The First Chapter from the book “Life and Times of Jaipal Singh Munda”

Written by Santosh Kiro

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My name was Pramod Pahan, son of Amru Pahan. I don’t know how it changed to Jaipal Singh when in 1911 my father took me to Saint Paul’s School, Ranchi, on January 3rd. That was taken as my birthday and it has struck ever since. According to my mother, Radhamuni of Palna, I was born in winter.

Lo Bir Sendra,

An Autobiography  

The small airport at Ranchi, the Queen of Chotanagpur Plateau and once the summer capital of erstwhile Bihar, was flooded with a sea of population early that morning. It was March 21, 1970. A school boy flying home along with his elder brother, mother and father looked down his chartered plane. The airport that now has been named after Adivasi icon Birsa Munda and has even been assigned the tag of an International Airport, did not even have a boundary wall then; and the crowd was everywhere. Unlike other days, that day the boy was in a hurry to land. But even after reaching the airport, the chartered flight went up instead of landing, and started hovering over the sky. Half an hour later when the chartered flight landed, no eyes could control tears. The boy’s father, who was traveling on the chartered flight that day from Delhi to Ranchi, was doing so for the last time.  And the boy himself was flying with his father for the last time in life.

‘I was still a very small boy and I had not a trace of inkling about the huge popularity of my father. It was when I peeped down the plane through the window and saw the sea of supporters that I realized that my father was a big leader,’ Jayant Jaipal put it.

Forty-five years after his father Jaipal Singh had passed away, his memory continued to haunt Jayant as he sat in his study that evening at his Ranchi residence. The hockey talent, intellectual-politician, mass leader, master orator and a visionary, Jaipal Singh wore many feathers in his cap, and always inspired awe and wonder in many ordinary mortals. He was an enigma many wanted to demystify. I myself had sought an appointment with Jayant in the summer evening of 2015 to listen to him about his late father. Jayant was kind enough to invite me to his residence and was eager to talk about his father, putting together bits of memories of moments he was lucky to spend with his busy father who remained a Member of Indian Parliament his whole political life.

When I reached his place, Jayant had been scribbling something in a piece of paper, probably memories of his late father that he wanted to share with me. ‘You see, most of my memories about him have become dim and I have been trying to recall a few since yesterday,’ Jayant said honestly, as he took his seat and asked me to take one across his study table.

‘I am ready to allow you sufficient time to recall. No hurry,’ I said quickly, making him easy, and took out my note book from the bag that I carried. I looked at him in a way to encourage him to begin with some memory. He scratched his head, thrice, and after a while said: ‘I have no option but to begin with my saddest day. Should I?’

I nodded.

‘I was in Mayo then, in Ajmer.

‘The school bell had rung as usual on the 20th March of 1970. The students, mostly sons of the erstwhile Maharajas of princely states, fixed their gaze on the class teacher who had just entered the class room and was spraying his eyes around on each one of us. Finding all of us healthy and cheerful, he wished us ‘Good Morning’ when a staff knocked at the door of our classroom. He urged the teacher to come out of the class so that he could speak something into his ears. He did. A moment later, our class teacher came inside, looked at me and called me. “Jayant,” he said. “The Principal wants to see you.”

‘I wondered why the Principal Mr. Somie Das wanted to see me! When I joined Mayo in class IV six years back, I did not do so well in academics, but now my records were going fine! I paced towards the Principal’s office. My elder brother Birendra, who was studying in class XI, was already at the door of the Principal’s office. He knocked at the door and Mr Das came out. He ushered both of us inside his office, looked at us lovingly and said: “Birendra and Jayant, you have to go to Delhi”. We asked him why but Mr Das did not say much. ‘Go to your hostel rooms, pack necessary clothes for a day or two. A car is waiting outside to take you to Japiur, from where you will board an Indian Airlines flight that will take you to Delhi.” He got up from his chair and gave us a send off.  

‘As I rushed to my hostel room to pick up a few clothes, I overheard an attendant saying to his fellow staff. “Here, Sambhu has passed away and there in Delhi Jaipal Singh.”

‘I did not quite understand what he meant, but sensed something was not quite right.

On the way in the car, neither of us spoke much. I told my brother Birendra what I had overheard on the school corridor and my brother just listened to me, probably not able to fully understand. ‘Did you hear him properly? Or is it something that you think you heard?’

