E-Pao! EI - Salute to a prince

Salute to a prince

By: C Doungel *

Fondly called by his men in the Assam Regiment as Captain Prince, Late Captain M.K. PB Singh was the very quintessence of a Manipuri gentleman, who like Sir Water could say anytime that “thy need is greater than mine”.

Such was his care for others he came into contact and his natural commitment to their welfare. To be a king commission officer under the British rule was almost unattainable for many unless one belonged to royalty or martial community or tribe.

Great emphasis was placed on the criteria of “officer like quality” and just run of the mill educated persons who can rattle out book knowledge cannot attain the standard. In fact, Indian officers in the early forties were few - Field Marshal Cariappa was a Colonel and Gen. Ayub Khan (later President of Pakistan) was a major who came through these selective tests to name a few.

M.K. PB Singh was one such achiever. One experience he narrated was about large scale desertion by soldiers who were very homesick. He said this was most frequent among Angamis. He therefore got a drama enacted and a deserter was portrayed as one with his back burning in flame.

His comrades neither love him nor his people at home respect him. He said the number sharply went down after that. He used to mention about two other retired officers of the Regiment whom he held in high esteem.

One is Capt. Peter Styn who wrote the ‘History of Assam Regiment’ and whom I too know. He quit the army after independence and joined Shaw Wallace Co and rose to be the Managing Director. High minded and dedicated to helping others, he left that job to take administrative charge of a Health care organisation which also looks after lepers in Hong kong.

The other is Brig. T Saillo, a very devoted Christian and later turned politician. He became the Chief Minister of Mizoram and is one of the main architect of present Mizoram.

I came into contact with M.K. PB Singh as a boy of about 9 years. He allotted about 200 hectares of land between two rivers just at the start of straight road in mile stone 104-05 under National Highway 39 to my uncle Jem Satkhosei.

We were the pioneers to settle in the village of Bongmol in 1946 while my father was still teaching in Kangpokpi Mission School. He used to come and see for himself how we were doing. His every visit was memorable because we always willingly tried to put up a good show for the Prince as rare privilege.

I learnt that he also took similar steps to help his other comrades in arms of which one notable person is Jem Thanghem M.C. whom he allowed to settle at Molnom (CCP). His attachment and friendship with Late Major R Khuthing MC & IFAS is known to all who knew him.

In fact, in the first ever Manipur Assembly election in 1950, he nominated him to contest from Sadar Hills. He became the first Chief Minister and Late Maj Khuthing was the Hill Minister. It was indeed a Manipur national Government as different from present party Governments.

It is memorable because Hills and plains festival was organised and village people like us had the chance to come and see the City of Imphal, the people and also those coming from different places of the State. He told me about the appointment of Late Yangmaso Shaiza, who later became one of the most respected Chief Ministers, as Circle officer.

He said that when he came for interview, he produced his graduation certificate. The other candidate, Shree Rishang Keishing who also became the longest serving Chief Minister, brought a telegram that he passed B.A. Therefore Late Yangmaso Shaiza was appointed.

It was done on best judgment and not on favouritism. His other important mission was establishment of ex-servicemen colony at Keithelmanbi at 104 mile NH 39 in 1949. A year before, he used to come and see the location frequently. Kanglatongbi, where ex-Assam Rifles were settled was not found suitable enough and hence the selection of Keithelmanbi.

The colony now comprises of nearly 700 families and still has more than 200 serving soldiers. Though it can boast of producing one Chief Engineer and a Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, it remains one of the most neglected habitation.

There is no proper water supply, no Community hall and even the playgrounds are not at all developed because places in Sadar Hills are so neglected. During this, he started a castle like Bungalow at Pheidinga hills but it was good only for picnic outing and living there regularly was not possible.

In later years, he wanted to dispose off so that he can establish a trust for poor and meritorious students. However that could not materialise.

I used to hear our elders talking in those days about the inevitable merger with India coming. He was one of the visionaries who helped in persuading those representing India to put amongst others, a clause that the “Government of India would protect the territorial integrity of Manipur and safeguard their interests”.

This assurance was made eleven years before agreement with Naga National organisation in 1960 which provides that contiguous Naga areas can merge with the consent of the people. The people representing Manipur Government should now emphasise that such political agreement with People’s organisation cannot override an agreement between two nations then (though no longer so now) instead of leaving the issue to be championed by organisations like UCM/Apunba Lup whose credentials are tinged with extremism.

