Education is derived from the Latin word ‘educatio’ which means ‘bringing up, rearing.’ It is a holistic experience in which a teacher is expected to nurture a child’s mental growth like a parent. True education is not merely cramming from books, going through exams and getting brilliant results. It is a complete experience in which one’s intellectual, emotional, ethical and spiritual growth and development are addressed and tackled with focus, understanding and in harmony. Jeebon Roy and Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang, along with the Khasi literary stalwarts of that era, realized the importance of true education and worked zealously towards its realization with their writings and publications.
The Khasis had no alphabet until Reverend Thomas Jones a Welsh Methodist missionary introduced the Roman alphabet in mid 19th century. Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang, Jeebon Roy Mairom and Rabon Singh Suka, in order to keep the pronunciation intact, dropped c,z,f,v,q and x and added Ï,Ñ and Ng. The letters in the Khasi alphabet are A, B, K, D, E, G, NG, H, I, Ï, J, L, M, N, Ñ, O, P, R, S, T, U, W, Y. The next collective decision they took was the establishing of a printing Press. This was done by Jeebon Roy in 1899. The Ri Khasi Press the oldest printing press in these hills was established in 1896 in the compound of his residence in Umsohsun and he employed his eldest daughter, Lakheitmon Sawian, in order to encourage other Khasi women to come out of their homes and work.
Jeebon Roy had studied only up to Class 6 because that was all that was available in these hills. His education continued at home under his father, Ram Sing Jaid Rani and tutors. As his mind imbibed and expanded and he realized the importance of literacy and good education he knew that his mission in life was the spread of higher education in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. In 1875 he started corresponding with the Provincial Government about setting up a High School. The Government refused on the grounds that Shillong had just undergone the trauma of the plague and there were no funds available. Jeebon Roy was disappointed and started negotiations with Rev T. Jerman Jones of the Welsh Methodist Calvinistic Presbyterian Mission. Reverend Jerman Jones refused and remarked that Khasis were not ready for education beyond Class 6! The two responses alarmed Jeebon Roy and made him more determined. He approached the Assam Government with his proposition with the promise that all deficit would be borne by him. His plea fell to deaf ears. Eventually, he donated a sum of nine hundred rupees and constructed and started a school known as the Zilla High School, in the area where the Telegraph Office stood till a few years ago, near the Raj Bhavan. The school was inaugurated on September 2, 1878 and registered fifty students. Seeing the success of the school Rev Jerman Jones realized his mistake and directed that from the following session the Mission Minor School at Mawkhar should be converted to a Proceeding High School and amalgamated with the Zilla High School and liberal funds should be sanctioned. In 1880 this was completed and the Shillong Government High School, the gateway to higher education in our hills, was established. Jeebon Roy’s perseverance and determination paid off. He lived up to his motto ïaiminot – persevere.
Jeebon Roy wrote and published the first three Khasi Readers, Ka Kitab Khasi Pule Nyngkong in 1899 followed by Kitab Khasi Ba Ar and Kitab Khasi Balai.The first book is orthography and also contains many wise sayings on ethical themes, a precursor to the moral science and value education books of today. He was keenly aware that ethical and spiritual illiteracy are stumbling blocks for intellectual development. He wrote in his First Reader, “I want you to learn not only to read and write but also how to think.” And by that he meant to think correctly, make wise decisions and avoid all diversions from the path of Truth. The Readers were followed by Ka Niam Jong ki Khasi(1897), ka Kitab Shaphang U Wei U Blei(1898) and Ka History Ka Ri India(1900). Shaphang U Wei U Blei is a beautifully expressed treatise on the belief that there is only one God, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, imageless and formless, the Super Consciousness that pervades the entire universe. Explaining to people who asked how could they be convinced of the existence of God when they cannot see Him he wrote, “If you are flying a kite and it climbs higher and higher till you can no longer see it don’t you know it is there because of its pull?” And in another chapter he wrote, “Just as water, fire, the moon, the sun, we human beings, too, and all the creations, animate and inanimate, have come into this world with a purpose according to God’s will. Therefore, we should bow to and worship only that one Creator. We should not look right or left. We should walk on the path that is straight, the path that will lead us to this one God. The more paths you seek the more you will stray. Just as we Khasis believe, that if we have little knowledge of too many things we reap no benefit. So if we err in this way in our worship, imagine how detrimental it will be!”
Jeebon Roy, with the hope that the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills would connect with the rest of India and gain from the immense wisdom of the ancient sages, also did a lot of translation works with the help of scholars and published them in the Ri Khasi Press. Among them are Hit-Upodesa(1898), Ramayana and Chaitanya Charitra(1900), Buddha Charitra(1901). His eldest son, translated the Bhagvad Gita. Unfortunately, by then Christianity had taken root in these hills and the books all remained unstudied in their first edition till now.
