Mrs. Grimwood: From Sylhet to Manipur- C.1890
Mrs. Grimwood [c.1890] gives a vivid description of the journey they had taken to reach Manipur. From Sylhet, it took them 16 days to reach the remote kingdom. First, they started in a boat. A nightlong boat journey it was with a romantic moon giving it a dreamy look. Then came the second phase: a journey on horseback. One interesting event she mentions was that of the reluctant coolies leaving their job and escaping. The coolies had in one voice protested that the Memsahib’s boxes were too big, awkward and unwieldy. But they could not disobey an English officer’s orders. So, reluctantly though, they had started carrying the bundles employing as many as three for one particularly bulky box.
A few miles down the route, something lying by the road struck Mrs. Grimwood. And she was right. It was one of her boxes. But bigger surprises were awaiting her. A little distance from there, all their belongings were lying by roadside and there were no signs of the coolies. They had left the job and made themselves scarce leaving the luggage there. They would rather live incognito in different localities than carry the unmanageable loads. Mr. Grimwood had to, with the help of the local thana, hire a new set of coolies from among the villagers there and make them carry the luggage without allowing them to stray beyond his eyes.
It took them a few days to reach Silchar where the European officers gave them a warm welcome. They stayed there a day or two before finally starting for Manipur. The coolies now were some Nagas and Kukis. While the Nagas had fascinating haircuts, the Kukis had worn long hairs in nape buns. These people did not make a fuss about the unwieldiness of the boxes.
The soldiers of the Manipur Army
Mrs Grimwood gives an interesting insight into the condition of the defence personnel of the Manipur king. While the military guard of the Manipur Army escorting them was supposed to have 30 men, Mrs Grimwood never saw more than 12 of them. The clever Manipuris tried to befool the English officer by counting themselves twice over and making double appearances. They ‘fondly hoped’ that the English officer would not be able to see through the stratagem.
Once while resting at a place, she espied another, not so clever artifice. The Manipuri guard on sentry duty had to be relieved by another. Mrs Grimwood saw that a man in dirty, civilian clothes came up to the sentry and saluted him in native style. The on-duty liveried sentry rushed to a place a little distance away and divested himself of the service uniform and the rifle upon which the dirty-looking man rushed to the spot, clothed himself in the uniform just doffed by his colleague and in the same breath returned to the sahibs to snatch an elaborate English salute.
However, when after a 16-day long journey, Mrs Grimwood and her husband reached the plains of the Manipur valley, there awaited them a warm welcome from the king of Manipur. Four Manipuri princes had come to welcome the guests and there, among them, Mrs. Grimwood saw a bright young man – a prince – who was very different from the common run of Indian nobility. He was the only one among the princes and nobles of Manipur who could speak ‘Hindustani’. Not so striking looking though, his personality had something… something that struck a chord.
The name of the prince was Tikendrajit. He was the general (senapati) of the state. Mrs Grimwood describes her first meeting with Tikendrajit in the following words: ‘He was not a very striking-looking personage. I should think he was about five feet eight inches in height, with a lighter skin than most natives, and rather a pleasing type of countenance. He had nice eyes and a pleasant smile, but his expression was rather spoilt by his front teeth, which were very much broken. We liked what we saw of him on this occasion, and thought him very good-natured-looking. The other brothers did not strike us at all, and there were so many people there, including important officers of state, that I became confused, and ended by shaking hands with a Sepoy, much to that warrior’s astonishment.’
Later the British agent and the princes came closer and Mrs Grimwood discovered the born, natural hero that was Tikendrajit. Of all the princes, he was the closest, friendliest and most warm-hearted. Her husband would play polo with the princes and she would frequently ride with them. But Tikendrajit was always very, very different.
Mrs Grimwood observes: ‘There was something about him that is not generally found in the character of a native. He was manly and generous to a fault, a good friend and a bitter enemy. We liked him because he was much more broad-minded than the rest. If he promised a thing, that thing would be done, and he would take the trouble to see himself that it was done, and not be content with simply giving the order. He was always doing little courteous acts to please us… Another time I had been very ill, and when I was getting better, kind inquiries came every day from the Senapatti, accompanied by half a dozen small birds which he thought were eatable, as he had often seen my husband bring snipe home. The birds were useless, of course, but I valued the kind thoughts which prompted him to send them.’
