Manipur : As I grew up in
- Part 2 -

Shantikumar Moirangthem *

Now, let us recap the preceding moments of history which made us what we are today.

The society in the 1950s, though still a shadow and a continuation of the antiquated feudal social order, heralded the beginning of a change from the old obscurantism to the new order of a democratic rationalism—it was the dream and aspiration of the post-Second World War generation in Manipur.

The British colonials, from the time of Major General G.F. Nathall's pioneering effort to establish a vernacular school in 1872 at Langthabal,unceasingly toiled and troubled to introduce the modern education in Manipur, though their efforts were frustrated at times due to the objection of the monarchy which Sir James Johnstone, hinting strong elements of obscurantism, said,- "wisely from their point of view, they knew as well as I did that the fact of their subjects learning English (education) would eventually mean a better administration of justice, and a gradual sweeping away of abuses".

Sir Johnstone, who is destined to be fondly remembered as the harbinger of modern education in Manipur, buckled down. Thangal Major and his elks, for long wanted to be addressed as "General" after the king promoted them to the tittle, but the wily Political Agent bargained for a worthy quid pro quo, and said- "Now the day that the Maharajah gives his consent to an English school being established, I shall address you General."

Came the faithful day when the veterans brought the consent, Sir Johnstone "stood up and shook hands saying, "I thank you cordially, Generals."

It was like an Open Sesame to the world of modernity and enlightenment for the Manipuris. The eponymous school founded in 1885, interrupted by the Anglo-Manipuri war, was re-established in 1892. William Pettigrew, who came to Manipur in1894 for Missionary work, were caught up in the post war haste for reconstruction and he was given the charge of Assistant Master in Johnstone School in 1895 and continued to work as Honorary Inspector of Schools from 1897 to 1903.

One Sunday morning in 1899, William Pettigrew called a group of students of Johnstone school and handed over a Firuk (a local-made wicker container with lid). When the group leader, Sorokhaibam Thambou received and opened the Firuk in the glare of everybody, the boys had the greatest thrill of a lifetime.

Inside the wicker container, they saw a Football for which they had been pestering their Assistant-Master cum well-wisher for months together. Getting the football from the distant Calcutta at personal level in those days of primitive transport was itself an exception: which Assistant-master will go to such an extra length to appease and encourage the students?

Extraordinary time produces extraordinary people. Reverend Pettigrew was such a man- a missionary, a reformer, an educationist, a scholar and above all a game-changer, all rolled into one.

The grateful students, after expressing gratitude to their teacher, rushed to Yaiskul Kalimai Lampak and kicked the ball to literally kick-start a new era of modern games and sport in Manipur. Sri Sorokhaibam Thambou later became the Captain of Johnstone School's football team which together with the Paltan Team of the cantonment and Churachand Maharajah's team became the first ever three football teams of Manipur (Courtesy- Sri SoramLokeshwar, Rtd. Principal, Manipur College).

In 1908, seven years after the death of Sir James Johnstone, his son, Captain Richard Johnstone, received a letter from Col. Shakespear, the Political Agent of Manipur, enclosing another letter signed by Tombi Singh, Angou Singh and ten others from Manipur which contained the most befitting tribute to the pioneer:
" Johnstone School, Manipur,
February 15, 1908.


We never knew that Sir James Johnstone, K.C.S.I., had a son living till the other day, when a beautiful bust of your father was unveiled by His Honour, the Lieutenant-Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam, and when Colonel Shakespear, the Secretary of Johnstone School, mentioned the fact to us, which we were delighted to hear... We look upon your father as our benefactor, just as Bengalis do upon 'David Hare'...

The Manipuris now value education as much as Bengalis do; and it is to your father's great kindness that the means had been provided for the education of Manipuris. We shall ever be thankful to him, and hold your father's name in reverence."

Colonel Shakespear also wrote to Captain Johnstone: "… there are now about 150 boys... I am sure you will be glad to hear that a bust, which is said to be an excellent likeness of him, has been placed in front of the school, and was unveiled a few days ago by the Lieutenant-Governor...The bust was made from the picture of your father's book by a Punjabi workman employed in the construction of the Rajah's palace." ....

The above letters reflect the ambiance of the resurgent Manipur in the early part of the Twentieth Century right when the regency of colonial authority was ended with the coming of age of Rajah Churachand.

After the 1981 War, the state was declared forfeited, but it was regranted and the Rajah was formally installed in a coronation by Sir Lancelot Hare, Lieutenant Governor of Eastern Bengal and Assam on the 4th February, 1908- as an act of mercy as claimed by the colonials, or in reality, considering the penury of the state, the annexation of which could only lead to an added White Man's Burden.

On the flip side of the story, the Lt. Governor and his entourage motored from Dimapur to Imphal in an Albion car- a journey which signalled the introduction of a new mode of road transport for the landlocked state of Manipur.

Further, the unveiling of the bust of Sir James Johnstone by none other than the Governor of Bengal and Assam, during the itinerary for coronation, followed by a policy declaration for the continuity of modern education in the state, gave a fresh hope and inspiration to the younger generation of Manipur, born after the checkered history of devastation and defeat.

Out of the ashes of Seven Years Devastation (1819-26), the racially tenacious and resilient Manipuris rose like Phoenix and rebuilt a throbbing nation, strong enough to reconquer Burma, a country of forty times its own size.

Manipur regrouped its surviving population of "2,000 inhabitants, a miserable remnants of a thriving population of at least 400,000, possibly 600,000, that existed before the invasion ( * Manipur and Naga Hills: Johnstone,page 86)" by Burma, and strengthened its administration in hills and plains. T

he new government, revamped and restructured by Gambhir Singh and Nar Singh became so viable that the British considered it worthwhile to open a Political Agency in Manipur in 1934 and became a worthy " Asiatic power in alliance with Queen Empress (* History of Modern Manipur-1 : Gangmumei p.184) ".

This article was first published on 11 October, 2019 in the Souvenir , 94th Birth Anniversary of R.K.Maipaksana

To be continued .....

* Shantikumar Moirangthem wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 27, 2019 .

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