The Victor and the Victorious

In the seventies, in West part of Delhi, emerged a new residential colony called Janakpuri which happened to be another hub for South Indians.  Not being approachable to any of the existing six DTEA schools, the local Tamil community in Janakpuri acquired a land of their own, erected few wooden sheds, and started teaching children in an informal way.  A handful of teachers, not all of them qualified, drawn from the immediate neighbourhood were employed on an ad hoc basis.  The school was however recognized in a few years but was not qualifying to receive government Grant-in-Aid.  There was no infrastructure per se, no administrative staff, no telephone, not even a fence around the school.  Anybody could walk in / out at their free will.  A time came when the school was taken over by the DTEA, at the request of the community in Janakpuri, which turned out to be a unique experiment, as never before had the DTEA taken over an existing school with its attendant problems.  However the philosophy of MEA/DTEA being to serve the Tamil community with their educational needs, the DTEA agreed to take the Janakpuri school under its wings.  Those were the circumstances under which the DTEA Janakpuri school came into existence.

For the DTEA, the first priority was to bring the new school to the Grant-in-Aid status like the other schools.  In order to protect the interests of the 12 existing teachers at Janakpuri, the common seniority rule that existed among all other DTEA schools could not be applied, as endorsed by the Delhi Government.  Instead, the Janakpuri school was given a special status where existing teachers would be retained, while all new vacancies were to be filled by open recruitment only based on merit, and not by transfer from other DTEA schools.  The management was keen on finding the most competent candidate to take charge of this upcoming school, so first and foremost, the DTEA advertised for the position of Head of school, for which any qualified candidate could apply from inside / outside of DTEA.  Your guess is right – I was once again recruited to take up this leadership position in 1981.  This time I was riding my scooter, rain or shine, all the way from Lakshmibai Nagar where I lived, to 20 kms away to a neighbourhood in Janakpuri.  I was the only “outsider” while the staff and students were local residents.

Unlike my previous experiences with Karol Bagh and RK Puram schools where the community welcomed me and accepted me, the circumstances at JKP were rather adverse and unique.  Some “prominent” members of the local Tamil community were not happy with my appointment, as they had perhaps wanted one of their own candidates chosen.  On not achieving that, an environment of hostility and prejudice was built right from the beginning without even giving us a chance to work together.  Unfortunately, some members of the existing staff also joined the campaign against me.  It seemed their only goal was to see that I did not succeed in this new role, thereby hinder the progress of the school.  I could only attribute it to their ignorance of my real standing in the DTEA, or inability to accept that a candidate of their choice was not offered the lead position – one can only speculate.  What I do know is that never before have I seen (or imagined) a section of the community, or teachers as a matter of fact, working against the interests of the school & the children it served.  They were attempting to oust me and prove the DTEA wrong, while I was on a mission to transform the whole school, upgrade it to 12th grade, and establish it as a model DTEA Senior Secondary School.  What a sad irony!  Regardless, I was determined to prove myself one more time and was confident that with all my experience spanning over 25 years, I would turn things around tactfully and intelligently without antagonizing anyone.  My PR skills were indeed put to a severe test as I had to combat negative forces on a everyday basis.  No other Principal in the history of DTEA had ever faced a challenge like this one.  Full of optimism though, I moved forward relentlessly, prioritizing my jobs on hand.

First I arranged a telephone for the school.  Next was selection of administrative staff for the school office.  Files had to be opened afresh and things organized.  Some 30 – 40 teaching staff had to be recruited for various departments involving a lot of planning and coordinating with the Delhi government.  I was very particular that only meritorious teachers were selected and no compromises were settled for, rather I would leave the position unfilled if I didn’t find the right candidate.  Even class IV staff positions needed to be filled in.  In the midst of all this, I could not afford to neglect instruction to Class X students who would be appearing for the CBSE Board examination in March 1982.  As usual I took to classroom teaching work for Class X amidst other hardships.  That paid a good dividend.  The results spoke for themselves and parents were happy.  In fact, the students were the real “ambassadors” to carry the message home and obviously the parents were becoming increasingly happier by and by, at my taking charge as the Head of school.  Instilling confidence in the minds of existing and new parents was topmost on my agenda.

The DTEA Management being fully aware of the circumstances under which I was placed to head the Janakpuri school, was very supportive of me as I inched up the hill.  Though I would love to mention names, I am restraining myself from doing so, not wanting to leave anyone out inadvertently.  I have enjoyed close and respectable relationships with so many office bearers of the managing committee and so many wonderful parents who have stood by me during my 36 years and I hope they are viewing these articles to exactly know whom I mean.  Unlike the assistance I got from some of the senior teachers at Karol Bagh and RK Puram schools, there was none other than me to guide even the secretarial staff with routine work.  I ended up working 12 hours everyday.  When everyone had gone, I would still be working all alone until 8:00 PM.  Sometimes, the parents who had by then started building a rapport with me, would drop by at the school on their way back from office, at those late hours after spotting my scooter from their chartered buses.

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Right from the time of admission, I developed a cordial relationship with the families, particularly the children.  I would interview every child to understand first hand their strengths and weaknesses to be able to provide them with appropriate help during the course of their school years.   The morning assembly time was put to good use by emphasizing on the value of good morals.  I would address the Primary school children separately in Tamil making it endearing for them.  That set the tone of the school practically everyday.  I always encouraged the children to come meet me directly if needed and I insisted that they talked in English with me.  As an administrator, I was strict in enforcing discipline, both at students’ and at teachers’ level, in order to establish dignity and decorum as an educational institution.  At the initial stage, I encountered some resistance as they were not used to conducting themselves formally, but by and by, everyone had to fall in line to meet the expected standards.  The children responded splendidly well to my instructions and it became a joy to see them well behaved and cheerful all the time.  They were absolutely outstanding in their character and conduct.

My next job was to develop the teachers – both existing and new.  The section of existing teachers I mentioned about chose to remain non-cooperative, but I moved on with the rest that were willing to support and grow with the institution.  I started cultivating scores of new teachers that I had recruited.  They were very bright, qualified, and enthusiastic to work with me, some were even fresh from college.  Inspired by my leadership, they gave me their full co-operation, allowing me to groom them into becoming effective classroom teachers.

By now, the parents came to know of my abilities at revolutionizing the upcoming school.  They felt comfortable and came forward individually to interact with me, sometimes sharing their concerns.  They were visibly happy and I could tell they counted on me.  In the periodic PTA meetings, a record number of some 200+ parents would attend just to hear me talk on various topics.  As is usually the case everywhere, there would sometimes be a parent or two who would want to use this forum to ventilate their complaints but I would never let the meetings go out of control.  I made sure everyone’s interests were always protected and things were handled decently.  On one occasion, I was educating the parents on the National Policy of Education which was a lecture that lasted about 1.5 hours that everyone listened to with rapt attention.  At the end, a parent commented, “Sir, this will beat the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech”!