But the lady’s appreciation wasn’t the standard the colonial rulers went by. To them, the fiercely freedom loving, valiant prince was a potential threat. Even before he posed a direct threat to British interests, they calculated the possible risks arising out of a valiant royal personage who was not likely to meekly submit to designs that were not exactly in the best interest of his motherland
Prince Tikendrajit vs. Prince Pucca Sana
Trouble apparently began with Tikendrajit and another prince Pucca Sana falling for one and the same damsel. Maipakpi, the damsel was said to be the most covetable young woman in the kingdom. She didn’t have royal lineage. But her father was a wealthy goldsmith who was a member of the court. On one occasion, Maipakpi was to perform a dance recital in a celebration. Tikendrajit and Pucca Sana, the two agitated rivals sat in the audience flanking Mrs Grimwood. While Tikendrajit was jolly enjoying every moment of the performance, Pucca Sana was grim with a dark face. Soon afterwards, there was a quarrel between the two princes in which Surachandra, the king and the eldest of all brothers was on the side of Pucca Sana. Tikendrajit and Pucca Sana stopped seeing each other’s face.
Of the ten sons of Chandrakirti from various queens, Surachandra, the first son of the first queen had become the king after Chandrakirti’s death. Kulachandra, the first son of the second queen had become the Jubaraj (heir-apparent) and Tikendrajit, the first son of the third queen had been made the Senapati (general). Tikendtrajit was a gifted sportsman and an expert marksman. His physical and mental attributes were such that all the people in the kingdom held him in great awe and respect. There was jubilation when he was appointed the General. Pucca Sana was made Samu Hanjaba, the officer-in-charge of the Elephant stables. He had to be the elephant driver when the king rode one to visit a place. Other princes were given other, less important offices.
Thanks partly to Tikendrajit and Pucca Sana’s rival attitude, the princes were divided into two factions. Surachandra, the regent, Pucca Sana and two others, all sons of the first queen were on one side and Kulachandra, the Jubaraj Tikendrajit, Angou Sana and Zilla Singh, all step brothers were on the other. Zilla Singh disliked Pucca Sana intensely. Now, with Tikendrajit on his side, he picked frequent quarrels with Pucca Sana on anything and everything. Pucca Sana influenced the king who forbade Zilla Singh to sit in the Durbar. He was also divested of the offices he was decorated with. Angry Zilla Singh was now ready to do anything to see the end of Surachandra and his three brothers.
Things came to a head when on 21 september 1890, Pecca Sana reported to the king that there were large gatherings of people in the houses of the Senapati, Angou Sana and Zilla Singh which might have ominous motives behind them. The jubaraj was asked to inquire into the matter who furnished a misleading report and hastened to a place called Burri Bazar where he would spend a night or two. On the night of 22 September, Zilla Sing, together with some of his followers, climbed the walls of the palace and fired into the windows of the Maharaja’s apartment. Surachandra escaped through the back door and sought shelter in the British Residency.
Mr and Mrs Grimwood had to receive the Maharaja, his three other brothers and some faithful sepoys at an odd hour. Mr. Grimwood tried to comfort the Maharaja. But the king would not even take a rest. He said he would go to Vrindavan. He could not trust the people who were after his life. He would not reconsider his decision and abdicate his claim to the throne, in black and white. From two am, he stayed in the residency up to the evening of the following day. Then he started for Vrindavan, followed by three brothers and a few other followers.
Tikendrajit becomes the Jubaraj
People in Manipur were happy that Pucca Sana was going away from their lives. In fact they were ecstatic that Tikendrajit would be the one to decide everything about Manipur now. Wearing an innocent face, Kulachandra, the jubaraj returned to the capital and ‘with calm equanimity’ acquired the title of regent.
Tikendrajit became the Jubaraj and practically ruled the kingdom. And what a rule it was! Within a very short period of time – ‘Roads that had been almost impassable in the ex-Maharajah’s reign were repaired and made good enough to drive on. Bridges that had been badly needed were erected; some of them on first-class plans, which were calculated to last three times as long as the flimsy structures which existed previously. The people seemed happier and more contented.’
Grimwood now found it easier to work with the Manipur Durbar. Earlier, he had to consult eight opinions before coming to a decision. Things were firm and solid now. Manipur Durbar was now free from petty jealousies and quarrels. Mrs Grimwood could invite any of the princes to any festivity with no fear of earning another’s wrath.
