Short Biography by Geeta Sapam
Journalist, The Sanghi Express (Manipuri Edition)
Many Manipuri Meiteis who live overseas continue to harbour a deep attachment to their mother country and that motivates them to share her suffering and happiness with the people of Manipur. They have in the past, offered monetary help and moral support at times of crisis such as the Great June 19 uprising in 2001.
Emigration to another country can be matched by excitement and anticipation of a new prosperous beginning, but there are often unexpected emotional and psychological responses such as nostalgia and a longing for their native culture. They have forever been yearning for news of Manipur. In more recent times, internet news of The Sangai Express, E-Pao and Kangla Online have helped to fill the void.
Most of these Meiteis are well educated and hold many responsible posts such as doctors, lawyers and IT consultants. Among them there are a few who have been involved in the social welfare of the people of Manipur, while some have been writing books and articles for the advancement of knowledge for the Manipuris.
As an example, the late Arambam Soroj Nalini Parratt, previously of Meino Leirak, Sagolband, Imphal and Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh, previously of Uripok Khoisnam Leikai, Imphal, are outstanding.
I had the chance to interview Dr Mohendra when he came to Imphal in February 2010 to attend the Shradha ceremony of his beloved nephew Dr Dorendra.
Dr Mohendra is the third and youngest son of Irengbam Gulamjat Singh, the first Manipuri Electric Chief Engineer. He was born on November 1 1936. His father and the British State Engineer CF Jeffrey, brought electricity to Imphal for the first time by constructing the Hydro-electric power house at Leimakhong, during the reign of Maharaja Churachand.
Dr Mohendra went to the Johnstone High English School at Imphal and St Joseph’s College school at Darjeeling. He finished his schooling in 1952 and went to Bombay to do his Intermediate Science at the most prestigious St Xavier’s College.
Dr Mohendra was a bright student with a photographic memory, passing all his examinations in the first division, in spite of his habit of mixing his studies with fun. He was exceptionally proficient in English language and literature, which he studied in lieu of Manipuri vernacular. Despite his academic credentials he was often involved in youthful rough and tumble fights.
After I Sc he was quite undecided whether he waned to be a doctor. He sat a Defence Academy entrance examination to join the Army, in Bombay. After passing the written test there was a form of consent to be completed by the candidate’s parent.
He was persuaded by his eldest brother Gokulchandra not to follow that profession as it would worry their aging mother (she was only 55). He chose to be a doctor. However, his mother wanted him to be a graduate, often shouting that she would sell
her jewellery to educate him. At that time in Imphal where literacy was low, it was a great pride of a mother that her son was a BA. Being a doctor was not of much prestige to her.
Dr Mohendra decided to please his mother. His father told him that he could study anywhere in India as long as he did well in his studies. He went to study B Sc at Nainital with its large lake, the most beautiful hill station after Kashmir.
He was very stylish and fashionable. He was one of a handful of youngsters who began wearing a suit and tie, at a time when gangs of boys used to beat up others for stringing together a few sentences in English in public. The Meiteis were very shy in speaking English.
He dared to do it because he was pugnacious and would not stand any nonsense from anybody. He was called names such as “shak takhatpa” – a new Meiteilon slang word, meaning arrogant. Perhaps, because of this, he said, he was not very popular with contemporary girls.
After WWII was over in 1945 he was admitted to Moirangkhom Middle School that was improvised with bamboo benches and black windows as blackboards. Imphal still had a lot of Indian Army and his house at Uripok was still occupied by a British officer. He stayed with his eldest brother at Bamon Leikai while his parents and siblings continued to stay in the village where they fled after the Imphal bombing.
Dr Mohendra said he was quite timid in the primary school where he used to walk bare foot, summer or winter, like everybody else. Otherwise, he would be bullied by older boys. Indeed he was bullied a lot.
His family returned to Uripok in 1946. One day he decided he was tough having still being intimidated by others who used to bully him in the past. He was only 13 or 14 years old. It was because of his prosperous family, stylish clothes and manners. His lean body weight did not scare anybody of his age.
He did get tough alright fighting anybody who intimidated him. Word went round and he drew more and more boys wanting to have a fight with him. This often ended
in one to one free fights without weapons at dusk at the mapal kangjeibung (outer
polo ground) surrounded by friend from each side as was customary. It was like cowboy gun fighter drawing more and more fighters. It was so uncomfortable that during the holidays when he went out to the town centre he had to dress prepared for a fight, just in case, wearing a belt made of a doubled cycle chain. His father was happy with his new-found toughness.
Dr Mohendra survived many of his contemporaries in school while he continued with this belligerent trait during his college years.
