Back to school: Adults learn Khasi

Learners at the launch of the Khasi Learning Centre at Shillong Law College on Saturday. Telegraph picture

Shillong, Sept. 5: The classroom at Shillong Law College wore a different look this evening and not because it was Teachers’ Day! The whiteboard in the classroom did not bear words from the lexicon of law but the Khasi alphabet.

Adults, some of whom were above 50 years, occupied the desks armed with pen and paper to learn not the nitty-gritty of the legal system but to learn a language once listed in Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

The classroom will become the Khasi Learning Centre once a week where more than 50 adults can learn the Khasi language to help them communicate with people around them.

The centre is an initiative of Seng Biria U Khasi (SBUK) or Khasi Humorists’ Society, and was launched by educationist M.P.R. Lyngdoh.

From heads of schools to teachers and students, a filmmaker and businessmen, an armyman to bankers and government officials, the class is but an illustration of the cosmopolitan nature of Meghalaya.

The learners comprise Bengali, Assamese, Rajput, Marwari, Garo, Rabha, Tripuri, Naga, Punjabi, Nepali and Bodo communities, some of whom have settled in Shillong for generations. But there are also a few Khasis who have enrolled to learn the language.

Some of the learners were of the opinion that since they belong to this place, it was proper to learn the language, which would help them communicate with people who cannot speak either English or Hindi.

Principal of Lady Keane Higher Secondary School, Chitra Choudhury, who is one of the learners, said, “If I have chosen to stay in a particular place, I must know its language and culture. Although I have picked up a few words but I am eager to learn more.”

Echoing her, Prakash Kumar Joshi, a serving official in a corporation, said, “The Khasi language is very rich. I hope the Centre gives recognition to the language.”

Hailing the society for the initiative, Joshi told the gathering that “comedians” are the “most serious” people.

Filmmaker and social activist Tarun Bhartiya said, “Learning Khasi for me is like falling in love again with the city I chose to live in. But on a serious note, I hope to be able to read the local papers and listen to local news and understand what truly is happening here.”

In her address, Lyngdoh, while congratulating the society, said learning languages was very important as they “connect people and foster friendship. Learning has no end. We are students for life. I hope the society will make this endeavour a sustainable one. For sustaining this centre, I think it needs to raise funds,” Lyngdoh said.

The society, though, has not charged a single rupee from the learners who have enrolled for the course.

Lyngdoh acknowledged the fact that there are Khasi families who are now used to speaking “Khalish” (a combination of Khasi and English).

“There is this mixture, and hence, some cannot speak the pure language. All those Khasi families who speak Khalish could also come to attend the classes,” she said.

Sukjai Swer, an academician who teaches Khasi at Sankardev College here, said it was “never too late to learn” considering the fact that all the learners are adults.

Outlining the course, she said the learners would be taught Khasi phonetics and grammar and the common words used for familial relations, household, food, health, education, trade and commerce, law, government, politics and religious rites, among others.

“We do not know yet how long it will take to complete the course. But perhaps we will conclude the course next year on Teachers’ Day,” Swer said.

Lilly Kharpran, who addressed the gathering in chaste Hindi, will be teaching along with Swer every Saturday evening.

Society member L.H. Pde, who chaired the gathering, said one of the basic objectives of launching the centre was to foster the “spirit of fraternity” among communities.

But the icing on the cake came at the end when the law college principal S. Ahmed stood up to enrol himself as one of the learners of Khasi, which is struggling to gain entry into the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
ByAndrew W. Lyngdoh