‘The flight landed at Delhi airport and when we disembarked and came out of the airport, we found a lady secretary of our father waiting for us. This was unusual because she never came to the airport to receive us. It was always Narendra, our father’s longtime secretary who received us whenever we went to Delhi to see our father and the lady secretary kept herself to the office works. Our fear deepened and we started feeling nervous. “Your mother wants to see you urgently. So she sent me to pick you up from the airport,” she said. We hopped into the car that the lady secretary had brought along to pick us up, and the driver drove us straight to 6-Ashoka Road, the residence-cum-office of our father.

‘When we reached, we spotted a crowd gathered near the house. My mother, who was waiting for us sitting near the door, upon finding us arrived, got up, came up to us and hugged us, sobbing. “Your Dada has left us. He is no more,” she burst into tears. We went inside the room and found that our father had breathed his last and his body lay in a coffin in the middle of a room.

‘Sitting beside his body, my past flashed through my eyes. I recalled, how just about a month back on February 28th, my father was in Mayo for my birthday along with my mother. He had brought me gifts, and in the evening we had gone to Gulab Bari, a place near our school in Ajmer for lunch, to which I had been allowed to invite four or five close classmates. I had seen how my father would arrange annual debate competition between Members of Parliament and Mayo students in our school premises. Quite often, the students did better than the Parliamentarians. Or maybe the Parliamentarians allowed the students to do better than them. A day was then fixed for the annual prize distribution ceremony when all the winners were given away medals and the parents of the students were invited. After the prize distribution ceremony, a buffet used to be organized on the sprawling campus of Mayo where each one had to self-serve. As most of my fellow students’ fathers were erstwhile Maharajas of their respective princely states—many now MPs, the occasion used to be quite a power gathering. I noticed many Maharajas bow to my father when he sat chatting with a few dignitaries at the dinner. I would not understand why, as this happened only with my father. It was only in later years I learnt the reason. Having been admitted to Mayo in class IV after I had done my primary schooling from Bishop Westcott Girls School, Namkum (Ranchi)—I was the only boy in that girls’ school—I had already spent six years in Ajmer’s coveted boarding cradle. And soon afterwards, these annual debates with the MPs and the prize distribution ceremonies had become regular annual affair.

‘Many memories crossed my mind. Before moving out to Mayo when I was the only boy studying in Bishop Westcott Girls School, Namkum, I had been dressed up in all white when Prime Minister Pundit Nehru had visited our house at Seramtoli in Ranchi. Two days before his visit, my parents had me to bake a cake saying that a special guest was coming to see us. I did not then know who was coming. In fact, even when Pundit Nehru came, I had little knowledge of who he actually was. The occasion was inauguration of the Heavy Engineering Corporation, Hatia. After commissioning the Heavy Engineering Corporation to the nation, Punditji reportedly told Chief Minister Vinodanand Jha that he wanted to visit Jaipal Singh at his residence. “I do not know where his residence is, Sir,” Vinodanand Jha is supposed to have told Pundit Nehru. But Jha’s driver was quick to add: “Sir, I know the way to Mr Jaipal Singh’s residence.” And Punditji was driven to our house in Seramtoli. When Pundit Nehru arrived, first thing he told my father was: “Mr Jaipal, I am surprised the CM does not know where you live!” “Punditji, Mr Jha has come to my residence at least one hundred times. But every time he comes, he is usually drunk,” my father, I was told, was quick to reply.’

Many memories of Jayant about his father probably were getting fainter even to himself and he had to pause at many places, press his mind hard to recall, and narrate slowly. Several decades have passed after Jaipal Singh, who had earned the name of Marang Gomke (Big Master) from his kinsmen and supporters in the Jharkhand of his dream, after he had passed away. His memories have now nearly faded and the present generation knows little of him. Many who now reside in Jharkhand and in Ranchi, the capital of this new state, have just heard his name but do not know much about him.

No proper work has been authored about this great leader of the Adivasis, who won the first Field Hockey Olympics for India, earned a Masters degree from one of best varsities of the world, became the first Adivasi to qualify ICS and also quit it, returned to his native Chotanagpur to organize his kinsmen, and entered the Parliament to become the voice of Tribal India that reverberated in the Constituent Assembly. Jaipal himself had left very little in writing about his activities. In my effort to know about Jaipal, I had gone hunting works that spoke of Jaipal Singh, but to little avail. My efforts had taken me to Jayant, who those days resided in Ranchi.

Jayant’s narration of the last moments of his father was long.

‘Memories of many incidents flashed through my mind, emotions welled up in my eyes and I saw the same in my brother Birendra too,’ Jayant continued, picking up from where he had left last.

‘My mother remained mum. She realized things had to be arranged for our father’s burial.