Next, I wanted to improve the infrastructure.  The parents were always ready to offer any help (including financial assistance) and I got the PTA to augment resources in this direction.  I gave top priority to raising a boundary wall to the school as it was absolutely essential.  I came up with an idea of BBC – Buy a Brick Campaign.  All the children were asked to sell coupons in their neighbourhood @ Re 1/ brick.  The children who made record sales were given prizes as incentive.  This was a tremendous success, and in no time, the school had a beautiful boundary wall with iron gates.  The PTA took the cue from here and started canvassing for a humongous fund collection drive for the completion of the school building.  It goes to the credit of the parents who managed to get a sizeable donation (of Rs One Lakh) from the British High Commission towards the corpus of the building fund.  Seeing the enthusiasm and drive of the community, the DTEA too came forward with a substantial share of their contribution and further took the responsibility of undertaking the building work.  It took about a year to complete the building.  Side by side, the school had to function normally amidst inevitable dislocations all round.  As Principal, I had to supervise the building work also round the clock, in addition to my already overloaded work schedule.  How can I forget those stressful days! 

With a beautiful building in place, my next project was to develop the library, the playfield and the laboratories so as to get ready for upgrading the school to senior secondary level.  The Board results at class X had been consistently good, the school had made an image for itself, the parents were extraordinarily cooperative and my leadership was established beyond doubt.  It was decided to open class XI with all the streams – science, commerce and humanities – at one go, for the first time in the history of DTEA!  All other schools had been developed progressively depending upon the facilities available.  Lots of formalities needed to be observed to open +2 level classes and to receive Grant-in-Aid from the government.  When everything was ready from our side for the take-off, the Delhi Administration put a spoke in the wheel, informing us that they could only approve the opening of +2 classes but would not be able to provide grant owing to paucity of funds.  What a blow!  We were in a tight spot, nevertheless, we took the plunge and opened all 3 streams in class XI.  The next challenge was about recruiting senior level teachers but who would pay them?  For class XI, we managed with some of the existing staff and recruiting some new teachers on condition that they would be paid ad hoc salary (some fixed amount) till we started getting grant.  But it became really difficult next year when class XII came into being, especially for the Science subjects.  It was truly a testing time for my leadership and I could sense the grim reality.  At that time, four people came forward offering their professional services free of cost in the interest of the community and the DTEA should always be indebted to them for their timely voluntary service.  They are: (1) Prof. S. Ramamrutham, an author, a free-lance engineer,  and former Vice -President of DTEA, for Physics; (2) Dr. J. Krishnamurthi, a parent & senior lecturer in the PG DAV College, for Mathematics; (3) Dr. Meena Natarajan (my daughter), an alumni of MEA & senior lecturer in the Kirorimal College, for Chemistry, and (4) Dr. Neeraja Chopra, a former student of my daughter’s & Scientist at DRDO, for Biochemistry, who came all the way from South Delhi to teach at the JKP school.  The first batch of class XII students was thus finally sent for the Board exam and the children proved themselves victorious bringing excellent results.  Subsequently we started getting the Grant-in-Aid for the +2 classes and everything was in place from then on.

Alongside this saga, based on my services as a resource person for training English teachers from all over Delhi and conferment of the Best English Teacher award, the CBSE nominated me as a Paper-Setter for Board examinations.  So I got involved in that confidential work which was an additional responsibility and honour.  Year after year after year, my paper would get selected for release by the CBSE confidential committee.  My school would be used for workshops by CBSE, so that brought an added benefit to our teachers and students.  The Board also sent me on weekends to various cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Jaipur, Guwahati etc to train prospective examiners in evaluating answer books of final year students.  After the exams, all answer books from the entire country would come to me for central evaluation in Delhi for which hundreds of senior teachers from various schools were deputed.  As Paper setter & Head Examiner, I was responsible for the publication of results in my subject at All India level.  The CBSE further selected me to serve on the Courses Committee for two terms where policy decisions were taken.  There was never a time I was not busy.  I don’t recall having taken a single day’s casual leave in my entire 10 years at the JKP school.

I, for one, did not believe in declaring a child “failed” at the end of the academic year.  To me, it is a sad reflection on the school if a child is not motivated even to merely scrape through the annual exam.  Every parent admits his ward in the school in absolute trust that the child’s interests would be taken care of by the school.  At the end of 10 years schooling, how can the child not pass the public exam?  That was unacceptable to me.  I instilled such ideas in the minds of teachers repeatedly and gave them the concept of “crash courses” to help every child pass the exam.  By constantly motivating the teachers and guiding them at every stage on how to take care of backward children in particular, I succeeded in producing 100% results in Board examinations continuously for a number of years, a record of sorts!.  The Delhi Government awarded a trophy and a letter of commendation to me in recognition of the spectacular results year after year.  The performance of the JKP school was the best among all DTEA schools with the sincere efforts put up by the teachers and hard work of the students.  We became the envy of everyone in DTEA circles!  The DTEA, in recognition of my services to the community, conferred on me, the DTEA Diamond Jubilee Award in a special function.

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While I remained a role model to other teachers, I expected them, on their part, to be role models for the innocent children under their care.  I would make sure no child is humiliated under any circumstances, be it corporal punishment or otherwise.  I believed the teachers should bestow parental affection on the children and be a Guide rather than an Instructor.  Quite a number of teachers working with me were inspired by what I preached and practiced, and have benefited in the long run.  I truly believed in the pledge that I framed –

This is my school

Make me proud of it

Make it proud of me

Each morning in the assembly, the Head Boy/Girl administered the pledge to the fellow students, which proved very efficacious.  Every student passing out of Janakpuri school cannot ever forget the essence of this pledge.

After completing 10 years at the JKP school and not having taken a break, I went to visit my children in USA during the summer holidays of 1991 when I brought back souvenirs for the staff & children – pens for all the staff, and pencils for the 300+ Primary department kids.  On my return, I went to each classroom and distributed the ‘Made in USA’ pencils personally to each child.  What a pleasure it was to see the little ones so happy!  By the way, long after my retirement, a student called on me to inform me that he had just then passed class XII exam and wanted my blessings again.  He added that he still remembered the occasion when I gave him “that” pencil personally long ago, and he’s still keeping it safely.  How touching indeed!

By the way, since the Janakpuri school had come of age and become, in a period of 10 years, a full-fledged senior secondary school with adequate infrastructure and full complement of staff numbering over 50, with a track record of excellent Board results, the DTEA brought the school at par with other 6 senior secondary schools with respect to common seniority.  This completed the circle and everybody’s interest was fully protected thereon.

In September of 1991, I took a major decision to take voluntary retirement from service after discussing with my children who wanted me to visit them more often.  The school was functioning smoothly and things had been streamlined.  I had done my job!!  I served a notice to the DTEA Management to relieve me of my responsibilities by the end of that academic year.  It was nice of them to have agreed to my request and processed all my benefits intact.  I sent by postal mail, a personal letter signed by me, to each individual parent of the school, by way of personally taking farewell in 1992.  The teachers have visited me since then, on Teachers’ Day, year after year until this day, to pay their respects and share fond memories that I appreciate so much.  Many, many students right from the 1950’s to 1990’s have always met me with great regards and affection.  It is so gratifying that the students have reached good positions in life and love their alma mater from the bottom of their hearts.

