TODAY -

A humble tribute to Oja Nabakanta

By:- Heigrujam Nabashyam *



"Voodoo, Shri-jut-ta Hunggat-ke hairadi Boroshaheb-ki Mamaangda Hunggat-Lucho-ne" – You foolish child, go and request the Maharaja, if you would, in the presence of the British political agent – those were the magic words of an old benevolent wise man in the office of the Maharaja of Manipur, way back in 1923, told to Heigrujam Nabakanta Singh, who was known as Oja Nabakanta, the first B.Sc – Bachelor of science – in Manipur.

After securing First Division with letter marks in 4 subjects – English, Mathematics, Science and Sanskrit – in the Matric Examination of 1923 from the Calcutta University – there was no Board, etc. in those days – Shri Nabakanta applied for the state scholarship for further studies to the Maharaja as it was the rule of the day.

He had no other means for his further studies, because his father Heigrujam Nabin Singh had died a few months ago, at an early age of forty, who was serving the "Manipur State" as a Head Pandit under the Manipur State Education Office, which was put under the direct control of the British administration, unconnected with the office of the Maharaja – perhaps the British's knew that was the only way to spread education in Manipur of the time.

When Shri Nabin, the eldest of three sons, came to Manipur for the first time in 1899, eight years after the British occupation of Manipur, at the age of 16 with a few Anna in his hands, equivalent, probably to a few hundred Rupees in todays' value – on the advice of his father Heigrujam Tollen Singh, a resident of Cachhar, Assam to go to Manipur and help spread education in the land of his forefathers and never to turn back unaccomplished – he was not only happy to teach the children in Manipur but he was also proud to have found his roots in the soil of his fore-fathers.

But he was all alone and finally he married a girl from Yumphaan – the present Anglicized Imphal and started his family. However after his sudden death his son Nabakanta – eldest of six children – did not have anyone to help him for his further studies as his grandfather was also away in Cachhar – who died later in 1931 while Shri Nabakanta was in Raipur as Tutor in the then Prince College – a school set up by the British to educate the children of the native rulers, which probably had been disbanded after independence – of the then British India's Central Province, the capital of the present state of Chhattisgarh.

Those times, education was not much encouraged in the orthodox Manipuri Society which was living on the cusp between a medieval and a modern world, except for a few enlightened parents. The fact was modernism was much resented in the naοve Vaishnavite Manipuri society and western education introduced by the Christian missionaries was looked at with suspicion.

More important, there was not much room for merit. Instead, unhindered nepotism and favoritism was the rule of the day, because the Maharaja was given the maximum power in civil administration, without any accountability, as the British was not interested in the local affairs. And that painful experience of social and economic injustice and the unrestrained corruption of the Maharajah's rule in the formative stage of the young Manipuri society that was evolving into a modern society – had a deep-seated pernicious effect on the socio-political ethos of the Manipuri society, specially the Meitei society.

When Shri Nabakanta was informed that the Maharaja had decided that there would be no scholarship in that year, he felt extremely disheartened. However, he had made up his mind to request the Maharaja in person, to consider for the scholarship with all the courage he could muster. And that moment, the kind old man in the Maharaja's office, who showed him the way, was just the right moment ; the King, Maharaja Churachand Singh came out from his chamber to see the Borosaheb off ; Shri Nabakanta without a moment lost, approached the Maharaja with his earnest request.

And in a most pleasant surprise manner his request was granted not by the Maharaja though, but by the Borosaheb, who told him that he need not worry at all for the scholarship but he need to study hard. Without delay, on the same day, a telegram was sent by the Borosaheb – "Reserve two seats for two Manipur scholars" – there was another student who did not complete his studies. That was how Manipur produced its first B.Sc. in 1927 from the Calcutta University; though a century ago India had its B.A, B.Sc.'s .

After passing B.Sc. Shri Nabakanta could not go further, though he had wanted earnestly. He had to take up the responsibility left by his father, as his mother could no longer do. With a heavy heart he left his studies and started working.

First, he went to Prince College, Raipur and then to Mayo College, Ajmere as tutor for the princes. In between he had also attended to the Maharaja, Sir Churachand Singh, though without any official position. However after attending the Maharaja with no specific responsibility given to him, he decided to join the Johnstone School, Imphal which was administered by the British, and taught there for a few years.

But after prince Budhachandra became the Maharaja, he took a short break from Johnstone School on the initiation of the Maharaja. Eventually he worked as ADC (Aide-De-Camp) to the Maharaja before he finally decided to return to Johnstone School. And that decision had earned him his loving name 'Oja Nabakanta' and erased the 'Nabakanta Babu'.

He was a dedicated teacher like any teachers in those days. He lived a simple life; he said, "Kethokpagi mapaan naidabani" – there is no limit for luxury. But he wanted his students to work hard – very hard. He said, "Eroi-gesu samudra-da eroi-yoo; Hii hon-gesu samudra-da hol-loo" – swim in the sea, if you swim; sail across the ocean, if you sail.

Though a truthful Hindu, he was not orthodox. He was comfortable with people of other religions, too. At home Maangba-sengba – pure-impure, untouchability, etc. – of the Hindu Meitei of those days was a strict "no" ; anyone following any religion was welcomed.

He was one of the teachers, who were awarded the 'National Awards for teachers' in 1949 – the year the award was instituted by the President of India.

(A tribute on his 108th birth anniversary)


* Heigrujam Nabashyam (Singjamei a/c) contributes to e-pao.net regularly. The writer can be contacted at nheikrujua(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was webcasted at e-pao.net on 01st June 2011.


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