‘A chartered plane of Indian Airlines had been booked to fly our father’s body back to Ranchi, the small town which had seen him as a child and later witnessed his activities as a mass leader. When our flight carrying my father’s body reached Ranchi, through the window of the aircraft I saw below a sea of men and women crowding all over the airport. The airport, then, had no boundary wall and the people had packed up even the runways. Till then, I had little knowledge about the popularity of my father as a mass leader and it was for the first time that I realized the same, noticing the huge gathering of men and women who had gathered from different parts of his dream Jharkhand to welcome him back in Ranchi. The pilot could not land the plane. The plane had to circle for about twenty minutes in the sky, waiting for the airport staff to clear the runways off the huge gathering. Evening was drawing close and the whole of the town had turned up at the airport. The news of my father passing away had spread like a wild fire far and wide and people from nearby villages too had walked several miles to see their leader for the last time. Finally, when the runway got cleared the plane landed. My father’s body was driven straight to our house in Seramtoli Chowk near G.E.L. Church, where we then lived. The crowd of supporters followed. We kept the body for public visit and whole night visitors came and went.

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‘It was decided that my father be laid beside his mother in our native Takra in Khunti sub-division, about 40 kilometres south of Ranchi. With my father’s coffin placed in an open vehicle, we set off for Takra early next morning. What looked like just a few hours’ drive, took a long time as crowd of supporters stopped the vehicle at every village on the way to pay their last tribute. After half the distance, it was decided that the vehicle would not stop at any more village because the sun was heading downwards. When we reached Takra, our ancestral village in Khunti, evening had started drawing in. But another round of tough hours was waiting for us.

‘In my family, only my father had converted to Christianity and the priest of the local church wanted to perform the last rites in accordance with Christianity. But the local pahans (the Munda priests) claimed it has to be in accordance with the traditional rites of our ancestors, as our family came from pahan line. Neither the church priest nor the pahans would relent on the issue. After about one hour of hard negotiations, the two groups came to an agreement. First the local church priest would perform the rites in accordance with Christian way and then the pahans would take over to complete the rest. The priest read a passage from the Bible and sprinkled holy water on the body of my father, handing the rest of the burial ceremony to the pahans to complete. The pahans then performed the last rites in accordance with our ancestors’ ways. Then, my father was laid to rest in a graveyard next to his mother’s. It was only in later years that I would realize why my father was placed beside my grandmother.

‘We had to come back to Ranchi on the same evening as the charter flight was to fly back to Delhi. But when we reached, it was dark. As the airport did not have the facility for night operations, the pilot decided to stay back. He could fly back to Delhi only on the following morning.

‘My mother probably did not want us to go through for long the pains of our fathers’ loss, and hence she decided to leave us in Mayo within three-four days after my father had left us. She thought our going back to school and getting back to normal routine would help us cope with the sudden sorrow that had befallen upon us. But, back in school for many days I would continue to wait for my father’s letters that he regularly wrote to me, unable to believe that he was no more.

‘After nine months, Christmas that year had come again. And there was another group of students in Mayo who were waiting for my father to come. They belonged to the North-East. Those days, traveling to North-East from Rajasthan was a tough task. Students had to travel first to Jalpaiguri near Darjeeling by train and then to Bagdogra by road to take a flight to go to the North-East. Nearly every year, there used to be quite a few of them who could not get tickets, and they had to spend Christmas in Ajmer itself, away from their families. My father every year would organize holiday trips for them, taking them to different places in and around Rajasthan for site-seeing during Christmas holidays. That year, there was no such trip for them. There never was another Christmas holiday trip for them after 1970.’

Coffee had arrived and it put a brake on Jayant’s narration. I took a sip of the hot coffee and asked: ‘Most of the time, you have always been outside the state of your father’s dream. Did you ever feel like going around to places where he roamed about awakening the tribal people?’

Jayant took a long breath, sipped from his cup and continued: 

‘Yes. Yearning to know one’s root never lets you to rest, you see!’ He forced a smile.

‘It is this yearning that would take me from one village to another, all across Chotanagpur, Singbhum and Santal Pargana—now Jharkhand, the province of my father’s dream, as I entered adulthood.

‘After completing my studies at Mayo in Ajmer, I went on to spend two years in Bristol and another three in Durham. But, my mind kept coming back to Jharkhand when I was away. I was restless to discover the villages that my father toured during his movement days. I wanted to smell the sand and the dust of these villages; I wanted to see the forests, the hills and the dales which had witnessed my father’s dream. I wanted to listen to the thrilling beats of the mandars and the nagaras, the beautiful sounds of the streams in the forests, the soothing sounds of the cool breeze. I wanted to meet people who walked with my father in his dream. As a child, I had gone around a few villages around Ranchi, mostly with our driver Barna. He would engage logic to convince me to buy fighting cocks from the village haats and I would use the pocket money that I got from my mother to buy these colourful birds. Now, I wanted to re-visit those village markets and see for myself those roosters to remind myself of my childhood days.

