Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Posturised image of Hawaibam Nabachandra Singh (1897-1946)

Hawaibam Nabadwipchandra: Life and Times

From the volume Confluence: Essays on Manipuri Literature and Culture complied and edited by B.S. Rajkumar.


He might have suffered from polio in childhood for Nabadwipchandra (1897-1946) had a shrunken left leg. But anybody who had seen him jumping across a narrow ditch, a spade in hand, or working on his garden jauntily would not have believed it. He was a skilful cyclist even in that condition. Perhaps in order to show his indomitable spirit in the face of this handicap, he offered gymnastics as a subject while he had been undergoing studies at the Johnstone School in Imphal. Amazingly he always stood first in the annual competitions. As a youth he was not to be slighted. Even able bodied persons respected him for his physical prowess.

Nabadwipchandra, the man is strongly built, slightly bald headed and had a dark shining complexion. He used to teach students from both his locality and far places. He was then a teacher in the Thangmeiband Uccha Primary School where students were taught upto the fourth standard. Particularly those students corning from the countryside used to reside temporarily at the teacher’s when the examinations were approaching near or whenever there were long vacations. They did not have to pay money of course, but they lost no opportunity to express their gratitude by helping the teacher in every way possible starting form keeping the homestead neat and clean to presenting him with gifts of rice and straw bales. He was devoted to his students and found great pleasure in it. Since the day he started teaching in 1911 after he had passed the eight standard upto his last days in 1946, he remained first and last an ideal teacher. In the course of his life he became the head Master of the school where he first joined as a teacher and after the War, he was promoted as S.1. i.e., Sub-Inspector of Schools.

As a teacher Nabadwipchandra carried himself as a gentleman and did not harass his students. As a teacher of Mathematics his fame spread far and wide. He carried in his head the whole text of Yadavchandra Chakravarty’s Patiganit. He could teach geometry, algebra and trigonometry also. He also taught English grammar and compositions in prose and poetry.

There is no easy answer to the question what is the best method of teaching? But Oja (teacher) Nabadwipchandra had own resource, practical knowledge and inherit quality to make others understand his mind. This is the reason why he had paid particular interest on improving teaching methods. He also won the coveted first prize for an essay on teaching methods which competition was held at the instance of the then Maharaja of Manipur, Sir Churachand Singh. The essay was a pioneering work in those days when B.T. facilities were yet to be made available. For the first time, we may assume, Nabadwipchandra proved the existence of the passive voice in Manipuri in the course of that essay. He gave the sentence “Nang keina chao” (You will be eaten by a tiger) as an example of the passive voice in this language and thereby opened a debate on the manner of reconstructing a reliable grammar.

In those days, the text books were all in English and Bengali. They were fat and voluminous ones to boot. Oja Nabadwipchandra like most of his colleague also started writing and printing text books under the aegis of State Durbar as well as on his own. Some of these texts and guides are Para Anouba (New lessons), Paruwagi Pambei (Student’s Guide), Paomen Laihanba (Proverbs Made Easy), The Child‘s Wordbook, etc. The books were not run of the mill help book types. They followed a strict principle of guidance under the schemata of giving the substances, explanation, elucidation and various other ways of improving the student’s learning process. In the classroom he larded his explanations with appropriate incidents quoted from the Malwbharata and Ramayana. He schooled his students in discipline, sincerity and honesty. The period during which he lived saw a dearth of vernacular text books. Almost all the educated persons, dedicated writers and social workers were absorbed in the task of proving the much needed text books for the ever growing number of learners of different stages. Therefore, the pioneering fathers of modern Manipuri literature could not give full exertion to writings of literary works and had to content themselves ruefully with the composition of text oriented writings.

