A translation by Dr. Amarjit Moirangthem
When he returned back from Manipur to Kanto in Kabow Valley, his birth place, everything had changed. His home was nowhere seen. The Burmese people had occupied the place and made their home. On enquiry he learnt that 2 years after he left his home, the British who then tooked over and ruled Burma, they had killed his father and brothers. They burned down their homes into ashes. His mother and sisters ran away and were neither found nor returned back again. The British army knew all about him, joining the INA troops and helping the Japanese who came to conquest Burma during the war in 1943. So his family was persecuted. And those families in the village who didn`™t flee during the war had got assimilated with the then Burmese society. And thereafter the new Burmese Government banned speeking of Meiteilon, not allowing the natives to speak and communicate using their mother-tongue in public. Only they spoke in their homes quitely. The restrictions could be accounted for one of the main reasons for the diminishing population of native Meiteis in Burma.
In those years he has been staying with San-U, a Burmese orphan.
Nongsaba Ningthouja, the 80 years old bluffing to Shan Yu, ` Last year, I went to Mandalay Bamon Leikai for the Pakhangba Haraoba celebration, there met some fellow meiteis from Manipur. They asked about me, and I told them all about me and my life. After listening my story , they asked me to come to Manipur. They gave assurance for welcoming me with pomp and ceremony. They would request the government for a freedom fighter pension too. I am very much eager to go to Manipur, my Motherland. I have been just waiting for your arrival.`
“Yes uncle, but what if those Indian sepoys shoot you ? “
“When I could lay my feet on my motherland, let them shoot me through my chest. My blood drench will into the soil and enrich those green floras, and my lifeless flesh will feed the hungry stomachs of the wild beasts making them healtheir . Does it matter?`
After a momentry silence, feeling remorsed over his own promise of 45 years , never to return again to his mother-land , the old Nongshaba laments,“ I feel so insolent. Let me go to Manipur.`
At the old man`s insistent tantrums, the next day San-U went and arranged a cart and then they started their journey towards Moreh. Laying down in supine, gazing his eyes over the sky full of stars twinkling around, he rememembered his past moments one after another.
“Even though I am not trained, please teach me how to trigger a gun, then after I will take care myself. Let me join the war too“, Nongshaba Mangang begging to a Captain of Major General Md Zaman Kiani , the commandent of 1st division of INA (Gandhi Brigade) who came through the Kabow valley, along with the Japanese forces.
Thinking awhile for a moment, the captain asked,“ Being a Manipuri, would you be able lead the troops from Kabow valley towards Manipur ?
`Definitely , why not? `
“Thank you, that`™s all, Jai Hind`™`™
On the Commandent Kiyani`s recommendation, he became a soldier of INA. A brief training for few days, then he led the troops and invaded through the hills, villages one after another, then finally reached Moirang in 1944.
The Indian National Tricolor Flag was hoisted at Moirang, 14 April 1944 . The INA jawans gave salute, they sang together the national song of India, Vande Matarum. Then the jawans gave the guard of honour. The moment enthralled his heart, and tears rolled out of his eyes . And the tear droplets sparkled a spectrum of colours around, hallucinating him the 7 coloured Pakhangba emblamed flag of Manipur, remined him of the past how the British bloodsheded those brave sons of Manipur. The British gave away his birth-place, Kabow Valley, which had been a territory of Manipur for more than 360 years to Burma, by forcibly signing the Treaty Of Yandaboo in 1826 . After the event Gambhir Singh, the king of Manipur died a broken heart in depression . Nongshaba thought himself , if the cat is driven out, then Manipur could regain kabow valley after 100 years. He yearns for killing a thousands of enemy British at the pull of a trigger. His heart pounding over his chest, he itched for rushing towards Imphal breaking from the parade.
The Jawans marching towards Imphal, reached Maibam Lotpa Ching (Red Hill) at Nambol. The seasonal rainfall too came much earlier before the monsoon. The Battle continued for 4 months, and necessary artillaries, ammunitions and rations didn`t arrive , the soldiers suffered great s et backs. Dbesides, the Japanese air support were lacking, the British army took more upperhand and pushed on, at last the INA troops had to retreat back.
Returning back to Moirang, after receiving Netaji`s special order of the day, he requested to the Commandent Kiyani “ Sir , I am not pulling my feet back from here. Allow me to plant the saplings of freedom, so I could help the INA when they come back here again .`™`™
The INA troops had went back in despair. But Nongsaba became a runaway. As he know was not safe in Moirang, he ran towards Mayang Imphal Konchak through the Loktak lake by a boat, and took refuged in a home of his Grand-father`s brother Lourembam Tonsana, telling them that he had come from Cachar, Assam. There he learned a secret about his family, that was when he was about 3 months old, the people came to know that his father has married a woman of the same clan from a far off place, the news reaches the King`s ear. They were outcasted and pushed off to Kwatha. But his stubborn parent decided not to stay in Manipur at all and went to settle at Kanto village in Kabow Valley. There were other Meitei villages too including Tashikhong, Sayachan, Homlin, Mwidi, Tanalan which they didn`™t choose. The Meitei people nearby the bank of Ningthi River were the descendents of those who had settled during King Kyamba`s conquest of Kabow valley in 1471, they came as soldiers to guard the valley. Some of them includes the captives of the Burmese taken during seven years devastation of Manipur. But only a few people among them were able who speak clearly native Meiteilon.
Few days later, he heard the news of the Indian Tricolor Flag being replaced by the Union Jack of British at Moirang. One after another he heard, Netaji got killed in a plane crash in Taipei , two atom bombs were exploded in Hiroshima and Nagashaki , finally Japan surrendered. The first one, broke his heart, latter torn him apart and all his hopes were crushed into dust.