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I truly believe, every child has the potential to make a difference in this world and it is the solemn duty of the school to shape the child along right lines, according to their abilities, without prejudice.  It is every child’s right to grow in a healthy environment during his/her formative years.  To that end, I have done my utmost during my tenure with MEA/DTEA in different roles as assigned by the Management.  Mine is a professional life fully lived, to my utmost satisfaction, and for the noble cause of education.  I cherish every moment of it even today.  Over the years, the original flavour of the erstwhile MEA might have started undergoing a metamorphosis, and I believe, given the right leadership, any evolutionary change can be galvanized towards the victory of the common good.  I wish Good Luck to all the alumni wherever they are and my sincere thanks are due to them without whom my purpose of teaching would not have been fulfilled.  I am thankful to Kamesh – an alumnus of DTEA, also a friend and classmate of my daughter – for his interest and initiative in asking me to write about my experiences with the MEA/DTEA, perhaps the first of its kind.  Adieu!!

< for my response to comments, please check the tab Author’s Response >

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Nothing Nobler Than Teaching – Part 2

Desiring to be closer to work, I had moved my residence from Lajpat Nagar to Karol Bagh.  My children were studying in nearby Karol Bagh schools and when I thought I had finally settled down, I got deputed again in 1965 to establish another branch school, this time at RK Puram, another 25 kms far away from home.  A new adventure began, all over again, this time with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. 

First and foremost, I needed transportation.  There was no satisfactory DTS bus service between Karol Bagh and RK Puram those days as RK Puram had just come into existence.  Shri. K.V. Venkatachalam, Vice President MEA and Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, feeling sorry for me offered to help get a scooter allotment for me from M/S Bajaj Auto, Pune.  My first challenge therefore was to acquire and learn to drive a two-wheeler scooter for the first time in my life.  R.K. Puram was an alien place and roads were unclear to me.  With one weekend of training, I braved all the way riding my Vespa scooter everyday, rain or shine, sweltering heat or wintry weather, to the RK Puram school that also started out in tents.  Comfort was out of question.

My stint at RKP school lasted about 8 years giving me an opportunity to lay a solid foundation with a well thought out plan from the beginning.  I had gathered sufficient experience by that time, and to know that the parents of some 1000+ students were looking up for leadership and motivation, my goals were clear and I was all determined to make a mark.  I was excited I could bring in my own style and originality based on proven experience.  Fundamentally, I gave all the children an assurance that their interests were always safe and taken care of.  I never gave up classroom teaching so that brought me into direct contact with the students.  I would keep the teachers motivated and instill the value of good teaching so in turn they would ignite the minds of their students.  I believed in giving the teachers freedom to plan & organize their work with the least intervention, thereby helping them become active participants in improving the image of the school.  While I would protect the teachers from unreasonable parent criticism, I was also the Father figure in understanding the grievances of the parents and promptly sorting out any day-to-day problems based on reasoning and goodwill.  Above all, I believed a human approach to administration is absolutely necessary in making a healthy institution where everyone felt heard and understood.  I practiced all the above tenets with utmost sincerity and won the hearts of every section of the community in no time.

The teachers were all very enthusiastic and a fun group to work with.  We were a very close team and worked together.  A couple of my past students – P. V. Santosh and G. Vijayalakshmi – joined the RKP school as first-time teachers with me.  Mythili was a student of mine from RKP, who also joined as a teacher in DTEA, after completing her M.Sc (Physics).  I am so proud of Mythili who currently heads the Lodi Estate school as Principal.  Mythili’s husband, Krishnan, also was a student of mine at RKP school, who went on to IIT.  Both of them are a wonderful couple, very humble and respectful by nature, and I’m glad they are in touch with me even now.

Of course, the parents of RKP school were very supportive of me.  On their initiative, I started a nursery department, the first in MEA, that was well received by the community.   

In the seventies, I moved on to the Lakshmibai Nagar school.  When all was going well, in 1972, MEA got changed into DTEA at the instance of the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, who put that as a condition to release some token one time grant.  Around the same time, the Secretary of the DTEA also changed, who unfortunately brought in some rough waters into the smooth functioning of the 6 schools.  (Janakpuri school was not a part of DTEA then).  As is usual, there are ups and downs everywhere, and this was one such down period in the history of MEA/DTEA when differences arose between the staff and management.  The Principals and the teachers (majority of whom were women) after being used to a healthy administration for decades, started experiencing a sort of discontent across the board, feeling helpless and suffocated by and by.  Meanwhile, the Delhi Government had issued an administrative order requiring schools to open a separate staff account with a nationalized bank, and deposit their share of money in advance (5% salaries of teachers ) so that the Government could release their share of remaining 95% .  The order further specified that the Principal of the school was to operate the new account, not the Management.  But the DTEA took a stand that they were a minority institution and would not allow being governed by their order.  The matter took a legal twist and consequently, the teachers were denied salary pending a legal decision on the issue.  So the staff got further infuriated in an already charged atmosphere.  The teachers were so agitated that they came out openly sharing their grievances, which led to a situation of necessitating some remedial action.  It was decided to form a registered DTEA Staff Association to settle matters head on, following necessary legal procedures in order to restore the original glory of our institutions.  Elections were held and I was unanimously elected President of the Staff Association.

No doubt, it was a difficult period for all of us.  Teaching had to go on normally despite the hardship faced by all the teachers in all the schools.  Problems kept compounding ultimately leading to a public outcry.  Agitations started and after-school public meetings were organized to build support.  As President of the Association, I stood tight for the cause of teachers and took up the issues in a constitutional manner and succeeded in releasing the salaries of the staff as per the new Government order.  The ill will between the Secretary and the teachers continued unabated, rather escalated.

To make matters worse, the Secretary issued termination of service notice to some of the class IV staff to spread a kind of terror.  I too was threatened with dire consequences for providing leadership but it hardly mattered to me.  I knew I was doing the right thing and could not be shaken.  Nothing worked in the long run.  The finale came on one very cold morning in January 1974 when all the 350+ teachers squatted on the pavement in ‘dharna’ outside the Moti Bagh school where the DTEA General Body meeting was being held.  That protest brought the desired result and the Secretary had to quit.

Soon after, all of us in the staff, of course got over it, left the whole thing behind and marched forward with the usual enthusiasm in serving the DTEA community.  We understood it was a time to show our solidarity and we had to do it in the interest of all of us and the institution.

I returned to the Lodi Estate school in 1977 for a second term, but this time my specialisation gradually got shifted to English.  I really enjoyed not only teaching the subject to all streams of students – science, humanities & commerce – for classes XI and XII, but also got involved in various projects with NCERT / CBSE in the wake of the introduction of the 10 + 2 scheme.  New syllabus was introduced and there was need for new textbooks conforming to the new courses.  In that context, I co-authored a textbook viz., Practical English Grammar & Composition in 1975 which was prescribed by a number of public schools in the country.  At the Plus 2 stage, more and more innovations were brought about in the English curriculum, which called for resource persons to train English teachers.  As a resource person selected by the NCERT, I organized seminars across the city to induct teachers into the new framework.  Recognizing that there was scope to secure very high marks under the new pattern, I conducted extra classes before the morning assembly to different sections of class XII.  With all these efforts, the results were splendid that year.  Out of 71 students, 20 students got distinctions (75% or more marks), and overall, 66 students secured First Division in English.  I was recognized by the Director of Education, Delhi Administration and was conferred with the Best Teacher of the Year award by the English Teachers’ Association of Delhi.