British Political Agents in Manipur as early as the reign of Maharaja Chandrakirti (1834-1844, 1850-1886) had already begun the spadework of spreading the western system of education in this state. However hard they tried, at this early time they could not succeed because the local people were still seriously given to the learning of the traditional arts of wrestling called mukna, and the game of kangjei (polo – both foot-polo and horse-polo) as well as martial arts, for instance, the use of the sword and the spear. Western education planted its feet firmly in Manipur only during the rule of Maharaja Churachand (1891-1941). The present Johnstone Higher Secondary School at lmphal was only the Johnstone Middle School in those days. The local people used to call it “the big school” or sometimes “Oxford” as they nicknamed it which stood for Oxford in shortened form. Dr. Kamal, Chaoba, etc. famous poets of Manipur were educated upto the ninth standard in this school. Later they had to go to Shillong to finish the tenth standard and to appear in the examination called ‘Entrance’. Manipuri students had to go outside for this examination. A student after passing through the Lower Primary school level sought admission to the third standard in the Johnstone School. Since the number of students quite grew up, later on the third and fourth standards were taken away from this school and provisions were made for their inclusion in three other Upper Primary Schools at Thangmeiband, Moirangkhom and Chinga which were established for the purpose. From these three schools forty students (some say fifty) were selected and given admission to the next class in the Johnstone. Therefore the students had to labour very hard for inclusion in the selection list. The Lower and Upper Primary examinations by themselves were important events in those days. Luckily for Nabadwipchandra the Durbar member in charge of education – Sougaijam Ibochouba Singh being sympathetic towards the constrained pecuniary conditions of the poet’s family and also due to the scarcity of teachers, gave him appointment in the Thangmeiband Uccha Primary School. He had passed the eight standard only. He got 30/35 rupees a month. He managed to construct a house, to purchase arable lands and also to educate his children with this income. Nabadwipchandra’s family now began to exist on a better footing in his world. However, during the later part of his life he faced hardships to give proper education to his children – five sons and four daughters in number. He was a hard working person and knew how to run a family. On the other hand he was much fond also experimenting with new ideas. He was always restless. His hands never remained idle and were very skilful. He partnered with a man called Haobam Amujao Singh to make various new experimentations. His garden was always full of vegetables throughout the year. He preferred cycling to walking. So, he sent for bicycle parts of the Hercules trademark from Calcutta and fitted them himself. He would use the bicycle for 3 or 4 years. Then sell it away. Then out of old frames and spare parts he would ensemble a new one again. People were always eager to purchase Oja Nabadwipchandra’s used bicycles. Not satisfied with this he got books from outside and with their help prepared sugar and soap at home. People appreciated his products very much. It also proved the source of a mini income. He also tried his hand a few other cottage industries without much success. But a small enterprise that he started at this time is worth mentioning here. Once he purchased a small wooden hand printing press in an auction and started one of his own. He called this press “Thabal Printing Works” after his father. Many of his own books were printed here. A health journal entitled “Meitei Maiba” (1938) edited by Sagolsem lndramani was also printed in his press. Clearly there is a reason why this particular journal had been printed in his press. Nabadwipchandra was himself a practicing Kaviraj. He was well versed in homeopathy. That is why he invited Indramani to print Meitei Maiba in his press.

Nabadwipchandra always kept a medical chest at home. It was full of assorted homeopathic drugs and globules. He did not consult allopathic practitioners when any family members suffered illness. Friends and relatives as well as people of the neighbourhood used to come to him for treatment. It is said once he cured a patient who another maiba or local Kaviraj had forsaken as hopeless.

He followed a strict dietary habit and introduced the regular consumption of dal in his house. Meiteis though generally very fond of greens do not much enjoy dal. He himself loved the moong-dal very much. When cholera broke out he used potash to wash everything washable. Rain water he would filter thoroughly. He and his family took shelter in Khaidem Khumbong in the Japan war times his family did not have much to worry about. He translated and published the Bengali book Swastha Raksha into Manipuri as Haksel Kanglon. This little book was of much help to the literate persons in those days as it could provide useful health tips. Another poem “Haksel” (Health) gives golden rules about keeping oneself healthy.

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