Tikendrajit decided to add Maipakpi to his stable of wives – his tenth wife she was to be. Everyone was happy. Manipur seemed happier and more prosperous than ever.
The Chief Commissioner of Assam announces his visit
But the festive mood came in for some surprise when on the evening of 21 February 1891, there came a telegram from no less a person than the Chief commissioner of Assam that read: ‘I propose to visit Manipur shortly. Have roads and rest-houses put in order. Further directions and dates to follow.’
The Grimwoods were at a loss what could have prompted Mr Quinton, the Chief Commissioner to pay Manipur a visit. Sometime back, when Mr. Quinton was at Kohima, they had invited him to visit Manipur. But Quinton was too busy then. Was it then a visit for wish fulfillment? But the language of the wired message had a kind of somberness that did not encourage them to see Quinton in a partying mood.
The next and more serious purpose of his visit could be that of settling the row over the title of regent. For once outside Manipur, Surachandra had begun to sing a different tune. He was appealing to the British authorities for the restoration of his right to the throne. And he was now implicating Mr. Grimwood too, who, he said compelled him to sign the papers. The political officer, he claimed had disarmed his followers so the king should not be able to put up a fight.
In reality, when the king had reached the residency in hot haste, followed by some sepoys, Mr Grimwood had advised them to part with their firearms, fearing a single act of indiscretion on the part of a sepoy could turn things bad. And the Maharaja also had seen the merit of the advice. However, what worried the Grimwoods most was the ground reality prevailing in Manipur. People were so happy with a king assisted by Tikendrajit, and were so disillusioned with Surachandra’s rule, particularly Pucca Sana playing an important part in it, it would be disastrous if Mr. Quinton aspired to restore the previous set up. Poor Grimwoods! They hadn’t imagined anything more serious. As it turned out, Quinton had in mind something more ominous than they could have imagined.
British soldiers attack Tikendrajit’s house
Mrs Grimwood had a traumatic experience that day. All the British soldiers and officials in the residency had woken up to take breakfast by around 3.30 am after which they had lost no time in marching to Tikendrajit’s house. The first victims of the attack on the Jubaraj’s house were some innocent people who were enjoying a Raas Leela performance there. The performance was originally arranged by the Jubaraj himself for entertaining the visiting dignitary. Because of the mounting tension the performance had to be cancelled by Grimwood. The artists who had come were then asked to perform in the Jubaraj’s house instead.
Besides indiscriminate firing on innocent people, the British soldiers, it is said, desecrated the Krishna temple in the Jubaraj’s courtyard. The hue and cry raised there, attracted the sepoys of the palace and in no time the residence of the Jubaraj took the shape of a battleground. As the news spread, Manipuris from all sides rushed towards the palace and the British found themselves in a tricky situation.
As the day wore on, the attackers began to realize they had not had proper estimation of the might they thought they would crush effortlessly. By afternoon, British soldiers fell back in disarray and concentrated around the Residency. Quinton, Grimwood, Simpson and other British officers sought shelter in the underground cellars of the Residency. To add to the misery, parts of the Residency sustained severe damages from constant firing from mountain guns. By seven in the evening, Quinton and Grimwood decided they would leave the Residency and proceed towards Cachar. But the idea was abandoned a little later. Leaving the Residency was more dangerous than staying in it.
At last the Chief Commissioner agreed he was left with no option other than begging peace from the king of a puny kingdom. The buglers were ordered to sound cease fire. The Manipuris took some time before paying heed to the peace overture.
Quinton then sent a message that read: ‘On what condition will you cease firing on us, and give us time to communicate with the Viceroy, and repair the telegraph?’
First came a reply from the Regent. He said he wanted to talk over matters with Quinton. Then came a letter in Bengali demanding the British would have to surrender arms if the Manipuris had to stop firing. However Mr. Quinton, taking along with him Grimwood, Col Skene, Mr Cossins and Mr simpson proceeded to the palace to discuss matters with the king. Mrs. Grimwood insisted that she too should accompany them. But her husband calmed her saying she was safer where she was. He advised her to keep a brave heart. Firing had stopped and they were soon going to establish peace. There was no cause for worry. She had better take some rest.