best-eng-tchr-award-1981

Today is Saraswati puja day, and as I reminisce of those days, I recall the beautiful marble Saraswathi idol placed at the entrance of the Lodi Estate school.  From the time I first joined in 1956 to my latest years in that school, and even today, that Saraswati statue has remained a landmark.  Anyone and everyone, including the visitors, said a silent prayer at that sacred spot when they entered the school, setting the tone of that Temple of Learning.  A tradition has been in vogue to celebrate Saraswathi puja every year in all the branches of MEA/DTEA schools on Vijayadasami day, when children in large numbers, along with their parents would participate and receive the blessings of the goddess.  The members of the staff would all be present on that occasion without fail.  In addition, the members of the Managing Committee of the MEA used to attend the function in all the branches starting from the Lodi estate school, and to facilitate their presence, the timings of the Puja would be conveniently staggered across all schools.  The puja was elaborately  performed by the priests, followed by devotional Devi krithis by the children and distribution of prasadam. An added flavour to the occasion was, quite a number of  4-5 year old kids would be inducted by teachers to formal education with blessings of goddess Saraswathi on this Vijayadasami day.  Many such parents would look forward to the ‘Vidhyarambam’ of their children on that auspicious occasion.  The sanctity of the atmosphere in each school on that day was truly depictive of our rich culture and the whole community had a sense of pride in their participation, lending a sort of  ‘oneness’ to the institution.

Another occasion when the schools have traditionally invoked the blessings of goddess Saraswathi is the time when the final year students are to be given farewell from school.  An auspicious day was selected in the month of February to especially bless the outgoing students.  The admission tickets received from CBSE would be placed before the goddess and the puja would be performed where everybody prayed for the success of all our students.  As we believe in our culture, we put in all our efforts through the years to educate the children and we seek the blessings of God for that divine touch to help them perform well in the Board exam and in their lives thereafter.  At the end of the puja, the students received their admission tickets from the Principal personally where each student would be blessed individually.  A fervour of religiousness, devotion and sanctity would permeate all around making it a memorable day.

In the afternoon, there would be a social gathering when the junior students played host to their seniors to wish them ‘good luck’ in their ensuing exam.  A farewell party was held, speeches were made by the host students as well as the outgoing students, and the finale was the Principal addressing the seniors sharing his words of wisdom, and blessing the students.  Year after year, I have seen the outgoing students rushing to get autographs from their teachers, exchanging pleasantries with fellow students, and taking a tearful farewell from their dear alma mater.  While the students reach far and wide, my belief gets only reaffirmed time and again – there is indeed nothing nobler than teaching!

More on MEA / DTEA story to follow…

Addendum to Teachers Day Special:  The omission was inadvertent, but I would like to duly acknowledge the services of Shri S. Srinivasan (Head of Physics Dept), who proved himself as an effective classroom teacher, and ably assisted by Shri. R P Sarathy in the fifties at Lodi Estate school.

Nothing Nobler Than Teaching – Part 1

I was not fortunate to have good teachers in my school days and this sad fact actually prompted me to be one of the best teachers for my own students who looked up to me in so many ways.  In my college days, however, I had the privilege of having some exceptionally good professors in my two most favourite subjects, Maths & English.  They were such good role models that they inspired me to pledge myself for the cause of education as I began my innings in MEA.  Right from classroom teaching, to problems at home, to deciding on further educational options, and to making career choices – my students simply counted on me.

Perhaps I could share the story of one of my students, who passed out of Lodi Estate school in 1962.  He was delighted to be selected by IIT all right but was not offered his choice of Mechanical Engineering that he badly wanted.  He felt not only disappointed but also disagreed with his father, who wanted him to join a regular Honours course in DU like many others.  Being at cross roads, he came to me for advice, wondering if he should give up his seat in IIT.  Knowing this child from his younger days, I knew he was cut out for something remarkable and I persuaded him to join DU and attempt the Civil Services examination instead.  After that I lost touch and had no idea of his whereabouts until, by sheer coincidence after all these long years, he saw me in a temple recently visibly overjoyed.  Without a doubt, this fine gentleman had made it to the IAS and risen to the enviable position of Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, proudly retiring a couple of years ago.  It was interesting to hear this retired senior official narrate the story as vividly as he remembered it, while I went back for a moment to those times when he had come to me for advice as a young boy.  This was surely one of those occasions of teachers touching the lives of others while hardly recalling it themselves.  What better joy could there be than to see my students successful!

Well, after establishing myself as a strong mathematics teacher in the Lodi Estate school, I moved on as Head of the Karol Bagh school at a young age of 26 years.  My experiences within the MEA/DTEA as I climbed the ladder were very unique compared to all other Principals and staff.  As the youngest head of school, every other staff member was older than me.  There were over 30 teachers and student enrollment crossed 1000.  It was indeed a big establishment and the job was challenging from various aspects.  The school was housed in tents pitched on a temporarily allotted land in old Rajendar Nagar. (The present site of the Pusa Road school was given to us at a later stage).  Further, I had to commute a very long distance everyday from Lajpat Nagar to Rajendar Nagar totally dependent on the pitiful DTS service of those times!  Last but not the least, I had to build the school from scratch, right from laying the administrative infrastructure, equipping and supporting the teachers, partnering with the parent community, ensuring quality education within the classrooms, conducting examinations and ultimately producing results!  By the way, I had to do all this without any knowledge of Hindi, which was also an incidental impediment.  I acknowledge gratefully the support I received from the teachers of the Karol Bagh school who were of immense help in all my efforts to maintain the image of the school.  In the midst of these multifarious challenges, I never gave up teaching classes myself which has always been the most refreshing part of my day.  All in all, I made a mark earning the goodwill of the entire community – both students and parents.  It was all worth it!

I am reminded of a very interesting event that took place in November 1960.  The occasion was the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Lakshmibai Nagar school which was also running in tents.  The Chief Guest was none other than the then Prime Minister of India, Shri. Jawaharlal Nehru.  It was a unique honour to have Pandit Nehru visit our school and the MEA was legitimately proud of themselves in having got the blessings of the first Prime Minister.  The Management, as a matter of protocol, introduced all the Heads of schools to the Prime Minister and I couldn’t believe I actually had the privilege of shaking hands with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.  What a thrilling moment!  Coming from a small village, I had never ever dreamt of anything like this.  That experience will always remain green in my memory!

pt-nehru-1960

As head of school, I was guided by certain basic truths.  While it is necessary to earn the love & affection of the children, I believed it is equally important to enlist the co-operation of the staff members, besides instilling in them a sense of team spirit.  After all, the parents have entrusted their children to our care – it is a SACRED trust that cannot and should not be betrayed.  This is the fundamental truth the schools under my charge lived up to.  I also believed the abilities of children cannot be expected to be uniform and naturally their achievement levels will vary from child to child – be it sports, academics, music, drama, languages, whatever.  I felt responsible to provide a healthy environment to every child in the school and encouraged the teachers to draw the best in the child – body, mind & spirit, while serving as a role-model myself, inspiring and guiding the students and staff as needed.  The teachers who worked with me will remember the maxim I stood by – “No teacher teaches unless the pupil learns”.

