Meera Mem-Saheb : A Review

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By Dr Amarjit Moirangthem

Last year I made a visit to Pabung K. Nilakanta of Mynarbond along my two twin sisters, I was checking his book self at his work-room , I found this, a novel name MEERA MEM-SAHED, written by a writer named Subram. The name slightly bears resemblance with another popular novel BOR SAHEB ONGBI SANATOMBI by Padmashri MK Binodini. Pabung saw my interest and asked me to take whatever I liked from his self. I happily grasped it along with other few books mostly by writers of Barak valley. But way back I didn`™t getenough time to read those while I was at Jiribam.

After a long time while rearranging my books and files , my eyes fall upon the book again, I took out and started to turn the first few pages, then I got lost in the story until I find there was no more pages left to read. Though book has got only 92 pages , it left me spellbound , touches my heart and my I was imagning the period myself. A thought struck my mind , I should do something or write about this novel for sure.

The back of the cover page clear mentions the name of the writer, Shri Moirenjam Dev singh, borned at Jaribond Laishramkhul, hailakandi district, Assam. A primary teacher by profession, but popularly known as Subram , had published many short stories, poetry books. I remember Pabung Nilakanta telling me that both are very fast friends, sharing similar interest in the book world. While googling , I found the writer has been already awarded with Leima Memorial Gold Medal for this particular novel by the Assam Sahitya Parishad. And a review has been done for AIR by ND Hodamba. Still I am convinced to write my views regardless of my little or no knowledge about Manipuri literature.

The Storyline: The novel is about the life of a poor Meitei lady named MEERA and her destiny against the strict Gaudiya Meitei society of Cachar in the period of 1850-70. Being borned to a poor Meitei family of cachar, she was only the begotten child of Mera and Angoubi at Tarapur , Silcher town. But During childhood, her father left the family to join the battle for young prince Chandrikriti , who had taken sheltered at Cachar along with his mother Heishnam Kumudini. The news of the demise of Maharaja Narsing reached Cachar, the moment was perfect for Prince Chandrakirti to regain his rightful throne and so to fight against the new King Devendra, his uncle, he started to assamble an army and began his expedition. Mera lost his life being injured at a battle near Gwai River and never returned. The mother and the daughter began had to start their struggle for their life, they began selling Kabok Muris- a traditional puffed rice. Day after days, she reaches maidenhood , grew to be a lovely beautiful lady
whom man of all ages envies.

`Meeragi sawong sada karigabu pandamnagani. Ahal laman faobana meerabu hairap ubada amuk onsinnaduna yengnarakley .`

`Pumbum taba pambom, chengtak taba kwang, tutak taba saji mitta, ngangtak taba khajai, nokfet taba chimbal nakta thungliba sambru, thagtpana mawatpa. Fajbana mahenba. Segaiba setley mapakpa, fajba setley mahenba, fajeiye. Thabagi loiba naidey.`(page 40)

One day, incidentally she ran in to the house of James Winchester a British tea-gardener in the nearby town, frightening from the gunshots across the Barak River. From the day she was looked down and jeered at as Unclean by the society. One day unable to bear all those, she thought of suicide, but took heart and decided to asked James to take her as his wife. James was in love with her already and agreed to marry her. A new life has has started for Meera, she became a Memsahed muck alike princess Chindrella. With time they begotten a daughter named her Mary. But fate has been always against Meera, during a raid by the Lushai tribes, she lost her beloved ones. James got killed trying to save Mary, and the chief of Lushai took the baby away and raised her in the hills .

The agony of losing both her beloved husband and the daughter, Meera suffered from mental illness. and became imbecile. She was then looked after by her mother again. But the society never took pity upon them and treated as Unclean. Later the baby was recovered when the british finally decided to settle with the war mongering hill tribes. She was sent back to London finally to her family. But the poor mother Meera was left to take her own life, drowning into the stream of Barak River in during the festival of Hiyangtannaba show (traditional boat race ) after the zilla durbar session.

The writer artfully co-related the story line with the historical events , what I would like to highlight about the novels through the following points

1. The Zilla Durbar: In 1874, the Maharaja of Manipur Shri Chandrakirti alias Naochinglen Nongdren Khomba was invited by the then Governor General Of India, Lord North Brook to have a session at Zilla ( Cachar was also known as Zilla by the Meiteis at the time). The king went to Cachar with his Royal durbar members and generals riding along the royal elephant and a number of around 1000 armed soldiers . The Durbar was held at a boat in the Barak , where both sides acknowledges each other, exchanged gifts. After the event they organized traditional polo matches, Hiyang Tannaba was shown to the people around at the Barak River.