He bade the inconsolable wife good bye, and that was the last Mrs Grimwood saw of her husband.
It was a fine, brightly moonlit evening. The splendour of nature demanded Mrs Grimwood’s attention even though she was beset with horrifying problems. Taking advantage of the ceasefire, the British officers decided to shift the hospital to the underground chambers of the residency. For it was increasingly becoming risky to leave the wounded at a place which the weakened force could not protect. The monstrously swelling upsurge of patriotism was likely to take ugly turns any moment.
One after another, wounded soldiers poured in. Mrs Grimwood, helped the doctor and played the role of the much-needed nurse. She even managed to prepare a hasty dinner for all present in the Residency.
The night wore on. Her husband and others seemed to be taking an unusually long time in sorting matters out. Mrs Grimwood paced in and out of the residency impatiently. By about midnight she asked one Captain Boileau if he would mind going down to the gate and finding out whether he could hear or see anything of the Chief Commissioner’s party, and if he came across any of them ‘to say I wanted my husband.’ The officer went off at once, but she was too tired to await his return. She fell into a doze in a chair on the veranda.
The battle resumes
A booming sound of gunfire woke her up. For a moment, she could not tell what was what. Then, slowly she remembered things. Clearly, the ceasefire was over. But where was her husband? She almost went mad as her eyes searched him in the melee. But it was the same residency filled with some junior officers, a doctor and scores of mortally wounded soldiers in the cellars. Now there was no hope of peace. The officers must have been arrested. Oh, how terrible it would be for her husband to be languishing in a prison cell, listening to the booms of gunfire, worrying about the safety of his wife! It must be killing him.
There was a big commotion outside. Soldiers, servants and others all were scrambling to run to safety. Perhaps, she felt, they were running away. For a moment she thought she would not move. She had been asked by her husband to remain where she was. The wounded were being taken out of the cellar. One fatally wounded English officer died when he was taken out of the cellar and laid on the grass outside. Mr. Brackenbury, she recognized and remembered what a jolly lad the dead soldier was. On hearing the cancellation of a Manipuri dance performance arranged in honour of the Chief Commissioner’s visit, this Brackenbury had taken it up on himself to entertain others in the Residency by playing on his banjo. And it all happened about 28 hours ago.
Mrs. Grimwood flees towards Cachar
Suddenly, a fear took hold of her. Was she being left behind? Had the fleeing lot forgotten her? Precisely at that moment came someone to tell her that they were to make a move. The next moment, she was part of a surging mass of people escaping through the backyard of the British Residency, past a thorny fence, past a chilly river towards Cachar. While crossing the river, she lost one of her shoes and got her skirt thoroughly drenched. Shivering in the cold the lady made herself part of the fleeing lot with no one particularly mindful of her presence and yet someone turning up to help her every time she was faced with trouble.
After a few miles’ march, the fleeing lot gathered enough courage to stop for a moment and look back. Thankfully, the Manipuris were not chasing them. They had been firing from the palace only. Or, maybe they had not known that the people in and around the Residency had fled. However, they resumed their march. Towards daybreak, Mrs. Grimwood turned her head to have a last look of the Residency. It was up on fire. Beneath the billowing clouds leapt red flames of the fire that was tearing down her world. All her precious collections, family photographs, all were turning into ashes. She felt a sharp pain in the heart.
Now at daybreak, the group of which Mrs Grimwood was a part (for the fleeing lot had broken into several desultory groups), decided to cut across the rice fields to avoid a police outpost which they knew they would bump into if they marched along the road. They would skirt the outpost, climb the hill and then would strive to strike the road again somewhere in the hills.
As they reached the steep hills and began to climb, some peole – must be Nagas – made wild, pranky gestures at them. They maintained a distance, never coming too close. The British officers accompanying Mrs. Grimwood, however, had no intention to open fire on them fearing that would reach harm to any other fleeing group of their own people. When after climbing 6000 feet on an empty stomach, Mrs Grimwood reached the top of the hill, a Naga boy who once used to be a syce at the Residency came to meet her there and handed her three eggs. She tried to swallow one raw egg and offered others to share the foodstuff, the gallant officers, one and all, refused to share it. For it was the lady, they considered, who needed the foodstuff most.