I succeeded to a large extent in shaping the Karol Bagh school by laying a good foundation, academically and administratively, while maintaining the dignity and decorum of the school.  It was surely a great learning experience that helped me in understanding the structure and functioning of the MEA as an administrator.  I then moved on to Mandir Marg school on a teaching assignment with Shri. N. M. Rajaram.  Though it was only for a short while, my stay with NMR turned out to be the most productive and indeed enjoyable, with the backing of my 10 years’ experience by then.  Besides Maths, I opted to teach English to senior students which again was another area that interested me and also afforded opportunities to interact with the Arts (Humanities) students.  All students of classes X & XI had access to me and through our students as our best ambassadors, I became well known in the community.  I wonder if these articles are reaching that audience, but I’m sure we all have nostalgic memories of those days.

During my tenure with the MEA / DTEA, I have encouraged many a student, not only those who were academically bright, but also those who struggled within the classroom.  I have taught not just the subject matter, but inculcated in them morals and good values to the extent that over the years, I have actually seen noticeable improvement in my students’ conduct and behaviour.  That was a rewarding experience.  Some students were not good in their academic performance for various reasons but I would never find fault with them for their deficiency.  Instead I would be more friendly with such students and encouraged them on other fronts.  They in turn loved me and never disappointed me in their effort.  It is so very heartening to know that quite a number of such “academically average” students are today holding enviable positions both within the country and abroad, some of them still maintaining contact with me.  In fact, as these articles are reaching far and wide, I received a surprise phone call last week from one of my old students of 1960’s who is now settled in USA after Economics (Hons) from Hindu College, MA from Delhi School of Economics, and got into the first batch of IIM Ahmedabad.  In his words, “though maths was not my strong subject – I barely managed to pass each year, I did well overall.”  What a joy to hear!

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Photo of Reading Road School – 1964 batch

The girl squatting in the front row, Second from Right, is N. Jayalakshmi who later joined the MEA Faculty & subsequently retired as Principal – Moti Bagh school.

reading-road-1964

More on my journey with MEA/DTEA to follow…

Teachers’ Day Special

On this day, September 5, a tribute is in order to the many excellent teachers who raised the MEA to great heights.  I would like to recognize stalwarts on the faculty of the MEA who gave their everything – heart & soul – to put MEA on top of the educational map of Delhi in the forties & fifties.  Those were the days when the CBSE used to announce the all-round toppers and subject toppers in the national dailies like the Hindustan Times & Times of India.  From among 600+ Higher Secondary schools in Delhi, it was the MEA that would snatch the FIRST position (sometimes the Second position also) and a number of subject toppers year after year.  On the day of publication of the Board results, the headlines on the front page would invariably bring out the achievements of our students, becoming the talk of the town that day in the capital.  We were unbeatable!  The entire community felt proud of itself almost every year on those occasions.

The teachers responsible for those spectacular achievements were people of commitment and dedication, who worked like a team with one goal – to make MEA the best!  The Captain of the team was of course the Principal who provided inspiration and leadership to all the members of the staff.  Shri. K. Suryanarayanan can easily be called the Architect of the MEA schools.  He was a man of parts & promise known for his administrative acumen and teaching skills.  A disciplinarian with a tough exterior & a sweet interior, he proved himself to be a great orator too which enabled him to command respect from all quarters.  The Government of India recognized his meritorious service to the community and to the cause of education by conferring the National Teacher’s Award before his retirement.  Coincidentally, the same year, the Delhi Government too chose Shri. Suryanarayanan for the State Award.  It was a double honour that he richly deserved and an occasion of huge celebration.

Shri. Suryanarayanan was instrumental in opening a number of MEA branch schools, he introduced school uniform for children, started common terminal exams for all the branches to maintain common standards of education, brought the idea of inter-transfer of teachers among the schools maintaining common seniority, and introduced the custom of Saraswati Puja in each school to bless the senior students on the day of farewell.

I have already dedicated my earlier article to pay tribute to the other two seniormost teachers, Shri. V.Subramanian and Shri. T.Rajagopalan for their exceptional contribution.  Shri. V.Subramanian was Principal of Lakshmibai Nagar school when he passed away while Shri. T.Rajagopalan retired as Principal of Pusa Road school.  All the “top 3” – KS, VS, and TR were truly the pillars of the forties – fifties that held the foundation on which the MEA / DTEA continued to soar new heights in the later decades.

Shri. N. M. Rajaram, Head of Chemistry department, was a prominent figure in the educational circles of Delhi, whom none of the IITians from MEA / DTEA can ever afford to forget – thanks to his Midas’ touch of churning out dozens of successful IIT entrants from our school.  Final year students would go to him for private help, as a matter of course, in Maths, Physics & Chemistry as he was well versed in all three subjects.  I remember, for instance, 22 students from the 1962 batch alone were selected from Lodi Estate School for IIT admission.  What a rich harvest! His students are spread all over the world who I’m sure remember him fondly.  A tall hefty figure, shabbily clad & chewing paan all the time, NMR was an intellectual giant, full of humour and a great conversationalist.  He had as his deputy, Mrs. S. Jayalakshmi, who again endeared herself to one & all by her soft voice and sound knowledge of Chemistry.  Unfortunately a widow, she came from South India and fitted elegantly into the profession of teaching Chemistry, an important science subject, to senior classes.  She was sobre by temperament and students loved her.  Mrs. Jayalakshmi eventually retired as Principal of RK Puram school after a full-term service in DTEA.  Very commendable!

My association with NMR has been very SPECIAL indeed.  We were so alike and admired each other all the way.  I’m reminded of an unforgettable episode.  One staff member was to be elected as the teachers’ representative to the Managing Committee of the MEA.  I was nominated as a candidate, besides Shri. T. Rajagopalan and Shri. N. K. Sharma.  Subsequently, TR withdrew from the contest, and to my surprise I was elected, defeating NKS.  Soon a vacancy arose for the post of a Principal and it was NMR’s turn this time.  But some forces were working against him and cases were fabricated to scuttle his promotion.  The matter came up before the Managing Committee presided over by Dr. P. S. Lokanathan who was at that time the Director General of the National Council of Applied Economic Research.  In the meeting, Principal Suryanarayanan pleaded against his promotion, but I refuted his arguments outright, though I was the youngest among all there.  Immediately the President got alerted and deferred a decision on the matter, instead expressing a desire to have a personal interview with NMR.  The interview took place and NMR got duly selected on merit.  He took over Mandir Marg school as Principal in 1963 from Shri. V.Subramanian who went on transfer to Lakshmibai nagar school nearer home.  Incidentally, those were the same years I started the Karol Bagh school in 1960, then moved to Mandir Marg school for a couple of years as they were badly in need of a strong Maths teacher for their higher secondary classes, and subsequently got deputed to open the RK Puram school in Sector IV in mid-sixties.

NMR was fond of reading and would finish any book in a single day.  As Principal, he developed a beautiful library and spent money lavishly on the purchase of latest books.  His other weakness was playing chess.  In the evenings we played table tennis and badminton in the school till 7.30 PM & walked back home together to Karolbagh.  We became the best of friends.  NMR wrote a textbook – New Age Chemistry – for higher secondary classes, which helped with IIT preparations also.  He richly deserved the State Award that was conferred on him before his retirement by the Delhi administration.

