says of him, “He was by hobby a Hindu religion scholar. Prabha’s mother Savitri Devi was also an educated woman. Their family was a family of repute in that region.” About Chandraprabha her son Brojendra says-“… not only could she speak in Assamese, Bengali or Hindusthani but also she could read and write in these languages. She could passably do so in both English and Nagari (Devanagari) She could well read out about the Bhagavad Geeta, Gopalsahsranam in Bengali script. She could read Ramayana and Mahabharata quite well. Stories of Sita, Sakuntala, Savitri, Damayenti, Chinta Maharani, Harischandra, Kalidasa etc. were on her lips at most times. She might be the first educated lady among the Meitei women.”We know form this -Dr. Kamal’s acquaintance with Bengali literature might be inspired and helped by wife. With Chandraprabha’s help he got the opportunity to read and study while at Dibrugarh.

There was an instance of ex-communication of Chandraprabha’s family by the Meitei community in Maijom. There was one Protul, the younger brother of Savitri Devi, Prabha’s mother. He took an Assamese girl called Kusumi Kumari as wife, consequently their family was ex-communicated by the rest. Kamal has taken as wife a girl who came from a family ex-communicated for taking as wife an Assamese girl. Chandraprabha has an elder sister who also looked most beautiful. She married a Meitei youth called Keisam Tonjao. Both of them later on converted into Christianity. It is said that Savitri, Chandraprabha’s mother possessed an exceptional understanding of worldly affairs. Dr. Bhagya was of the opinion that her motive had brought Prabha and Kamal close with an ulterior mother to unite them. This matter still remains unproven.) What is true is that – Dr. Kamal’s mother-in-law Savitri became a Hindu nun through a Brahmin who hailed from Rajasthan. Why did she become a nun at the end of her life? Who knows, maybe she had wanted to escape from a life that had faced so many problems and hardships or perhaps that she had wanted to lead a life full of peace and speculation. After she became a recluse (Hindu nun) she visited her daughter in Manipur. In those days Dr. Kamal was posted at Tamenglong. They saw a howda carried by four bearers climbing up the narrow and steep path to their quarter at Tamenglong. Dr. Kamal and Prabha had raced to the front of their house and were looking at the frail old woman with joy and happiness mingled with concern. Tamenglong is about 47 miles far from Imphal, a hill station and it took about three days for them to reach their destiny. It was an exhausting journey indeed.

A Doctor In the Hill

Lamabam Kamal Singh got his LMP certificate in 1926. He became one of the pioneering medical doctors of Manipur. The first doctor is Dr. Thokchom Govardhon (1889-1-1964). The second is Dr. Ningthoujam Leiren Singh (1893-1978) and then Dr. Laishram Kirti, Dr. Tomal, Dr. Bharat, Dr. Kamal, Dr. Ibotonsana and Dr. Tonsana etc. Dr. Kamal was appointed a sub-assistant surgeon on 11 March 1927 with Rs. 80 as salary per month. The Head of the Medical Department was an IMS (Indian Medical Service), of course, an Englishman. Names of some early CS (Civil Surgeons) are Major Dauboo, Captain Neil, Col. Taylor, Major Cunnings etc. Later on the nomenclature Civil Surgeon was changed to CMO (Chief Medical Officer). Some time later on the post of RMO (Residential 1.1edical Officer) was created. There was one Dr. Bhageschandra Das who was known for his surgery to extract stone from the body, it is said. They also say that during the time of Neill and Col. Taylor, if anyone showing split lips, limb outgrowth, in short physically disabled persons were sure to be forcefully operated upon. People were also asked to bring any such person to the medical department for the removal of outgrowths and treatment of split lips. As Dr. Kamal joined service he was transferred to Tamenglong before the year was out. In those days one office of SDO was opened at Tamenglong. S.T. Duncan was SDO in those days. Dr. Kamal left for Tamenglong with his wife and two younger brothers. Dr. Kamal worked there for almost five years.