The journey to Cachar
Mrs Grimwood’s escape to Cachar down a route – the prototype of present-day Silchar-Imphal road – is a spine-tingling account of an adventurous undertaking that gives one the feel of Robin Hood stories, or the ambience of Bankim Chandra’s Anandamath. One can gauge the awesomeness of the venture when one considers that the Silchar-Imphal road is, even today, not a fully functional road for all kinds of vehicles. The topography of the region is such that even 21-century engineers have not been able to give it the requisite features of a highway. When Mrs Grimwood reached Zhiri and took off her clothes, first time in ten days, she found her body covered with leech-bites. A few of them were still on her body – had been there a few days.
After climbing 6000 feet and reaching the top of the Leimatak hill, they halted there until little before sunset. They had not taken anything after the hasty dinner they had the previous night. But they had to move on. One hope that kept them going was that of meeting Captain Cowley, who they knew, had started from Cachar commanding a detachment of 200 soldiers. He was supposed to reinforce Quinton in a few days and going by his movement plan, he was supposed to arrive at a place called Leimatak by 25 March where he would camp for a day. He was not supposed to know what had happened in Manipur. For he had started before the outbreak of the mutinous rebellion in Manipur.
The place Leimatak should not be too far away and they must proceed to meet him. If they failed to meet him, lives of both the parties would be in danger. It was almost darkening. One of the officers took a few men with him and proceeded to check the surroundings of the locality. And lo! Not too far from them was a Manipuri outpost. The officer at the outpost spotted the British officer, called him and said they had received orders to ‘pass the memsahib and the sepoys,’ but the officers must return to Manipur. The party refused to split up.
The Manipuri officer ordered his men to open fire on them. The escaping party scrambled down the hill, went up the other side of the ravine and moved on until they reached the ridge of the other hill and were out of the Manipuri riflemen’s range. They continued their march until 1 a.m and then decided to take a rest in a groove of trees. Mrs Grimwood felt almost envious of her husband who, though imprisoned, was having food and sleep. But he must also be miserable by now, worrying himself to death about what must have happened to his wife – she pitied him the next moment.
At daybreak they resumed their journey and luckily came upon the Manipur-Cachar road. Luck seemed to favour them now. As they marched down the road, they came upon three Manipuri soldiers sitting by the roadside, cooking their morning meal and gossiping. The Gorkha soldiers of Mrs Grimwood’s party sneaked up on the three and took them by surprise. Two of the soldiers managed to flee but the third was held captive. The poor fellow fell on his knees before Mrs Grimwood, called her ‘Ranee, Ranee’ and begged her to spare his life.
Mrs Grimwood comforted him in broken Manipuri. The rice cooked by the soldiers was the most valued thing at that moment. They swooped on the cooking pot first and shared among themselves the meager amount of rice. It left them longing for more. Then they extracted bits of information from the frightened soldier. Yes, he confirmed, Mr. Cowley had arrived at Leimatak on 25th and had not passed the spot where they were on guard duty. His camp was about eight miles down the road. Cheer spread among the members of the party.
Manipuri soldiers ambush the British
The man also informed that there were Manipuri soldiers waiting in ambush for Mrs Grimwood’s party. He offered to take them through the jungle to Cowley’s camp. If they went down the road, Manipuri soldiers lying in ambush would surely attack them. But the astute officers brushed aside his proposal and proceeded down the road. Half a mile from there, they came upon a stockade blocking their road. Obviously, it was there to stop the advancing detachment of Captain Cowley. Before they could wonder at this unusual erection, came there way volleys of gunfire from the hillside above them.
Mrs. Grimwood dived into the bushes on the other side of the road. But her plucky companions got past the stockade – scrambled up the wooden poles and jumped to the ground on the other side. Mrs. Grimwood, with her womanly clothes, couldn’t do that. So she tried getting past it by going down the slope. But she lost footing and slithered down the steep hillside.
A battle ensued there. The well-trained British soldiers killed one or two of the enemies, despite their disadvantageous position. As the battle went on, someone spotted a line of soldiers moving up the hill from the Cachar side. ‘Are these Cowley’s soldiers!’ they gasped. But Gorkhas and Manipuris are difficult to tell apart. There remained an element of uncertainty and hence a mixed feeling of hope and insecurity.