Shri.J.N.Ganju, M.A, LL.B was the Head of English dept.  He came from Kashmir.  Always nicely dressed, smart looking & fair in complexion, he would attract anyone with his slow modulated voice.  He brought in an ambience of a college atmosphere.  In the staff room, Shri. Ganju would be either preparing for his next lecture or checking students’ work.  He would openly discuss the mistakes students committed so others could benefit from it.  Although he did not know Tamil, he never felt out of place in a South Indian set up.   He adored the Principal and always strived to be in his best books and made a mark as an English teacher.  Shri. Suryanarayanan rightly chose him as his successor for the Lodi Estate school.

Shri. N.K.Sharma headed the Geography department.  He hailed from Khurja (near Aligarh).  He was a perfect gentleman, knew his subject well and had a good command over English.  Being an excellent teacher, Shri.Sharma was a good student too.  On joining the MEA, he started learning Tamil very earnestly, both reading & writing.  I was wonderstruck when he started conversing with me in Tamil in the staff room one day.  Any doubts he had in reading, he would not hesitate to approach me.  That is how our friendship started.  He had a room exclusively for Geography that was well done with exhibits, the globe, maps and other related materials, that inspired students to opt for Geography.  He exhibited great respect for authority that was worth emulating.  He was subsequently promoted as Principal of the Pusa Road school wherefrom he retired gracefully.

Shri. H.C.Shali was Head of History department.  He also hailed from Kashmir working as Inspector of schools there before joining the MEA.  A loveable personality, he would attract anybody by his kind nature.  His communicative ability was fantastic and he was very popular with students.  He organized a historical tour of Delhi every year for the benefit of class XI History students and he would ensure that I joined that tour without fail. We used to have so much fun on those trips.  Shali had a special attachment to me and was truly my friend for life.  He retired in 1973 as Principal of the RK Puram school.

The list will go on.  There were other departments and so many wonderful teachers like Badra Vratt (Hindi), S. K. K Arya (Hindi), Mary Thomas (started Biology department in Lodi Estate), Shiv Dutt Shastri (Sanskrit), P. D. Kapoor (Domestic Science), R. N. Trehan (Social Studies and English), R. Parthasarathy (Tamil), Ram Bhaj (Engineering Drawing), Dhan Raj (Physical Education), K. G. S Rao (Maths, who later became Principal of Kannada School), etc.  Though it is not my intention to leave anyone out, it is practically impossible to include everyone.  I remember and am grateful to Shri. Badra Vratt who taught Hindi to me and Mrs. Mary Thomas (from Kerala) during lunchtime as neither of us knew a word of Hindi then!  That goes to show how supportive the teachers were to one another and what a healthy learning environment that was.  The esprit de corps displayed by all the teachers was incredible!

There were other junior teachers who started coming in to take the place of the above-mentioned senior teachers as they retired or as the schools expanded.  Very competent and noteworthy, they too served the institution with utmost dedication making significant contribution to the lives of so many students.

Ms. Bhuvaneswari started the Biology department in Mandir Marg school and proved herself to be a GEM of a teacher.  She was easily the best among all Biology teachers of Delhi!  Very affectionate towards students and concerned with their career, Bhuvaneswari was responsible for producing a large number of doctors from DTEA.  She was considered the “counterpart” of Shri. N M Rajaram who produced countless number of engineers.

Shri. Darshan Kumar, a brilliant teacher made a mark in DTEA with his superb and unparalleled knowledge of Physics & Maths.  Every student loved him for his passion of teaching, a decent person and a perfect gentleman.  IIT aspirants of the latter years looked up to DK for guidance.

Shri. Hari Om, a resident of Ghaziabad, came to teach mathematics to the senior students at the Lodi estate school commuting daily.  He was thorough in his subject, very friendly with the students and earned their love and respect by his very nature.  He knew every student by name and even their brothers and sisters studying in the school.  He further knew most of the parents too by name and maintained good PR with them.  Hari Om was an asset to DTEA

Mrs. Kamala Bhuvarahan was master in her subject, very gentle, and extremely proficient with a great sense of duty.  She was one of the best English teachers I have come across.  I always admired her professional skill and eagerness to learn more.

Last but not the least, I would also like to recognize Tulsi Ram and Homi who were among our most dedicated class IV staff of those days, who loved working with us and considered it home.  The MEA certainly owes them a lot for their loyalty.

More on my later years with MEA / DTEA to follow…

My professional life – a smooth take-off

All of my professional life I have served the MEA / DTEA with one purpose and dedication – to make a positive difference in the lives of the children. A profession that I took up by choice, not by chance, I was all out to do what it takes. I couldn’t have been more fortunate to start at the brand new school building at Lodi Estate with a galaxy of talented teachers, drawn from different regions, all working in unison to promote the educational interests of Tamil children in the capital. I was the juniormost in age but I was straightaway given senior classes to teach mathematics. Of course it was a challenge and thrill for me to teach those really bright students who were indeed in the “learning mode”. Shri. Suryanarayanan, Principal, whose subject was also Maths developed a liking for me from day one and we became a team. His residence was on the top floor of the school, so we would spend long hours after school discussing school matters, teaching techniques, and administrative issues. He was a mentor and friend to me as I blossomed into a successful teacher and soon went on to head various schools as we expanded.

The Principal had two “lieutenants” to help him with administration – Shri. V. Subramanian, the Vice Principal (Economics ) for communications and public relations, and Shri. T. Rajagopalan (Maths ) for accounts. The three of them formed an able team making everyone feel that the school was in good hands.

Shri. T.Rajagopalan was by far one of the best Maths teachers. Very conscientious about his work, one could never find him free even for a minute – he would be busy with school accounts, running a cooperative canteen, establishing a Cooperative Group Housing Society for teachers, or the school book store, etc. Ironically, he would hardly find time to go teach classes, yet he would manage everything efficiently at the end. The Principal relied heavily on him for every little thing. Both of them together wrote a Trigonometry textbook which was a big hit by any standard. TR was happy to have me in the Maths department and respected my input in various matters.

The Maths department was easily the strongest in the school. The Principal himself taught Geometry & Trigonometry to some sections of class XI. I used to silently admire him when he would go rushing to teach a class leaving aside other administrative work or an important telephone call. His zeal and love for teaching was an inspiration to other younger teachers like me. Shri. A. Sundaresan was another mathematics teacher – a remarkable gentleman from Mylapore, Madras, who had left his family behind in Madras, worked in Delhi, and visited his family at every school break. He was fast in talking, faster in thinking, frank and outspoken, with an extraordinary sense of humour. He found good companionship in me and welcomed me into the maths department sharing all his experiences with me. Though he was 25 years older than me, his youthful spirit made it extremely comfortable to be around him.

