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Manipur Mischief : Book Review
Author: William Wright

James Oinam *



Book Title: Manipur Mischief: Rebellion, Scandal and the Dark Side of the Raj, 1891
Author: William Wright
First Published: 2018
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
Pages: 271

The book follows a picturesque narrative. Various related facts a brought in to fill in gaps, and provide probable explanations.

A chief focus of the book is the My Three Years in Manipur by Ethel Grimwood. Mrs Grimwood says that she wrote the book to clear her husband's name, Mr Grimwood, who was the political agent of British Raj in Manipur during the Palace revolt of Manipur in 1890. However, she does not elaborate on the allegations made on her husband in the book.

The author William Wright mentions few names. Notable one among them is Sir Johnstone who disapproved of Mr Grimwood informally mingling with Manipuri princes, including the Senaputti Tikendrajit, and princesses.

The king of Manipur, Sur Chandra, took refuge at the residency during the Palace revolt. There he abdicated his throne to go to Brindaban. Allegations ranges from whether Grimwood had the authority to accept abdication of throne to whether he was complicit in making the Palace revolt successful.

There are interesting facts and figures, and also I believe "false impressions" or knowledge, in the book.

The scale of Chahi Taret Khuntakpa (Burmese invasion) can be gauged from the following passage in the book:
"No true census had been done of Manipur but it was estimated the population stood at 80-140,000 excluding the hill tribes who numbered a further 75-100,000 people. Before the terrible Burmese invasions of the eighteenth century it was thought Manipur might had more than 700,000 inhabitants, yet by 1825 the number of adult males had been reduced to just 3,000" (p. 28).

The author views Manipur in the larger context of the Indian subcontinent, much like the characters of his narrative (such as James Johnstone). For example, many scholars would not agree his assessment of religious Manipuri history as follows:
"The country [Manipur] had converted from Buddhism to Hinduism around 1720, 'after which time they looked upon their king or ningthau as the current incarnation of the god Vishnu'" (p. 29). Buddhism spread to Southeast Asia from India. However, Manipur was conspicuous by absence of this religion around this time.

In many places in the book, the Kangla-sha is referred to as the "lion". The author believes this symbol was inspired by Burmese "Chinthe".

The events leading up to the Khomjong War included two princes falling in love with a same girl, and palace revolt which led to deposition of king Sur Chandra and enthronement of Kula Chandra. This could have remained a "family matter" and not escalated to conflict with the British Raj.

However, the main characters on the British side who played crucial role in the Khomjong War were Viceroy Lansdowne, former Political Agent James Johnstone, Chief Commissioner Quinton who was based in Assam, and the-then Political Agent Frank Grimwood. The Viceroy was determined that Tikendrajit should be exiled holding him responsible for the Palace revolt.

Quinton and Grimwood thought the Palace revolt was internal matter. However, without a fair trial the prince, nicknamed "Koireng" (which has been translated as "tiger hunter"), was to be exiled forever (p. 88). It was planned to be swift and without bloodshed but it did not work out that way.

In this battle, Snider, Martini-Henry, and Lee-Metford rifles were used. According to the internet, these rifles used gun powders. Lee-Metfords were latest additions and had detachable magazines, but they were not in service for long as smokeless guns were introduced shortly.

A separate chapter, entitled "A Plucky Fellow", is dedicated to highlight few soldiers who showed exemplary courage and skill in the battle, wherein the actions of one Grant, especially, is given in detail.

The concluding chapters focuses on the politics of the war, why and how the war started and "differences of opinions" between the-then Viceroy Lansdowne and Queen Victoria. There were allegations of scandalous affairs involving Mr Grimwood and Thangal General's daughter. This was at least partly to blame for the bad blood.

Also, the handling of the Palace revolt was questioned in detail. A bone of contention was the Quinton's plan to capture the Senaputti Tikendrajit at Durbar. (He did not attend it due to ill health.) Another was whether the Senaputti should be given capital punishment. The Queen advised against it.

Something vexing toward the conclusion of the book is author's saying that Manipur was not annexed after the battle. This is mentioned in two places: "That Manipur was not annexed owed something to Sir James Johnstone's pleas that the state be allowed a measure of independence" (p. 241). This does not seem to be the general belief in the populace. However, it may be matter of definition.


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on January 28, 2021 .



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