Mrs. Grimwood’s party decided to sound their bugle. The advancing party responded. Again it was no help. The Manipuri bugle too had similar sound. They fished out one handkerchief, tied it to a bamboo pole and waved but could not know whether it was seen by the advancing soldiers. They had disappeared again. After what seemed an eternity, the appeared again round a bend. They were now marching in a trot. Gorkhas, Gorkhas! Some shouted excitedly. Mrs. Grimwood shut her eyes fearing seeing something other than Gorkhas. Then someone sighted a white man and all doubts were removed. They were indeed Captain Cowleys men.
For removing any kind of doubt from Cowley’s men someone proposed that Mrs Grimwood should by summoning up all her strength and run down the road. She agreed and helped along by two officers on either side broke out in a frenzied run. While running, she put her foot on a stone that rolled away giving her a sprained ankle. But she did not stop until she reached Captain Cowley. She could barely remember meeting Cowely who perhaps had barely time to say his ‘hello’ as his men ran past without stopping to see what had happened to an English lady. For the enemy’s gun had not fallen silent.
Manipuri sentiments are hurt-1929-30
In the year 1929, Tripuri King Bir Bikram imposed some socio-cultural sanctions on the Manipuri subjects of Bamutia pargana. The ‘Meitei Leipak Kendriya Parishad’, the brain behind the development, remained behind the curtain. Hell broke loose on the conservative, religious-minded Manipuris. The new rules touched sensitive subjects like rituals at birth and death. They reacted with greatest possible alarm, discussed the matter with the dignitaries of ‘Meitei Leipak Kendriya Parishad’, and realizing the Parishad was in no mood to help them, conveyed their sharp protest against the new rules. The Maharaja summoned some social leaders of Bamutia to the court and, pointing a gun at them, alerted them against any kind of mischief-making.
But the Kirtaniyas were in no mind to obey the King’s orders. They continued with their traditional practices. The King’s sepoys one day invaded the village and apprehended seven of the most vocal social leaders. But the leading light of the rebellion, Laxmikanta Sharma escaped arrest and fled to neighbouring Sylhet. He met some influential Manipuri personages like Naraddhwaj Singha Chowdhury (a Bishnupriya Manipuri zaminder of Bishgaon) and Baikuntha Sharma, the main ideologue of the Bhanubil farmars’ uprising. The leaders, after much discussion, decided that since the event was related to the socio-cultural and religious affairs of the Manipuris, the matter must be conveyed to the Manipur Brahmasabha. Meanwhile, they would work for a public uprising against the King’s unwanted interference in the community’s socio-cultural affairs. For this, they convened a meeting at Podrai (in present-day Bangladesh) where they drew out the future plan of action.
The role of the communists
The communist-influenced ‘Krishak Sabha, a farmers’ organization, extended its help. On the suggestions of ‘Krishak Sabha’, a person was sent to the British Governor in Calcutta with a complaint letter against the King’s decision. Laxmikanta Sharma and another youth set off for Manipur to seek the Brahma Sabha’s opinion and help. Neither the King nor the Brahma Sabha there paid much attention to the plea of Laxmikanta and his companion. But luckily for them Dewan Hijam Irabat Singha was there in the capital.
The great visionary understood the gravity of the problem and promised them that he would send a representation to the King of Tripura to enlighten the King on the matter.
At Bamutia, impatience was building up among the Manipuris. The Raja also was hell bent on teaching the Manipuris of Bamutia a lesson. He sent sepoys who wreaked havoc on Bamutia thrashing farmers, looting and even snatching away the livestock. When some agitated youths tried to resist, the sepoys apprehended them too and headed straight for the capital, victorious. But the Manipuri spirit isn’t the kind to give in so easily. On their way to Agartala, the sepoys had to take a route through a patch of forest. In the middle of the forest, Manipuri youths of Bamutia waylaid the returning soldiers and, launching a lightning attack, set free all their fellow villagers, trussed up the soldiers there and fled. The inevitable followed.
1930: Socio-cultural rules revoked
In 1930, hundreds of people gathered at the North gate of Ujjayanta Palace shouting slogans for the release of the seven Bamutia farmers. The King’s soldiers gored the picketers. But the people didn’t disperse. After the extremes were attained, however, the King called in the leaders and heard them out. He promised he wouldn’t impose socio-cultural rules on them. By that time, the Manipur envoys had also arrived. A few days later came the Govornor‘s decree condemning the steps taken by the King.