Shri.V.Subramanian, a doyen in his own right, commanded the same respect as the Principal and was ably assissting in school administration. Temperamentally amiable, he would conduct staff meetings in an extremely professional manner with excellent command over English. It was a pleasure listening to him. In addition, he was responsible for teaching all Economics classes for class XI – Arts students. He knew how to maintain discipline and decorum inside and outside the classroom. By and large everybody maintained a distance from him, however I was very close to him despite the age disparity. Sharing similar values, I admired him. An interesting instance in this context was the time when a parent and Vice-President of MEA, Shri. C. Ganesan (working as the Secretary of the UPSC), urged Shri. V. Subramanian to apply for the post of Principal in Delhi government schools through the UPSC, which would get him further promotions and other benefits in the cadre of government service. VS, not tempted at all, politely declined the offer. He preferred to wait for his turn in the MEA to become a Principal, obviously opting for serving the community. That to me was indeed laudable. He was ultimately promoted as Principal of Mandir Marg school in 1959. I was happy for him, and as time passed, we came closer to each other. Sadly, he passed away in 1973 while still in service.

Going back to one spring day in March / April 1958, within two years of my joining MEA, the Principal, Shri. K.Suryanarayanan called me to his office to convey that the MEA management had passed a resolution to appoint me as the Head of a new school being opened in Lakshmibai Nagar. I was thrilled allright, but all the same I honestly felt that I was too young to take up such a responsibility. I was only 24. I expressed my inability and declined the offer. But Shri. Suryanarayanan would not take a “no” from me. He told me it was beyond him to do anything and instead suggested that I should go meet the Vice President of MEA (also Chairman of the Selection Committee ) to get the resolution revoked. I dutifully went ahead and met the Vice President who to my surprise said that the recommendation had indeed come from the Principal! What a dilemma! I had to turn to the Principal again. Finally, I managed to persuade him and things were sorted out. Inherently I was touched that I had won the confidence of the community. I geared myself to prove even more. My stay in Lodi Estate hardly lasted another couple of years when Shri. Suryanarayanan again asked me to head the next new school at Pusa Road in 1960. This time, I accepted the challenge and moved on to my new position.

It was an honor and privilege for me to have been chosen by all the top 3 – KS, VS, and TR – to share and discuss any of school or personal matters. It was clear to me that those are the footsteps I desired to follow. With that, I dedicated myself to serving the children of the South Indian community in Delhi. MEA / DTEA became synonymous with my life as I identified myself with it and grew with the organization. I retired after 36 years with deep gratification of having fully realized my one and only ambition in life.

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MEA Lodhi Estate, Arts Group, 1960 Batch

lodiest-1960-arts

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MEA Lodhi Estate, Science Group, 1960 Batch

lodiest-1960-science

From Left to Right:
Mrs. P.D.Kapoor – Domestic Science; N.K.Sharma – Geography; Ram Bhaj – Engineering Drawing; J.N.Ganju – English; H.C.Shali – History; T.Rajagopalan – Maths; K.Suryanarayanan – Principal; Shri. C.R.Pattabhiraman – Minister of Law, Govt. of India & President of MEA; P.H.S.Iyer – Founder Teacher; S.Srinivasan – Physics; S.Easwaran – Economics; S.Natarajan – Maths; S.Jayalakshmi – Chemistry; Mrs.Samuel – English; R.P.Sarathy – Physics

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More on the MEA / DTEA story to follow…

MEA – a modest beginning

அறம் செய விரும்பு 

The Shimla school was wound up in course of time with the Reading Road (later Mandir Marg) school picking up enrollment as most of the South Indians were living in Karol Bagh, Gole Market & Paharganj areas.  We were running short of space, the Telugu section had to be shifted to the auditorium of The South India Club in front of the school.  We got into an agreement with the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) to use 5 – 6 classrooms from their facility adjoining our school that eased our space situation a little.  The primary school was soon upgraded to middle school, so the community had established their first ever minority school of their own, in the heart of the city, just a kilometre away from Connaught Place.  At this juncture in 1943, Shri. K. Suryanarayanan came from Madurai and took charge as Principal, raising it to a higher secondary school.  Gradually things fell in place and we sent our first batch of students for the Board examination in 1949.  Incidentally, Smt. Durgabai Deshmukh founded the Andhra Education Society and we transitioned the Telugu children into their own school. 

In the meantime, the South Indian government officials (the parents) managed to get a huge plot of land allotted to the MEA where a beautiful school building started coming up.  This was the magnificent Lodi Estate school.  The entire Reading Road school was shifted to the new premises in July 1956, when I joined the MEA.  However, the Reading Road school continued to function as a feeder school with classes 1 – 8 that catered to the needs of families living nearby.  The MEA also rented a residential building at Karol Bagh to run a branch school for the convenience of small children in the primary classes.  Everybody however, had to go to Lodi Estate school, irrespective of their residence, for higher secondary classes.  Students came from far flung areas like Kingsway Camp, Kashmere Gate, Daryaganj, Lajpat Nagar, Defence Colony, Kalkaji, Karol Bagh, Patel Nagar, Gole Market & Lodi Road areas.  In this city of long distances, transportation was a big problem, especially for the girl students.  So the MEA acquired a fleet of buses of their own proudly displaying “MEA Higher Secondary School, New Delhi” written on the sides.  The school timings were very convenient too (10 AM to 4 PM) that remained unchanged round the year.  That was also something unique to our schools.  The parents were indeed very happy with all these arrangements and so was I! 

The entire set-up of the Lodi Estate school looked so grand.  Primary classes had one section each, Middle classes had two sections each, and Higher secondary classes (IX, X and XI) had six sections each, four of which were science sections!  Total enrollments soon crossed 1,000 and there was paucity of classrooms again.  The primary children, being very young, had to be given good classrooms.  The final year students – six sections of class XI – could not be denied rooms either as they were at the verge of leaving school.  We had three science laboratories, one domestic science laboratory, one big hall for Engineering Drawing, one big room for Geography, and a library  The school office, Principal’s room and staff room accounted for three classrooms.  Of course, one room had to be a canteen inevitably.  As a result, we had to accommodate classes 6 – 10 in tents on the sides of the building.  It was a strange experience teaching high level mathematics for the senior classes in those tents, everything open & noisy all around, and a sight to see especially on rainy days!  Looking back it seems like both teachers and students had fun and no one minded the inconvenience despite the extreme weather conditions in Delhi.

The school was headed by Principal Shri. Suryanarayanan, who also taught Trigonometry for class XI, setting an example for others.  The staff members were drawn from various parts of the country who worked like a perfect team with absolute dedication and mutual admiration, something unbelievable these days.  It was a mini-India in action, where the teachers were learning and competing healthily with one another to improve the quality of classroom teaching.  I still remember the times when Principal Suryanarayanan used to request a 15-minute appointment with me (also teaching mathematics) to brainstorm teaching methods on some abstract topics.  I used to feel so honored.  The medium of instruction was strictly English, the students were bright by and large, with good communicative abilities.  Having come from a remote village myself at a young age of 22, all this was too good to be true!

I will be introducing some of the teachers of those early times in my subsequent articles, however, one teacher that created a record of sorts is Ms. M. Visalakshi, popularly known as “Chiththi Teacher”.  Very affectionate by nature and a young widow, Chiththi Teacher, joined the school at Shimla around the age of 18 years, then came over to MEA, Delhi and served over four decades, all along teaching only class 1 and none other, year after year.  The Delhi Government in recognition of her marathon service to class 1 children, conferred Best Teacher Award prior to her retirement in early 1970’s that included a citation, cash award and most surprisingly a 2-year extension of service which rarely happens.