The Naga cause, based on ideological faith of Nagaism should be juxtaposed with earlier historical developments supported by such evidence so as to make the Government of India perceive the historical fact in true light and convince them of Manipur’s cause.

I came in very close contact again in 1979 when I was the Finance Commissioner and he was Chairman of Manipur Spinning Corpn. Late Shree H Jelshyam IAS was the other Director and Late Shree L Jugeshore IPS, the Managing Director. It was a very good team and what he desired for development of the mill was gladly carried out.

He usually ask me first to find out the opinion of the others about the steps he desired to take which however was always positive. He was very unhappy about purchase of some used machineries by the then mill manager because the cost was not commensurate with the materials.

Because of his dedication and high standard of ethics, he could not tolerate any wastage of public money. After stream-lining the management, machineries were erected and 6500 spindles installed. All of us were so happy when the mill started producing and selling yarn in 1981.

To cite an example of his austerity, he never mentioned that he had no telephone provided. When we came to know of it, we decided to give him a connection which he refused. However we went ahead and got him a telephone connection without asking him. Even so, his monthly bills never reached four digits.

In 1980, there was a spell of President’s rule and on the advice of Governor L.P. Singh ICS and Shree Bhaveja IAS, Adviser, the Union Government appointed him and Major R. Khuthing as Advisers. He occupied the eastern room of New Secretariat Annexe only because he wanted to be close to Maj R. Khuthing who occupied the Western room.

Then he called me and sought my advice about modern administration saying that he is out of touch. I knew that he was asking me out of politeness and because of maturity. So, I answered that with regards to wider exposer and experience to take an over all view, I am not worthy to give any advice.

However from my limited experience, I suggested that he might find out certain things like what was the Budget provision for say, the department like Medical which he was looking after, what progress had been made in construction of Hospitals etc, whether minimum stock of medicine to meet emergency was available and whether contingency plan regarding epidemic existed.

Also the positioning of Doctors/nurses/other staff might be some other things to review. He advised me that one has to learn from every one and you also better do the same. It made me much wiser. The other incident is about his visit to Shillong in connection with Red Land owned by Manipur. He was going by road and his few luggage was loaded in the car. Retd Chief Justice R.K. Manisana and I saw him off.

Justice Manisana asked him how long he would stay and whether he has money. MK replied that he was not carrying anything but his brother M.K. Khedasana (his man friday) would be having some to manage. His brother said that he has some thousands. Then Justice Manisana took out some wads of currency notes and added a few thousand rupees more. His needs being very few, he was least bothered about his material comfort. After restoration of popular ministry I used to visit him whenever I find time. During one such visit, he was working in the garden which is his hobby. He told me that at one corner, he was growing flowers, at another patch, vegetables, and he was planting some fruit trees too.

While we sat on the porch, his niece of about three years came out and he told me that the girl was sleeping with him and almost through out the night she put her arms around his neck. Seeing her absolute trust, he did not disturb as it was such a solace for him too. I told him that I too have that kind of happiness because my children are home on vacation.

Then he said, he would like to come and talk to them and further asked in a very affectionate way - to tell my wife to prepare some frugal dinner. I replied that it would indeed be such a pleasure. After discussing about their college and studies, he advised them that they should lead disciplined and regulated life. Character based on ethics will take them far.

Thereafter, he lamented that while people in Manipur do not lack animal courage, moral courage is very much wanting. He was a connoisseur of fine arts too and one of his hobby was painting. He showed me a painting of one of his niece saying that she is the tomboy of the family but she is strong and at that time, representing the state in women’s football.

Another time, we were watching dances at JN Dance Academy and the Ras Lila was being performed. He pointed to one of the talented girls and said that one is my niece. I had advised that she should practice regularly which she appeared to have followed well.

He was very involved in peace missions and cultural integrity of Manipur. He went to every nook and corner of Manipur like Jesami, Sajouba, Tamenglong and Molcham etc, to name a few. He used to say that materialism which leads to rampant corruption is changing moral values and destroying the foundation of our Society.

During one of his journeys in connection with peace and cultural integrity, he met with serious accident from which he never fully recovered. But even then though he could hardly speak, he would nod and looked towards the flowers in his garden and the sky as if he never wanted to see the mud. Such was his idealism and vision.

A prince who was legend in his own lifetime and the biggest icon of Manipur lived a simple life and died happily without having a house.

As a very human person, living together and surrounded by his loved ones was what he cherished most. Living in a royal doghouse was abhorrent to him and he faded away respectably.

Long live the Prince.!

* C Doungel (Former Minister) wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on 30th November 2007.

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