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Ka Jingsneng Tymmen: The teachings of elders

By Bijoya Sawian
Ka Jingsneng Tymmen is a compilation of the ancient Khasi moral code and rules of etiquette. This literary masterpiece is the work of Radhon Sing Berry Kharwanlang who, along with Rabon Sing Suka and Jeebon Roy Mairom, perfected the Khasi alphabet after Reverend Thomas Jones had introduced the Roman alphabet in 1841. Before that ours was purely an oral tradition.
In order to keep the pronunciation intact the letters ii, n and ng were added and c,z,v,f,z,and q were dropped.
Ka Jingsneng Tymmen encapsulates the essence of Khasi philosophy and way of life. It enunciates the import of a life lived correctly, a life conscientiously aware of the divinity within which then leads to inner harmony and outer harmony and, consequently, to the well-being of one and all. Etiquette among the Khasis is not mere social grace but a way of worshiping. By showing respect to one and all one is according respect to the Creator, God Almighty, U Blei Nongbuh, Nongthaw.
The Jingsneng Tymmen was first published in U Khasi Mynta in February 1897. It had 112 lines. In March, the same year RS Berry added another 52 lines. Jeebon Roy, his friend and literary soul mate, immediately realised the beauty and importance of the work and published it in book form in 1901 in his recently established Ri Khasi Press.
In 1902 he published Book 11. In 1997, I had the privilege of having my English translation published in the same Press. While translating this masterpiece, written in exquisite Khasi, I realised its universal and perennial quality in most of the verses and why Jeebon Roy thought it would benefit generations to come, eternally.
RS Berry delves into the deep recesses of the human mind and guides one step by step through the seemingly simple path of day to day living. He details the way on how one should sit, walk, talk and attire, the importance of early rising and diligence, how to conduct oneself while visiting people, travelling, trading, wooing and mixing with opposite sex, the importance of being wary of drugs, drinks, gambling and promiscuity, the evil of greed, envy, sloth, arrogance and over indulgence, why and how to respect our elders, revere our ancestors and worship God and much more.
I quote some of the verses. One cannot match the original in the flow of the language, the perfect rhyme and meter but I have endeavoured to keep the essence and the meaning intact in the simplest of language.
“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 to live and your life, will direct.”
In front of elders any time any place /Speak with humility and grace/When they enter the room while you’re alone or with friends/Stand up, give your seat, never feel shame or offence/In front of them in smoking don’t indulge/It belittles their position and dignity very much/You, too, will yourself expose and disgrace/Like a boorish upstart who knows not his place.
Alcohol you shouldn’t too much desire/In has, in it, both fire and water/Smoking hashish too do not dare/Impoverished you will be, for your life you won’t care/As for opium and other stronger drugs/You’ll shorten your life if in them you indulge/From gambling too you should stay far/Or like a bottomless pit it will you devour/Keep away from women of bad character/Or your health and wealth will disappear.
Whatever you know, whatever you gain/It’s useless if not by Truth sustained/Even if very rich you become/If no one respects you,what use is the pomp?/Even if you are very grandly attired/It’s useless for it’s only your shame camouflaged/Even if you worshipped with folded hands/What use is it if you’re not honest and kind?
Don’t always pamper your whims and fancies/Detrimental to you are such tendencies/Indulgences encourage only sin and vice/They trample all limits, taboos, advice/To the children of the well to do/Such habits will bring only sorrow and woe/Be careful be wary, stick to what is correct/In matters about how one’s life is conducted/My children, my nieces and nephews don’t succumb to desire/God will assist you, so will your ancestors.
When a couple has a misunderstanding/Parents shouldn’t be too interfering/Parents of either boy or girl/If they interfere it will get worse/A minor issue will surely inflate/If parents meddle and manipulate/If there’s a valid reason however/Parents should render advice and succour.
Upon yourself do not bring trouble and woe/With harmful objects do not point and show/Your aura will be marred with ire and resentment/If, towards others and yourself you point a weapon/You may be aiming frivolously/But you may still cause a tragedy/Children you should not play with weapons/This act, is by God, strictly forbidden/If ever at anyone you aim by mistake/Stop using the weapon and apologies make.
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/Well-being is assured if by Truth you abide/Right from the beginning to the end of your life.
The best etiquette if followed fully/Binds you to your clan and your father’s family/The best behavior will always bring/Many benefits and many blessings/Don’t take this lightly and dismiss these words/My children instructions you should never avoid.
The stanzas deal with a society that existed hundreds of years ago. Except for a few stanzas that have more esoteric connotations and those that express roles of women very little else are outdated. The masterpiece reveals the elevated world view of the Khasi community, its level of understanding and evolvement, the high moral and spiritual standard of the society. Maybe we should go through this gem of a book, take a walk back in time and retrospect in order to move ahead.

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