A hallmark of our MEA school was that it was owned & run purely by the parents with no substantial financial support from any other source.  The parents were the consumers and they were also the managers (by election).  The Secretary of the MEA is like the CEO of a corporation.  A relationship of mutual respect existed between the staff and the parents that was the backbone of the institution.  This is something very unique to our schools that set us apart from other schools.  There was no Trust, no big financial backup from corporations, no capital whatsoever.  That is the reason why each of the existing seven schools started out in tents.  The community was most concerned with providing quality education as a matter of priority to their children and nothing would deter them from that focus.  The local government provided grant-in-aid that met 95% of teachers’ salaries and other running expenses of the school, however, we were not allowed to charge tuition fees up to class VIII, after which a nominal tuition fee could be charged, which too was adjusted against the grant.  All building costs were to be borne by the schools themselves.  It remains a wonder how the MEA / DTEA could gradually raise full-fledged buildings for their seven schools without any Capital!  Our real asset was the goodwill of the community.   To raise funds, the Management periodically organized drama festivals and dance / music concerts, inviting sponsorship and releasing souvenirs on such occasions.  I remember Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi giving free concerts on several occasions.  In addition, the PTA of each school organized fund collection drives to meet the immediate needs of their respective schools.  In this context, I should acknowledge the benevolence shown by the Old Students’ Association in 1964, synchronizing with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the MEA, when they donated the Science Block to the Lodi Estate school.

Above all, the MEA was fortunate to have luminaries as Presidents to guide their affairs from time to time.  Some of the illustrious personalities who gave leadership during the formative stages included Shri. V.P. Menon, Shri. R. Venkataraman, Dr. P. Subbarayan, Dr. K.S. Krishnan, Shri. C. R. Pattabhiraman, Shri. K. S. Ramaswamy, Dr. P.S. Lokanathan and Shri. C.S. Ramachandran I.C.S.  Many thanks to the concerted efforts of the entire South Indian community, we made a mark as the topmost school in New Delhi.

reading-road-1956-57

Staff members sitting Left to Right:

K.Ramasubramanian, K.V.Haraharakrishnan, S.Yegneswaran, V.Swaminatha Iyer, David Gnaniah, S.Natarajan, Jaya Venkataraman, Makhan Lal Jan, A.P.Narayanaswami Iyer, S.Ramakrishnan, Tej Kiran Jain

Standing Top Row – Third from Left is Tulsi Ram – Seniormost Class IV staff who joined the MEA from the days PHS Iyer started the school.

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More on the MEA / DTEA story to follow…

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Me & MEA – a flashback

அகர முதல எழூத்தெல்லாம்
ஆதி பகவன் முதற்றே உலகு

More than half a century ago, this very day, on 16th of July 1956, I had the honor of joining the MEA faculty at Lodhi Estate under the leadership of Principal, Shri K. Suryanarayanan. We both shared something in common – our love for teaching mathematics. Hailing from a remote village near Madurai, I had embarked on my ambition of serving our community with dedication and joy, working with the brightest minds coming from South Indian families in the capital, New Delhi. Having wanted to become a lecturer in a reputed college, this was a dream come true to be teaching senior classes X and XI in an English-medium higher secondary school run by a management comprising of top-ranking bureaucrats of the Government of India. It did not take me long to realize what a premier institution I had come to associate with. I selflessly served the MEA and DTEA my entire professional life for 36 years, very proud of all my students and the heights they have reached over the years. I look back today with a joy-filled heart for a life lived with purpose and pleasure.

My father retired in June 1956 and was counting on me to be the next breadwinner for a family of 12 members. Fresh from college, I was teaching in a Tamil-medium high school earning Rs. 89 a month when I ran into an advertisement in the Hindu newspaper for a teaching position in MEA School in the capital of India. I applied for the job without telling my father who I thought would be heart-broken to let me go. But when I got the interview letter, it could not be kept a secret anymore as the interview was in Madras and I had no money for the ticket. My father remained cold and said nothing. Borrowing money from a friend, I made it to Madras and realized I was interviewing with Shri. R. Venkataraman, M.P (who later became the President of India) at his Royapettah residence. The interview lasted 15-20 minutes after which he offered me the position on the spot. I was very excited. However, that excitement was not to last long! Shri. Venkataraman told me I’d be getting a salary lower than what had been advertised quoting some technical difficulty. I was disappointed and rejected the offer right there calling it unfair to have got me from 500 kms away. Obviously he had no idea of my hardship at home and what it had taken me to get to Madras. He noted his assessment of me as “A Bright Hand – may not take the offer” and concluded the meeting, while back home my father hoped I wouldn’t get the offer.

Subsequently the offer letter did come from Delhi with the lower quoted salary only. I was in a fix but then decided to take the opportunity. Amidst a tearful farewell and promising my father to support the family nevertheless, I boarded the train and left for Delhi once and for all. It was God’s will and I was on a sacred mission. On joining the institution, I got so involved, giving everything I had of myself, and it was only a matter of time when the Management revised my salary retrospectively! Since then there was nothing but mutual admiration and I continued to serve the children and the community.

As I began learning about the genesis of the MEA, it was only becoming more and more convincing of the solid grounds on which the school was established and the philosophy that guided it. The MEA Primary school was started in 1923, on Vijayadashmi day, in a small room in Shimla, by a visionary Shri. P. H. Sundaresa Iyer (known as PHS) with one student and one teacher. The country was under British rule and PHS fitted well into the times with his immaculate Western clothes and pure English accent. He was known for being punctual and sophisticated, with a charismatic personality, and who exhibited utmost dedication to the profession. All this helped him command respect from the elite South Indian community who were all serving the British, and PHS was held in high esteem by the enlightened community even though he himself was only a Matriculate (class X).

PHS then started a branch school at Reading Road (now called Mandir Marg) in New Delhi and he shuttled between Delhi & Shimla maintaining both the schools for nearly two decades. The South Indian officers working in the Central Government in the capital looked up to him for all the educational needs of their children. PHS came to be reckoned as a formidable force who was adored for his sense of devotion and leadership. I have to mention an important event where Mrs. Indira Gandhi was in our Lodi Estate School to inaugurate the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the MEA. In the course of her address, she narrated how she too revered PHS as her teacher. It seems PHS was visiting Teen Murti House (Pandit Nehru’s official residence) to teach Tamil to Mrs. Gandhi. She was reminded of it on seeing PHS in the front row and she requested him to come on the stage and felicitated him profusely as a mark of respect to a great teacher!

As per the MEA constitution, no Tamil-speaking family would be denied admission for their children at any part of the year. Because Govt. officers were being transferred to Delhi any time during a year, this provision was indeed a great boon to every Tamilian family, a unique feature that no educational institution in the country has ever had, even today. English was the medium of instruction, but learning of Tamil was compulsory. Hindi was taught as a second language from class 2. There was a separate section for the Telugu-speaking children as a sizeable number of such children were also on rolls. Ours was the only South Indian school in the capital till the mid fifties. Added to that, our schools were coeducational and provided quality education almost free of cost. Besides, our culture, our language, discipline, and character were all preserved and nurtured by the MEA all through. Today it has grown into a mighty banyan tree with 7 senior secondary schools, 10,000 students on rolls and more than 500 staff members.

More on the MEA / DTEA story to follow…