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The Poet Lamabam Kamal: Life and Times – Part 4

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

Dr. Kamal’s life and works are intertwined firmly with the place Tamenglong. The beautiful scene, beauty of the hills at Tamenglong, its majestic solemnity of natural abundance seemed to have inspired the poet’s mind while living at this place. He enjoyed plenty of time during his posting at this place. His stay at this place proved to be his most happy days. During his posting at Tamenglong the poet wrote the following poems – Nirjanta and Nirabrajani. These were inspired by Tamenglong. Tamenglong and Canchipur made him a poet of nature. His books Lei Pareng (1929) and Madhabi (1930) were published by the royal government of Manipur after purchasing the copyrights for Rs.75/ approximately. When the first modern Manipuri novel Madhabi was published it brought a new impetus to Manipuri literature. Because in those days there were scarcely any creative writings in the Manipuri language and literature worth the reading.

Dr. Kamal’s Madhabi could cast a spell over the readers not only in those days but also the present. Grown girls and young married women were in the habit of asking literate youths to read them Madhabi sitting on their looms or in quite places – people took so much interest in the book. Hearing it they laughed or wept sometimes. The same was the case with male folk. At the end people were led to believe the story and characters in Madhabi novel as real forgetting that it was a work of fiction. No other book in Manipuri literature had been able to capture readers mind and heart to such an extent and for so long a period like the novel Madhabi did throughout the years, Dr. Kamal’s only short story ‘Brojendra’s Marriage’ (Brajendragi Luhongba) was published in 1933 in Lalit Manjari Patrika.

The journey to Tamenglong was filled with many hardships. It took three days from Imphal to reach the place. They had to spend overnight at the Bungalow at Kangchup and Haochong. They rode on a cane fabricated doli alternately changing places. Dr. Kamal’s quarter is at present converted into the District Malaria Office. They came across dangerous wild beast on way. Dr. Kamal’s wife Chandraprabha could well understand the hillmen porters’ talks about the wild animals. And she was filled with such fear and horror.

The S.D.O.’s office is situated at Tamenglong. He used to be in constant companion with Dr. Kama; taught him Meitei language. Duncan’s mistress also visited Kamal’s place from time to time. The two men were real close. It was the time of festival and sports in the village. There were various competitions in different items. Kamal’s two younger brothers who were both strong and able bodied youths used to stay with him at Tamenglong. In the javelin throw competition Kamal’s brother was the longest thrower. For being the longest thrower of the javeline he was asked to procure a bison as was the custom. Kamal laughed and then started to make the tribal villagers understand and see his own point by saying – “For us Meitei People we felicitate the winner by rewarding him as well as offering choice food. So you must do the same.” The villagers also accepted his suggestion. Dr. Kamal travelled far and wide in and around Tamenglong to look after the medical care of the villagers. He was very fond of clean and healthy living. He planted a number of fruit plants and beautiful flowers around the hospital to change the look of the place. The villagers liked him very much, in fact, he was very popular among the villagers. His quarter was the meeting place of the village chiefs, officers of the Assam Rifles and the family members of the Anglo-Indian SDO’s family. Even after Kamal’s death many of the simple villagers came to his house to express their condolence. He had treated all his staff working under his supervision equally well as if they were his own brothers. And he always ready to lend help to the needy.

After Dr. Kamal had worked for almost three years in Tamenglong he was transferred in 1931 to the Manipur State Jail and the Police Dispensary. Then he was given a quarter near the central jail at Imphal. He worked for the jail, the police dispensary as well as the royal palace. He worked heart and soul for the welfare of the patients under his ward. One day suddenly he was found dead in his bed as people get up from the beds. It was 7 March 1934. The cause of his death was surmised probable heart attack. He was only 36 year of age. He died then so untimely, at the prime of manhood. It was a sad moment. He left five children – Sorojini Devi, Rajendra Singh, Chandrakala Devi, Brajendra Singh and Indira Devi.

A Tragic play after Dr. Kamal’s Demise

The final screen has dropped on Kamal’s life still the chapter was not closed then and there. While he was alive his friend Gopal Muhori had helped him to purchase a plot of land in the Nagamapal Singjubung area, it was replete with a house in good condition. After his death Chandraprabha started living in that home with all their children. Had Chandraprabha been a caring human wife she might have not suffered that much. As it happens she being brought up in the lifestyle of a Dibrugarh family she could not do away with the ways of an Assamese Bengali woman. She could not adjust to the Meitei ways of running a household. She found it difficult to make friends with others, she was prone to quarrel with woman around her neighbourhood and besides she was too jealous and over protective of her husband. She was the type of woman who spent one rupee at earning a quarter. She never thought of supporting her family at least by selling vegetables in the market like many other Meitei woman did. Perhaps she regarded it below her dignity. She was much given to enjoying life as best as she could. The consequence soon caught up with her.

During the period 1934-1942 the year when the second world war reached Manipur Chandraprabha had exhausted the land, on her husband’s name about three paris by selling it away. Then the advent of the war. Anxiety torn people. Prabha has sold away the large plot they had barring a small portion. They built a hut on the little portion where they took shelter. During the war they went to different places such as Khurai, Takhen, the Baruni foot hills, Lamshang, Khumbong etc. seeking refuge. Then finally sought again at the later shelter they had built. That piece of land also did not last long. It was also sold away. Now they were shelterless with the little children. The family proceeded to Hojai to live at Prabha’s sister’s place. Then came back after sometime. Where would they stay? The family now imposed themselves on the masters of their former place at Imphal. It did not last long. A quarrel broke out soon enough. In a shelterless state the group changed places from time to time. There was a small tenantless building by the roadside at Majorkhul. They forced themselves into that small building. She was in no condition to feed the children. So she requested her few acquaintances to look after her children. Her son Brojendra who was forcibly made to adopt by a family at Lairikyengbam Leikai led by his eagerness to get education worked as a hotel boy in an eatery at Khurai Lamlong. He got admitted in a school there and started attending school. The proprietor did not find him at peak hour inside the hotel. As he searched for the boy he was found inside his classroom and was forcibly led away. Still he did not loose heart, worked harder at educating hinlself. (He passed B.Sc. in 1958. He became an Assistant teacher in a school and retired in 1997.) The helpless woman then began going the rounds to beg for a living. The pioneering poet Kamal’s wife spent her last days like a beggar. She passed away on 28th June 1988.

Dr. Kamal who had passed away in an untimely death could not publish many books. His published works consist of Lei Pareng (Poetry, 1929), Madhabi (novel, 1930), Devajani (Drama, 1984 posthumously published) and ‘Brajendragi Luhongba(short story, 1933). Yet these have proved veritable gems of Manipuri literature. A study of Kamal’s view of life and philosophy tells us clearly that it has been influenced by the logical environment of his times as well as the experiences in his life. If we are to create the totality of Kamal’s sensibility then we find the injustices of his time and milieu, the disappointments he had suffered, the protests he wanted to make and the mental anguish he felt on the whole. He wanted to bring universal love, a liberal outlook and above all, humanism. Narrow mindedness parochiality in matters of religion, the custom of acceptability by society and excommunication were kept as something outside his religion. He loved the poor and humble. The short-lived morning jasmine as it were, leaves a long lasting fragrance. Dr. Kamal happens to be a solitary star among the pioneering poets of Manipuri literature.

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