Japan Lan: Life In Kangla Sangomshang & Siphai

Bramhacharimayum Sadananda Sharma *

  Japanese soldiers begging for food : RKCS Art Gallery
Japanese soldiers begging for food : RKCS Art Gallery
Warning: These images CANNOT be reproduced in any form or size without written permission from the RKCS Gallery

As Air-raid sirens sounded the warning during the 2nd World War. It became an almost daily part of life both in both the capital and villages. When people heard the siren they would stop what they were doing and make for a safe shelter.

At same time Japanese planes came for air raid, sounds of those planes were quite loudly heard; many of us hide in a pit (Kom) in Manipuri, as narrated by Ngangbam Tocha Singh, 92 years old elderly man from Kangla Sangomshang who is once a care giver of the colonial "Sepoy" during the 2nd world war.

When it comes to 2nd world war the name of Kangla will forever remain unerased from the history. Kangla being the name of an important place during the period of the great Second World War will ever remain in history even generations after generations.

The very village of Tocha, Kangla Sangomshang lies in the western bank of the Iril river which flows down southward through the village, whereas on the east of the river lies Kangla Siphai. Kangla siphai is situated to the north eastern part of Imphal the capital of Manipur, around 9 kilometres away from Imphal itself.

From Chairenthong, the short bridge from Imphal Ukhrul road, taking a right turn on the inter village road eastward. As per settlement record of the government, both the places here on both sides of the river, Kangla Siphai and Kangla Sangomshang are known as the same single village as "Kangla" in short.

The word "Kangla" can be traced back to those olden days when Chandrakriti Maharaja was the reigning King of Manipur about 300 years back. Many soldiers or Siphais who guarded the royal palace of the Maharaja were made to live in this village on the riverside, and hence the place came to be known as "Kangla Siphai" afterwards.

According to old aged people "Kangla Sangomshang" was also said to be have been so named for supplying milk to the royal kitchen during those times. The word "Shangom" is milk and "Shang" meaning shed. It is said that the village had a lot of cowshed and produced large quantity of milk which is enough to serve the royal homes; hence the place came to be known as place of milk sheds.

Very near to the east of the village, stands the great Chingkhei Ching (a small mountain) as a protector of the people of this village. The place of the mountain is also regarded as the abode of the legendary king Chingkhei Ningthou.

The relation between the lives of the people on both sides of the river and the Chingkhei Hill is very close that the hill itself is a good source of several things which the villagers need in their day to day life. The hill provides them with firewoods, bamboos, trees and many edible herbs and vegetables. In simple word Chingkhei hill may be called the life of the villagers.

During the time of 2nd world war, as narrated by Ngangbam Tocha, the colonial Sepoy took shelter in Kangla Sangomshang and set up their camp in Tarakonjin, a hill in Kangla Sangomshang where they kept Sten-gun, bombs, and even anti-aircraft gun etc. They captured the area from Chingarel (a small hill situated near Ukhrul road, which is currently Assam rifles camp) to Ningthoubung for constructing their camp.

Planes are kept hidden in bushes covering by black tent, grass and leaves to protect from enemies air raid. He works for 7/8 years for the colonial Sepoy assisting them in guarding the plane and camps protecting from cattle and intruders. He even took care of their horses cleaning and feeding in returns as a monthly salary they paid some amount and it was huge during those times, he said.

According to Tocha Second World War or Japan Lan in local term is something new in their life, living in such a small village which is an outskirt area in those days. They find it hard to understand the war which is havocking and shaking the earth. Villagers including Tocha's parents were always having this fear and panic of war bombing and attacks during those days. They even locked down their house early before night time.

But Tocha being a small boy he never had those fear and panic instead he himself enjoys being around those planes, guns and Armies during those days. Japan Lan created huge panic even around neighboring villages. Before the war elders of the villagers of neighboring villages used to meet and talks about various rituals, religious, social matters as a means of time passing, but the war brings a lot of changes in and around villages.

One memorable and witty moment for Tocha is that being a teenager he was interested in how an airplane work and fly. So, he keeps a close watch on how the armies handle all those control and procedure to fly.

Not so long to his boyish imagination he thought he acquires enough knowledge to fly an airplane, out of curiosity and desire one fine day seeing a situation, narrating the story suddenly Tocha exclaimed that he had no clue how come he was inside the airplane then he started the engine, and he pushes a paddle the plane started moving slowly, but he got panic and shout for help, meanwhile, all the armies came out and stop the plane, one of the flying commander even slap him but didn't get any severe punishment, Tocha made a soft smile.

During those times when the Japanese bombed Imphal town on Sunday, the 10th May, 1942 there was no airport in Manipur. In fact, the only airport in the North Eastern Region of India at that time was at Dinjan, near Dibrugarh.