Years of toil and hardship dashes into thin air. And 3 years later India got independence in 1947, Manipur too. While the people in Kabow were campaigning to request the king of Manipur to proclaim the Kabow valley as a juristion of Manipur, a sudden bolt from blue fell upon their hopes, the news of Merger Agreement came . Sardar Vallah Bhai Patel had asked the then Governor of Assam to invite Maharaja Budhachandra for a durbar at Shillong. There, at gunpoint the king was made to sign the agreement October 15, 1949 and and the authority of Manipur went to the hands of the Indian Government. The bulletin blew out in a strong wind extinguishing the flames over the evening lamps in everyone`s home across Manipur ,and ignited a volcano into their hearts.
A broken while Nongsaba making an effort to meet Hijam Irabot , the news of the two Prime Ministers Nehru of India and U Nu of Burma reaching Imphal for a meeting came acrossed. The people of Kabow were delighted again alike the beetles hovering around when the monsoon rain arrives, they were urging their desire of incorporation of Kabow valley into Manipur. Some political experts had spread that, the Indian Government would certainly acknowlege the sentiments of people of Manipur, and the two leaders of both countries will countersigned an agreement annulling the old treaty between the British and Burma, ragarding the kabow valley. then Kabow Valley will again be reincluded in Manipur.` Nongshaba`s happiness was splell no bound. He went to Imphal for acertaining the news along with some of his followers, riding in a bullockart. As no person was allowed inside the meeting premise, they were standing aside the road in Babupara under the shade of a tree, waiting for the good news.
The news then came “ the two neighbour countries settle for peace in between and the desputed valley of Kabow finally belongs to Burma .` Dated 15/10/1953.
Nongsaba punched his hand onto the trunk of tree exasperating in despair and blood spilled over the hand into the ground. The people around had tried to stop him. The discontended many people who couldn`t consoled their broken hearts, began to protest shouting, grudging resentment ,and to prevent the raising riot, the police beat the people, disbursing them.
The dispirited youths then gathered to mend their discontended hearts, raising imbroglios to a horizon of insurgency. The Indian government percieved Nongsaba Mangang as one of those who gave impetus to the raising movement and put a reward for any information related to his whereabout and a severe penalty to those who helped or give refuged to him, alike the British put rewards over Yuvraj Koireng and Thangal general. With many informers who were envious of the reward, and many who feared the penalty , the armies and the police left no place for him to hide, finally he had to turn back .
“Uncle`™`™, San U awakening Nongshaba.
Shaken up, he opened his eyes, it was getting dawn.
(A Burmese militant addressed one another as“ Thakin`™`™ meaning master.)
“Thakin, we are reaching Namphalong Market. The land across the gate is Moreh .`™`™
“ Thakin, would you like to go to Manipur along me ? Havn`t you heard about many of your comrades at Chandel Leikul refugee camp ?`
In Burmese tradition, the grown up boys have to spend in a bhuddhist monastry for some time and then on an auspicious day for novitiation, they celebrate Shinbyu- a special rite of passage . Just 5 days left before his ceremony, the military junta came to arrest San-U for standing against their military leader Ney Win. San-U escaped and ranaway . He has been underground hiding and fighting as a supporter of pro-Democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. On the occasion of Burmese new year festival Thingyan , he had come to see his good old guardian attiring in a traditional Gawbhaung shirt and a lungyi.
“Thakin, that`™s impossible. I` ll never leave my country.`™`™
Caressing his hand over his long white bears around his chin, Nongshaba says, “ It is not wise to give your life for the motherland. If you die, who will free the country ? To attain freedom, you have to run and hide. “™.
After taking a deep breath ,“ Today , my people will recieve and embrace me as a patriot. At this last moment, I am disclosing my true identity. Being borned at Kabow valley, you are struggling for a democratic Burma nation . And I have been fighting for uniting of Kabow Valley to Manipur.`™`™
Without any word, San-U just starred at him like a prey. And his eyes are filled with tears.
Nongshaba continues,“ Thakin, my brothers in Imphal will be welcoming me with granduer. And they will acknowledge me a freedom fighter with garlands around my neck. I will be getting a pension too. Bless you have a great future, may you sing your national ANTHEM aloud with pride .. Kaba Ma Kyei ( till the rnd of world, Burma`¦).`
“Thakin,`¦..!`™`™ with a heavy voice.
“When you succeed in your struggle and free your country, you must convinced your fellow Thakins , to save the remaining few Kathes in the 50 odd Kathey juwas (Meitei villages) and not let them extinct. Allow them to speak Manipuris not only at their homes, but also in public, schools, colleges, markets. I trust you will allow them to name and address themselves in their own mother tongue . Allow the Kabiyas (siblings of a meitei and other community) to enter the temples of the kathes Poonas and unite them to save their identity. Do promise me.`™`™
The guy whom they sent for the gate pass and Indian exchange came back with the Indian currency notes. Together they cried awhile and parted.
“ O mother, my beloved Mother Manipur, there is no place alike you, elsewhere in the world.`™`™ Nongshaba passed across the gate and reach Manipur. Laughing his heart, he waved his hand towards San-U , his final bade.
“Hold ! `™`™shouted some Indian sepoys.
Then they arrested him. They took all his moneys, his earnings for many years.
3 days after, the daily newspapers published “ a suspected Taliban terrorist was shot dead while trying to cross the border. One 9mm pistol, one hand grenade recovered .`™`™
His decaying corpse after remaining many days at RIMS morgue, the Imphal Municipality declared unclaimed and disposed by buring according to the islamic rituals.
( The story written by Nabakumar Nongmeikapam has won the Pacha Meetei Literary Award ,2009 , first price in the of patroitic short-story competition organised by Patriotic Writers Forum, Imphal . The story was published in the book Train Amagi Khonchat by the auther.)