‘I came back to Ranchi from Durham in 1979. So much was the yearning in me to discover my roots that it would not allow me to join a job, instead egg me to go around villages of ‘Jharkhand’ to discover my father. I wanted to find what this ‘Jharkhand’ was that had its conception in the mind of my father and his fellow visionaries.

‘After coming back from Durham, first I decided to go to Takra, our ancestral village in Khunti, where my father was laid to rest. My chacha Jaishri was there. He did not have the chance for higher studies, but he spoke flawless English. His English was that of a true Briton with the proper English accent of a real Englishman. If one put Jaishri chacha behind a curtain and listened to him speaking, no one could ever think that he was not an Englishman. But he wouldn’t reveal much to me about my father, or his movement for separate state of Jharkhand. Probably it was due to sibling rivalry. “How good was he in hockey in his childhood? In which field did he play hockey in Takra?” But, even elderly villagers in Takra were not able to recall about the hockey talent of my father in his childhood days.

‘I went to Maranghada, the local market. This was the biggest local haat near our ancestral village. I had visited this market quite a few times even in my childhood. But this time, the market had changed a lot. The fighting cocks were there for sale as before, but lots of industrial goods had flooded the market now. Earlier, people exchanged goods for goods. Now they had cash to purchase their necessary things.

‘When I reached Senegutu, a village near Khunti I met Ramlal Pahan, a very close associate of my father. He and his wife were childless and they were hell bent to write off their 90 acres of land in my name. I politely declined but they insisted. Finally, I said OK, but only for 10 acres. “I would not have it for free, I would be paying you for it,” I said. Ramlal said “No”. Finally, after a long conversation I managed to convince Ramlal that he should take something from me for the land. “Okay, get a Bullet motorbike for me, I want to ride it just like the thanedar of Khunti does,” said Ramlal.

‘Ramlal was lean and I could imagine how he would look riding that huge thing. I began another round of conversation; this time to convince him that he should not ride a Bullet, for that would be fatal for his size. Finally, I managed to convince him that he should ride a Moped. I purchased a Moped for Ramlal and also gave him the money for his land. A few months later, I was grieved to hear that he had passed away in a fatal road accident.  

‘I went to Chaibasa, a small town in Singhbhum, which my father, I had been told, frequented during his movement days. There were no roads to different villages and I just had to walk.

‘Chaibasa has been a very famous place even before the days of the British,’ I interrupted Jayant.

The Munda race of Austric tribe mainly comprises groups like Mundas, Hos, Santhal, Kharia and Bhumij. While Mundas mostly live in Ranchi and Khunti district, Santhals in Santhal Pargana, Kharias in Simdega and Gumla, the Hos have their concentration in Singbhum, the region in which Chaibasa is the main town. The different tribes in this Austro-Asiatic family of tribes differ only slightly in their languages now, but share a common ancestry and common past, common tradition and customs. Hos, it is said, branched out from the main Munda tribe just a few centuries ago reportedly because the group could not pronounce ‘d’. The Mundas call man ‘Hod’ but one group could not pronounce ‘d’ and called it just ‘Ho’. Therefore, that group had to go separate way and later call itself as ‘Ho Munda’ or simply ‘Ho’. Hos have also been known as ‘Larka Munda’ (the fighting Mundas), because they were very fierce and indomitable in defending their country against the rapacity of their neighbouring chiefs. J.B. Hoffman, the Belgian missionary to Ranchi who authored the voluminous Encyclopaedia Mundarica, however, notes that it is probably the entry of the Oraons into Chotanagpur which made the Ho group separate from the Mundas. “The Hos having no tradition about the establishment of the Nagabanshi rajahs in Chota Nagpur, it must at any rate have been before that time. The Oraons say that it was their entrance into Chota Nagpur that caused the exodus of the Hos. Col. Dalton (Description Ethnology of Bengal) doubts this. But surely, the extreme aversion of the Hos for any aliens is quite sufficient to explain a free withdrawal to the large and seemingly unoccupied expanse of jungle, the sindisum, the country of trees, they had before them.” Oraons, as the tradition of the tribe goes, had their kingdom somewhere in the plains of Bihar, had been attacked by the Muslim invaders—referred by historians like P.C. Roychoudhary in his book ‘1857 in Bihar: Chotanagpur and Santhal Pargana’, published by Government of Bihar in 1959—lost the battle on the third occasion and had to flee to Chota Nagpur, then inhabited and ruled by the Mundas. This must have happened after 1526, because according to Roychoudhary, Turk-Afghan rulers did not arrive on scene in this part of the geographical area, before. One group of the Mundas offered them shelter and even gave them their own land to settle. Probably, the other group of the Mundas had not liked this generosity and had deserted the first group, who later came to be known as the Hos after moving to sindisum (what is now known as Singbhum). Whatever may have been the case, the Hos and their town Chaibasa, were strongholds of Jaipal Singh’s movement for his dream Jharkhand. Jayant, one could be sure, knew some of this history of the Munda race.