2. The Sepoy Mutiny 1857 and Sana Chahi Ahum : Every Indian students have studed during the high schools classes about SepoY Mutiny also known as Siphai Lalhou. In Assam also Maniram Dewan and the Charing Raja are two prominent figures of the mutiny. But a Manipuri prince named Narendrajit Singh alias Sana Chahi Ahum, a son of ex-raja Chourajit Singh (1803-13), participated in this great uprising by joining the mutineers of the 34th Native Infantry, Chittagong, when the latter entered Cachar. He took a great role during the Battle of Binnakandhi which was an epoch making event in the history of North East India .But after being defeated , he entered to Manipur where he was captured by the Manipuri soldiers and handed over to the British where he was put into life imprisonment at the Cellular Jail, at Kalapani Andaman Island.

3. The History Of Tea Plantation In India: in 1823 that Robert Bruce, a merchant and soldier, first spotted tea plant in Assam and along with Alexander they did experimentation in tea plantation at Sadia, which succeded eventually. The lack of local cheap labourers was a problem then, they started to bring from other parts of India , mostly from the Santhal Parganas district of Bihar (now in Jharkhand state). In 1830k david scotch started plantation at the barak valley taking permission from the then king of Cachar Shri Govincandra ,with an annoual tax of 1000 rupees. Then the subsequent cultivation of tea flourished in the barak valley.

4. The Raid Of Lushais : the Lushai and other foot hill tribes were notorious for their heinous raids . The impact of the large scale expansion of tea cultivation during the colonial period in Cachar, affected the neighboring tribes, especially like the Kukis and Lushais, their social and economic conditions. This resulted in the constant raids of the neighboring tribes on the tea gardens of plains area of Cachar Valley. The nature of their raiding was burning villages, kidnapping and killing people. The name of the tea gardens of Cachar that the tribes were attacked, were `“ Rupcherra (1849), Adampore (1862), Chandraipur (1863), Loharbond (1868), Monierkhal (1869), Ainakhal (1871), Alexandrapur (1871), Katlicherra (1871), Dharmikhal (1871), Nagdirgram (1871), Jhallancherra (1871), Baruncherra (1892) and Baladan Tea Estate (1893). These raids executed by the Lushais ultimately led to the British Government to take severe measures with regards to them which ultimately brought the Lushai tribes under British regime on 27th January, 1898.

Not only novels depicts history, but describes about geography of Cachar and Barak valley. Further I find some interesting traditions of the then Meiteis , which has been depicted with clear convictions in the novel .

1. Swasti Puja Ceremony : the Swasti puja ceremony is an important birth ceremony of every Meitei . The writer tries to explain the ceremony vividly during the birth of Meera but explains according to Hindu Shastra. ( I find this part the most boring and uninteresting part of the novel)

2. The month of Mera : One of the auspicious months in the Meitei calendar, Mera Wayunba, Meera Houchongba, Mera Niyom Pali etc.

Mera, father of Meera was worried about the birth month of his daughter coz it fell in the month of Mera. He believed that the ill-fate of the King Gambhir singh was due to sharing of common birth month with his son Chandrakirti, MERA .

3. The Custom And Nature Of Uncleaness : the story mainly tries to convince the ill nature and evil face of gaudhiya vaishnavism in the book. The burning of the Mamang sanggoi for entering a British /white was a striking point of the writer, the way the society ill treated the Angoubi for giving shelter and giving support to Meera shows the unsavoury system of the Meitei society. The Caste system in that started in Meitei society has to be credited to Hinduism.

`Amangbisu lakliye. Angaobisu yaorakli. Thingu,thingu changhanganu, meeyam pumamak mangba tare.` (page 16)

The novel carries abundances of Bengali and sanskrits slokas, which the new generation of readers find hard to understand. And the writer could have added some more romantic moments and incidents between the two characters Meera and James.

Most disheartening is the how Meera`s soul departed her body and ended her life, drowning in the stream of the Barak River leaving their mother Angoubi`s with sorrowful tears and memories .

`Angaanba taibangda amang asenggi paalna khrabasu amamba ahimhda saramchat chenbada amang aseng yabidey. Meegi achengba ngairibab angam athou kayasu khudong chaba lourakhi. Tincharaba pumtharaba luchingbasingdagi chenfam maigei pumnak makhoigi huiroisingna chrak sidan pathaba nanthoknabagi pambei leikhidey. Kapla `“kapladuna macha aangaobi aduga siba ngainaba wana matam lelli.`( Page 76)

`Yengheidraba kummeidu unningdraduna meeyam mamit uisinnei. Upair touningai leitrabi Aangoubina torbanduda makhong makhut sit tingthoktuna famlaga leingoi hotladuna machabu kouduna tengthakhi.` (Page 92)

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