Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Schooling generations

Big Street in Triplicane is not broad enough for one to step back and get a complete picture of this three-storeyed redbrick building. The few trees growing in such a way as to cover the facade add to the difficulty of getting a good picture, so this one will have to do. That's okay, for in the case of this building, pictures cannot tell the story, because the story goes back to the middle of the 19th century. Where in the middle is not known exactly; the roots could well have been a little-occupied pundit trying to get the neighbourhood boys to learn the basics of reading and writing, or even just teaching them to chant shlokas. Make that two pundits: one teaching in Tamizh and the other in Telugu. Maybe that's how we find ourselves, in the early 1850s, hearing about two schools in Triplicane - the Dravida Patasala and the Hindu Andhra Dravida Balura Patasala. Both of them merged in 1860 and the new school was named the Triplicane Andhra Dravida Balura Patasala, where both Tamizh and Telugu competed with each other for pride of place.

Initially patronised by families who were loath to send their children to the Englishman's schools, the Patasala found itself in dire straits towards the end of the 1860s. It is said that in 1869, enrolment was down to 48 students and the school was in debt for 80 rupees. It was then that the governing body brought in M.A. Singarachariar, who was the Head Cashier of the Bank of Madras, to take over as the Secretary-Treasurer of the School. Singarachariar carried out that assignment in style and in the process, established the primacy of English as the language of the school. In keeping with that changed focus, the school was renamed as The Triplicane Anglo-Vernacular High School in 1873. And by the 1890s, school funds were ample enough for the leading contractor of the era, Namberumal Chetty to be engaged for constructing this building, which was inaugurated in 1897. In 1898, the school changed its name to The Hindu High School.

A minor change was made in the name in 1978 and the school has since been called The Hindu Higher Secondary School. The roster of its alumni is impressive - media moguls, police officers, high court judges, governors, civil servants, movie stars, cricketers. One of the more famous alumni reportedly brought his wife to the school sometime in the 1980s to show her the marks register of 1924-25. She hadn't believed him when he claimed to have scored a centum in maths in his school finals, so he had to prove it to her. That alumnus was Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1983 - the school reportedly maintains the marks register of his time even today!


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Shantaram said...

@ Anon: Thank you! Much appreciate the time you've taken to read the old posts and the new - can't help wishing that you'd identified yourself!