Simultaneously, Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang worked on many books including a Khasi dictionary and the teachings of the elders which had been handed down orally from time immemorial. In 1902 the first edition of Ka Jingsneng Tymmen was published in the Ri Khasi Press. This is a compilation of the Khasi code of ethics and etiquette penned down by Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang in exquisite Khasi. It comprises of a hundred and nine verses. This literary masterpiece encapsulates the Khasi philosophy of life that we come into this world to earn righteousness, to do our duty towards our kur (maternal side) and kha (paternal side) and to live a life that which will be guided by our constant connect with the divinity within each one of us, Tip-Briew-Tip Blei(Know Man-Know God). Etiquette, for the Khasis and Pnars is not mere social grace but a form of worship. If one respects all God’s creations animate and inanimate we worship the Creator. I had the privilege of translating this great literary work with the invaluable assistance of Rangbah RT Rymbai and the first edition was published in 1997 in the Ri Khasi Press. It is now in its fourth edition and published by Vivekananda Institute of Culture, Guwahati. The teachings are perennial and secular and relevant to this day. I quote a few verses :
In the house you are born these you must learn-
How to sit and how to stand;
How to walk and cross your feet,
How to drink and how to eat;
How to talk and how to glance,
How to move, how to advance;
How to work and how to labour,
How to cope with the work you shoulder;
How to dress, how to attire;
How to be modest, how to cover;
How your turban, you will wear,
How to comb and make your hair;
How to give, how to accept,
How you’ll live and your life will direct;
All superficial pomp and ostentation
Undermines Truth and is the root of destruction
Once your character is destroyed
Whatever you achieve
No one will applaud.
In front of elders any time any place
Speak with humility and grace
When they enter the room when you are alone or with friends
Stand up your seat, never feel shame or offence.
The act of revering and worshipping God
Is a discipline we must all accord
Religion is the foundation that strengthens your aura.The clan is the foundation of your being, the Mother.
Jeebon Roy and Radhon Singh Berry wanted the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills to be confident and forward thinking armed with knowledge and wisdom so that they will stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the country and the world. There is, indeed, a difference between being merely literate and being truly educated. A literate person has learned enough to read and write and collect degrees and attain high positions because of brilliant results attained from bookish knowledge. In true education it is not only the result that is important but also the entire journey, step by step, towards your goal. Education is the foundation of character, of courage and of understanding. It does not begin and end with books, results, lucrative jobs and high positions. Education is a vast experience, a never ending journey of discovery into the world of knowledge, wisdom and Truth. A truly educated man is one who can think and act correctly no matter where he studied, what marks he scored, what career he chose and how much he earns. He stands out by his ability to differentiate between right and wrong and by his strength of character to be able to ride the storm in times of crisis; he makes the right decisions and contributes in a positive way to his family, his community and his country. That both Radhon Singh Berry and Jeebon Roy were aware of this is obvious in their commendable endeavours in the field of education. Radhon Singh Kharwanlang also did not have formal education and not much is known about his childhood and parentage. All that was recorded was that he was born in Mawmluh near Cherrapunjee in 1850 and was married twice and had five children.
Our present educational system, archaic, dismal and in desperate need for change, is based on Lord Macaulay’s Minute on Education which he formulated in 1835. Macaulay’s Minute was later perfected in Sir Charles Wood’s Dispatch in 1854. This concept of education was introduced mainly to make the Indian officials learn adequate English and be literate and efficient enough to be able to function in the administration. The minds were geared to cram and swallow information, transfer it to paper and follow orders. This inadequate and simplistic system of education was only to serve the purpose of the British rulers. Changes are slowly being introduced for a totally new concept of education. A lot of stress is being put on the concept of a happy child growing up into a successful individual. In the Jingsneng Tymmen, The Teachings of Elders, one can clearly see that the underlying ethos is that if if one lives a life free of evil and corruption one will, automatically, live a life of peace, joy and abundance.
There is so much of talent and promise among the youth in Meghalaya. What they lack is focus, the right guidance to tap their inborn talent and most of all-their lack of confidence. It is encouraging to know that a few institutes which focus on diverse potentials of the young and honing their communication skills and personality development have started in Shillong. The strong sense of knowing who you are, with full respect for all other communities, helps in building up confidence. Confidence and self esteem are the precursors to growth, progress and evolvement. The young live in a brave new world. They can even rewrite the rules and redefine themselves. They are the masters of their destiny and infinite possibilities. They should not fritter these precious years away.
Coming to careers, every single job, no matter how big or small, is important and has to be done and completed properly for the smooth running of society. We must learn to accept dignity of labour because not everyone can get government jobs and get into institutes for the different professions and not everyone can reach the top as conventionally perceived. Actually, reaching ‘the top’ simply means having done one’s best. One should also be confident of what one is doing and say, “I am a peon/a carpenter/a mason/an electrician/a domestic help/a taxi driver(whatever you are). I am the best in town. I am not a wastrel. I contribute towards my family and community. I live a life of virtue and correctness.Therefore I am a success.” This is very important. That is why value education has to be included in the syllabus of schools, and right values and ‘sanskars’ have to be taught. The concept of success has to be redefined for society to be cleansed of superficiality and regain its luster. That is the essence of life and living.
As Radhon Singh Berry Kharwanlang puts it
Whatever you know, whatever you gain
It’s useless if not by Truth sustained.
You may reach the top, sit on horse, elephant
If your reputation is sullied what use is it then ?
Kong Bijoya Sawian is an acclaimed translator and writer. The Teachings of Elders, Khasi Myths, Legends and Folktales, The Main Ceremonies of the Khasis and About One God are four of several books that she has translated from Khasi into English. Her works of fiction include Shadow Men -A Novel and Two stories (Speaking Tiger Books 2019) and A Family Secret and Other Stories (Zubaan2014).