Kholao Deben went with the Queen
“Kholao Deben went away with the Queen of England”, informed me first by Shri Salam Bharat Bhushan , former Chief Editor of Hueiyen Lanpao. This is shocking news for me because I was pretty close to him when he was active. Shri Deben, popularly known as Kholao Deben was one of the most popular and amiable journalists in the State. He was the Joint Editor of “Kholao”, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece in Manipur.
My first meeting with Kholao Deben was in the Hueiyen Lanpao Office, last century. I was a freelancer and used to write for local dailies, namely Manipur Mail, The Freedom, Imphal Recorder, etc. While coming to Hueiyen Lanpao to submit my article for Imphal Recorder (a sister English Daily of Hueiyen Lanpao), I met him in the cabin of Shri Irengbam Arun, the then Assistant Editor of Hueiyen Lanpao. Our meetings became frequent and then we started roaming around together in my Bajaj Scooter.
We used to travel the length and breadth of Imphal. I became his unpaid teetotaller driver. We travelled from Babupara to Lamphel, from RIMs to the CID office, from Police Head Quarter to Courts. Covering from one Press to another, I kept driving; he became my permanent pillion rider. But he never took me to the ‘Kholao’ Office; I never questioned him either. He had direct access to almost all politicians, top bureaucrats, police, lawyers, and intellectuals. Frankly speaking, I benefited a lot (socially) in his company; whenever he took me to those who matter - invariably he introduced me to them as a budding journalist or columnist. Through him, I became familiar with the then CID SP Shri Karnajit and Imphal West SP (L) Shri Samananda. In a State Function at Nupilal Memorial, (L) Shri Rishang Keising (CM) patted him on the back - it happened before my eyes.
When he shifted to Imphal Free Press (a joint venture of Shri Phanjaobam Pradip and Shri Nishikant Sapam ) as Bureau Chief, people thought that it was done through me. I also started writing for Imphal Free Press. Shri Deben would come late in the afternoon, he dialed some numbers; he would get the hot news over the phone. Sometimes he got a scoop through his connections. Once he had contributed two/ three news items, he would vanish for the day. In the evening he would be either with a VIP or a prominent citizen.
Kholao Deven was truly a socialist; he mixed with all . He dined and drank freely with everyone; he made no distinction. In the media world hierarchy hardly matters, all are friendly; everyone works in tandem. Chewing tobacco, smoking and drinking are very common within the fraternity because of the gruelling nature of the job. Kholao Deben had a big heart and also a big liver later on.
Kholao Deben wanted to send one of his daughters to Little Flower School; he applied for the lottery admission but she could not get through. He asked me what to do. I told him before approaching anyone, we must try ourselves; I told him, “you are a respected journalist, Bureau Chief of a popular English Daily, let us go and meet the School authority ”. I took him in my scooter and met the Sister Superior of the School. Then I made an earnest request to the School High Command on his behalf. She said, “We will let you know”. A few days later a phone came to the office of The Imphal Free Press with the good news from the School. He did many things for me but I could do very little for him. For his last treatment at Bangalore, I made a request to the Chief Minister's Office – it was obliged.
Along with other senior journalists Kholao Deben took an active part in the setting up of the Manipur Working Journalist Union and Manipur Press Club. He was a founder Member of both. They persuaded the then government to allot land for these offices. Today we have the Press Club as well as the MWJU office. Credit goes to our senior journos like Kholao Deben. Moreover, the pension for State journalists had been hiked to 8000 Rupees per month, because of their relentless demand to the Government. Still, it is small; Biren Sir may make it a round figure. As a former media person, he knows better that our pressmen are from a humble background.
Kholao Deben rendered free service to those who came for his indulgence. He helped many people - from hospital treatment to college admission, from selection to posting, from promotion to pension, from GPF withdrawal to Bill settlement, from procuring bail to acquittal. He never took bribes – but he was happy to receive fruits, fish, drinks & dinners as gratitude from the beneficiaries. He was often approached by many because he was so close to the power circuit.
Kholao Deben was a man who believed in Communist ideology and ironically he died as a proletariat. He struggled to survive but never tried to become a Capitalist. Holding my tears, I salute Comrade Deben (my Ta Deben).