Kamal’s taking Chandraprabha of Dibrugarh as wife gave him a forceful impact in his life. Manipuri society at large was still in the fold of superstitions, malignity in its outlook reigned in the hearts of people and was still unable to escape from diktats of religion. Kamal came back to his home with his wife after appearing in the LMP examination. It was rumoured that Manipuris in Dibrugarh petitioned the King not to let him enter Manipur. Kamal’s father Jatra Singh who firmly put his faith on the system of excommunication was not able to accept his own son and daughter-in-law into his house. The two were not accepted as family members. He did not take food from his daughter-in-law’s hands. A helpless Kamal lived in a section of the out house which was built after the death of his mother and started living there. Jatra restricted them at the boundary where the Tulsi plant stood. Chandraprabha used a sari when she came out to Manipur. Innocent, simple minded village women of the area tried many a time to have a sneak peak at her. This is human nature. People looked at them steadily at once, people talked about in clear amazement –“She is a mayang woman, look at her beauty? Her hair is so long, it hits the knees, she looks an angel.” Who would put a stop to the people. Maharaj also had heard that Kamal had returned after passing the LMP. He was quite angry with him. There is another reason for his anger, because some are of the opinion that the King had wanted to give his daughter the princess Tamphasana in marriage to Dr. Kamal. So, the Maharaj declared the excommunication of Kamal and Prabha. Now, the consequences of this narrow minded bigoted traditionalism of the society in those days began to heap upon Kamal’s whereupon he suffered the cruel consequences of fate on the pains thereof. The romantic poet Kamal could not remain unmindful of these instances of injustice on his life which found ways into his writings. This protest against the unwanted social system became a source of his creative interaction frequently finding ways of expression in his writings. It made him a revolutionary poet, in fact, all great writers happen to be revolutionaries in their own ways, Thus Dr. Kamal may be regarded as a revolutionary poet in the early days of modern Manipuri literature. His position remained unchanged as a revolutionary writer, His play, the only one, Devajani protested against the system of excommunication people on grounds of their defilement or impurity. Dr. Kamal’s suppressed and voiceless protest has become a fine aspect of his literature.

Dr. Kamal was posted to Tamenglong before the year was out after he joined service. Out of his five children the first three were born at this place. They are Sorojini Devi, Rajendra Singh and Chandrakala Devi. The youngest daughter Indira Devi (Koibi) was born posthumously. After he came from Tamenglong to Imphal he stayed for some time with Dr. Leiren at his house at Nagamapal (He is the second Manipuri doctor and treated Kamal most congenially.) Dr. Leiren was a staunch protestor against the system and was a very liberal social reformer, But at this time a very serious problem raised its ugly head. Dr. Kamal’s father Jatra Singh fell on his sick bed. The extremely Hindu religious believer Jatra who had not skipped a day on Ekadasi Brata or fasting on the eleventh day of the month, who always used freshly washed cloth at times of worship or counting the beads, who was an epitome of Meitei Gouriya itself called in his other sons and daughters to express his wish: “Before 1 die 1 like to spend at least five days outside the house. Do for me what you would in the meantime.” People around him were in tears. The man had changed into fresh clothes that was customary before leaving the world and had already started to wait for the end to him. Dr. Kamal was not allowed to touch him not to speak of looking after him. The wretched Kamal would visit there everyday seeking the key to his prayer. He was paid no attention. Unable to bear it anymore one day Kamal put himself across the King’s way. Lying prostrate before him as the king stepped out of his front door of the palace along with some fresh fruits and flowers he humbly paid obeisance to him. The King stepped over his body but condescended at last to hear his prayer. He put his grievances before him. The king softened his heart at the end and forgave him of his activities. Finally he handed him the paper under his seal. An overjoyed Kamal rushed straight to his home at Langthabal Kunj. He respected the Pardon by the king happily to his dying father as well as showed him the order with seal. His father who was too weak to speak signalled him understanding of the whole matter. On that very day Kamal’s father Jatra left the world.

Jatra’s shradha ceremony was observed quite in a big way with the help of the royal palace. It happened that Jatra had a long forgotten relationship with the royalty in the following manner. Nayansana who lived at Moirangkhom was entitled to about 17 Sangams of paddy land at Langthabal of which Jatra was the in-charge. He erected a big store house by the side of the tank in his homestead. Maharaj Churachand also happened to stay from time to time at Langthabal. In those days he met with the person who was in charge of Nayansana’s paddy land. He also offered cane for the King’s elephant. Today the king seemed to have remembered his Langthabal elder brother of many years ago, so not only did he give parden to his son Kamal but also offered to observe the death ritual shraddha under his care. Then it was done in a magnificent manner.

Also Read