He spent 11 years in colleges in different parts of India, doing whatever he was doing, mostly enjoying himself.
In 1956 after he got his degree in Biology and physics, he joined the Medical College in Agra. He qualified in 1962. After a month’s holiday in Kashmir he worked as a trainee in Delhi hospitals.
He returned to Imphal in 1964 and worked as the only physician in the male medical ward of the Civil Hospital at the town centre, for two years.
After a brief stint at Churachandpur District Hospital he flew to London on February 10 1966 from Calcutta, for post graduate studies in Edinburgh, promising his mother that he would be back in four years’ time.
The morning he was leaving home his mother told him not to eat beef, marry an English woman and not to forget that he left his parents at home. Meanwhile, his father and the eldest brother began to construct a building at the Maxwell bazaar (makha dukan) with a view to making it a nursing home for him to run, after his return with the magic British Diploma of MRCP.
Destiny did not spare anyone. Things did not turn out that way. He kept his promise to his mother not to eat beef but he married an English girl and decided to settle in England after his postgraduate degrees. He did not forget his parents. He used to come back to Imphal almost every year with or without his wife.
Dr Mohendra married with Margaret Robson in 1970 at Gateshead near Newcastle. She was 25 year old, petit and comely. They decided to settle in Bradford where he was training to be a consultant in medicine at St Luke’s Hospital. He joined General Practice in the National Health Service in 1974.
In 1974 their daughter Anita was born. After getting her university Honours Degree in English she now works as Editor of Showbusiness and Media for The Daily
Telegraph in London. Their son Neil was born in 1976. He also did Honours Degree
in English. He studied law and now works as Senior Editor for a legal publishing company.
Dr Mohendra was quite well known in Bradford City because of his clinical activities in Medical circles and social interactions as a regular local pub-goer. Pub is a public place (bar) which is the nucleus for social meeting in British society, not unlike Meitei tea stall.
He was elected President of Bradford British Medical Society and a committee member of the Bradford Medico-Chirurgical Society – a social forum for hospital consultants. He officiated as the Medical officer for Bradford Police Boys Boxing Club for 20 years. He was a member of the British Society for Sexual and Impotence Research.
He was a committee member and later, Chairman of the School Governing Board of Girlington Middle School for four years.
His hobbies included playing badminton, squash, and golf with membership of the West Bowling Golf Club for 22 years. An annual tournament with a silver trophy in his name was played every year. His name was among “Indians in Britain Who’s who” published in the UK, 2nd edition (1988-89).
Dr Mohendra was involved in research studies such as “intractable pain as a physical expression of depression” (dil ghatna in Urdu, heart-sink in English) among the Asian women living in Bradford, in collaboration with a local Psychiatric Hospital consultant.
He also did some research in Aids, again in collaboration with a consultant from St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford, and published a few papers. He was invited to the 6th International conference on Aids in San Francisco in 1990 where Elizabeth Taylor attended the conference to support Gay sex movement in support of her friend, the late gay movie star Rock Hudson. He was again invited in 1994 to the 10th International Aids conference in Yokahoma in Japan.
He semi-retired in 1999 from his full-time practice and continued a part time job in the NHS. In 2002 he was invited to attend the 10th World Congress on Sexual and Impotence research in Toronto.
Dr Mohendra has made some worthy contributions to the British people as a Manipuri-British citizen.
Dr Mohendra also embarked on doing something that could be helpful for Manipur. He is secular in his outlook and places emphasis on science rather than on religion. He has written three books covering topics on theology, philosophy and science, as well as about Manipur and the Meiteis.
It is comforting that the Meitei Diaspora overseas, like Dr Mohendra are keen to join hands with the non-government officers of Manipur in building a progressive and vibrant Manipur, especially with intellectual ideas that is something money cannot buy.
10 3 2010
“The year is 1944. The place, Imphal, capital of Manipur, a remote and inaccessible State on the north-east frontier of India; a beauty spot and the last place on earth likely to suffer the horrors of the modern war. But here was fought the most fiercely contested battle of Burma campaign, the battle which, if for no other reason, will go down in history as the greatest military disaster ever suffered by the Japanese on land. And yet, if the Japanese had succeeded and had invaded India, no one can say what might have happened.
On March 7th 1944 the Japanese, moving secretly through the jungle, struck with whirlwind force and by March 29th the British and Indian soldiers of the 4th corps had been cut off from the outside world, except by air.” There were four months’ bitter fighting at Imphal.
“This was a victory as decisive as any of the Second World War, a victory made possible by the valiant efforts of the British and American pilots who flew in the longest and largest air supply operation in the history of war and by the courage and determination of the Regimental officers and men.”
* All articles on this website are writtern by DR IM Singh