Koirengei Airfield was constructed during 1942-43 with the help of American Engineers. The other two main all weathers airfields constructed in Manipur during World War II were the Tulihal and Pallel airfields. Three other fair weathers airfields were also made during this period at Thoubal, Sapam and Kangla Siphai. All these airfields did play a big role in saving Manipur from the clutches of the invading Japanese Army.

Tocha added, there were many army resided in Kangla, foods were supplied by army aeroplanes sometimes through air drop. They sometimes eat our indigenous food but being a spicy food they could not take it often. He continued, during war time many villagers fled to other neighbouring villages specifically in Tumukhong, Moirangpurel, Sabungkhok, Pukhao etc and settle there by doing agricultural work for survival.

Even some of Tocha's relatives and friends fled away in fear of war. Since there were no proper land settlement and demarcations during those days, there were huge opportunities for many villagers shifting from one village to another in search of least war prone areas.

Not only were those, villagers from Kangla Sangomshang also displaced to the other side of Iril River (Kangla Siphai) so as not to injure when bombing. However, many villagers do also returns after war ended. He said, even though there were many bomb explosions near the village, there was no report of casualty, only one cattle was injured in bombing.

In those days, the primary occupation of the villagers were mainly depends on agricultural work. Among the villagers, one or two were employed in Government Departments in the post of "ameen" (one who demarcate lands) and clerks.

It will be hard for us to visualise the situation of that time, there were big airfield with planes in different directions and many army camps, arms and ammunitions were stored which are needed for war, he added. Amidst war zone life was simple for them few stalls of women vendors can be seen selling pans, sweets, cigarettes are being opened.

Ever since the war started villagers in Kangla Sangomsang and Siphai were impacted in some ways. As most of the villagers used to depend their source of income and livelihood by doing agricultural works. The War created a cease in work in different activities including cutting of woods from hills for charcoals, building and constructions, raising cows in fields...etc. But as life has to go on, some minor activities still continues for survival.

One unique performance which they saw first time during war time is that many armies from camps of Indian armies along with workers were there performing drills every morning which is quite new for them. Their special moment during that time lies in the grazing field located at the southward of Kangla village that links with the northern outskirt of the Angom village.

It was also the grazing ground of that time, being a vast grassy plain, was made into a sports complex by the British Army and as such different games like football, athletics, rugby, volleyball, softball and Indian kabaddi etc were played and practiced there every day by Indian armies and Britishers.

Besides army men, a few interested young men of the villages too joined the game. According to Ngangbam Tocha he also participated in the practiced of certain games like football in which he acquire a lot of skills and tactics, one day he was playing with the armies and he kick the ball with all five toe and he got injured, there the army gave him first aid and necessary treatment.

During those times many tournaments of different games were held and conducted by the Anglo Americans which encamped in and around the Kangla air field. On the western boundary of this field, lies a small hillock known as Tarakonjin, a popular playing place for all youths. During war time, there stood a big tent on that hillock, said to be the camp of a general and in it many big British and American officers held meetings and discussions there.

At first many villagers of Kangla were petrified seeing large number of soldiers, planes, camps and ammunitions even though war continues. Tocha believes that armies were settled there to help and rescue the villages so he helps them and guide in many ways. However, his parents and friends keep warning and advised him to stay away from all this issues.

Villagers find it hard to keep close with the soldiers at first but some of the soldiers were kind enough and open minded, they even offers foods and cloths to some of the villagers. Slowly the fear and tension inside the villagers mind goes away. Later on the armies and villagers continues to keep a distance relation inside the war zone.

Recalling the past, eyes misted over with tears he continued that, after the war, as a token of appreciation for his work, the colonial "Shipoy" presented a certificate and also ask him to visit their country independently and presented a pistol along with a Sten-Gun. But those entire precious certificates were thrown in river where many were arrested for keeping those things at that time.

The old aged Ngangbam Tocha recalled his memory in a sweet voice and said those days were quite a troublesome time compared to today's situation. But with the grace of god we survive and those sweet and troublesome memories become our source of happiness.

People were generous and kind helping each others, sharing things between friends and neighbours were a part of life. Most of my childhood's friends are not with me anymore, "I missed them a lot" were his words wiping his eyes filled with tears, with his khudei.


Koirengei Airfield: From airfield to a historical site or a parking space?
Writer: Retd Lt Col M Ranjit Singh;

The 2nd World War in Manipur & My Childhood,
Author: Kh. Nimaicharan Singh,
Published by: Kh. Ratankumar Singh, Imphal

* Bramhacharimayum Sadananda Sharma wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on February 26 2021 .

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