‘My father carried the Munda pride in him all through. He would sometimes narrate to me the glorious days of the Mundas. During my visits to villages, I was told by the elderly villagers that when my father held important meetings in Ranchi, each village of the distant regions like Chaibasa, Simdega, Kolebira etc, would choose two representatives and send them to attend the meetings convened by my father. They would carry rice, pulse and utensils on their shoulders and set off for Ranchi on foot. After walking the whole day, they would take shelter in the very village where the sun went down. They would cook for themselves and spend the night there. Sometimes, the sun would go down in the middle of the forests and the two representatives would just spend their night there, braving wild animals. On the following day, they would again walk for Ranchi. The travel of the representatives would take two-three days, depending on the distance of the village they set off from. After attending the meeting and listening to the leaders of separate Jharkhand Movement, they would go back the same way. Upon reaching, they would narrate to the whole villagers what they had heard and had been directed to do.

‘I heard quite a few stories from the villagers during my tours. My father, villagers told me, would start addressing the gathering. Often the speeches were long as he had to virtually begin from the level ‘zero’ and slowly build up, educating people about the dream of separate state of Jharkhand, about the need of mass mobilization and why a separate state was the only way out for all their miseries. In the middle of his speech when he noticed that people were feeling tired, he would stop abruptly and say: “People of this village are very inhospitable. Look, I have been speaking here for the last one hour and nobody has offered me even a glass of water.” Somebody from the crowd would get up and run home to come back with a glass of rice beer. My father would take it and begin his speech again.

‘Those days, Adivasi and Non-Adivasi Sadan people’s economic condition was equal, in the sense that they had just enough for sustenance. The only rich man in the village used to be the Sahu who bought forest and other produces from the villagers and sold to them the necessary household items. All the people of the village would gather for the meetings.

‘I heard this story from several elderly villagers in Kolebira: One day, after he finished his meeting in Kolebira, a relatively famous place in Simdega district, located about 140 kilometres south of Ranchi, someone gifted my father with a khasi (a male goat). My father is supposed to have decided to hold a party on the top of a huge hill in Kolebira. The young, the elderly and the children, everyone agreed with his idea. But an old woman came up to him and said: “Babu, I cannot climb the hill. But I want to take part in your party.” My father is said to have carried her piggyback up on the hill top. And the party was held there till late evening.

‘During my going around, I reached Bolba, a remote place in Simdega district bordering Orissa. Soon after my arrival, news spread, and old Jharkhand Party members came to welcome me. A Jharkhand Party stalwart in the area ordered his men to go to the nearby river and catch fish so that I could be given a good treat. That night, I had to stay back in the village to partake in the fish treat that they arranged for me. Later, I must have visited hundreds of villages around Jharkhand listening to stories related to my father and his movement, from men and women with whom he worked.’

As we were winding up the conversation, I asked Jayant where I should look for materials related to his father and his Jharkhand Movement. Jayant told me that his father had given a large number of letters that he wrote to different leaders and received from different people, to former IAS officer Kumar Suresh Singh, who was an author and wanted to write on Jaipal Singh. But, Kumar Suresh Singh had not been able to come out with a book due to some reason. These letters are packed away in a wooden box and kept at the Ashok Nagar residence of the late author, whose family now no longer resided here. Jayant too handed me a copy of Lo Bir Sendra, not strictly an autobiography of his father but something like it, which Jayant had got published in 2004 after a scholar from Oxford, on finding it out with an elderly professor of Oxford with whom Jaipal himself had left the manuscript, had given to Jayant.

Chapter One from the book by Santosh Kiro, The Life and Times of Jaipal Singh Munda.

The Life and Times of
Jaipal Singh Munda.

Santosh Kiro