My Mylapore

Mylapore Social History Project initiated by Mylapore Times - the neighbourhood newspaper.

February 15, 2006

Vidya Mandir: school which started with a single classroom

When two convents in the city decided they would do away with boys, desperate parents of some of these children looked for options. The Mylapore Ladies Club came to their rescue.

Contributed by Ashwin Prabhu

It is said ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.
Indeed, it was the sheer necessity for a quality, English-medium school for boys, that led a small group of anxious parents from Mylapore to lay the foundation for what is today ‘Vidya Mandir’, a much-reputed co-educational school in Mylapore, Chennai.
It was the fag end of the academic year in January of 1956, when acclaimed convent schools in the city like Church Park-Presentation Convent on Mount Road and Rosary Matriculation in San Thome decided that they would not admit boy students into their schools, and asked them to leave with immediate effect.

The first step
Deeply concerned that their boys would lose an entire academic year, a group of 10 parents decided to take the responsibility of educating the children on themselves. The influential Mylapore Ladies Club (MLC) headed by Mrs. Janamma, (the then secretary of the club) was approached and a single room was made available in the MLC campus on Royapettah High Road for accommodating the boys.
Mrs. Ammani stepped in as the first Principal and teacher, with the primary purpose of ensuring that the boys could see their 5th standard year to completion, without any break.
A kindergarten section was also opened in parallel, a harbinger of times to come, when Vidya Mandir would blossom into a full-fledged educational institution. A certain Mr. Statham, a Britisher in the then Education Department proved to be the kindly angel who would grant necessary formal approvals for the school to begin functioning.

The founders
As momentum was gained and things started falling into place, the trio of Sister Subbulakshmi Ammal, Mrs. Padmini Chari and Sri Subbaraya Iyer, a prominent lawyer of the time, assumed the role of founders and actively involved themselves in administration and funds-collection activities for the school.

‘Class of 1956’It was a motley mix of 10 boys who were tutored through the remainder of their standard V that summer by Mrs. Ammani. Perhaps, it is testimony to Mrs. Ammani’s teaching, the far-sightedness and able stewardship of the founding trio, and the fortitude and initiative displayed by the other parents, that the students of this first batch of Vidya Mandir are today torchbearers in their chosen professions. N. Ravi, Editor of ‘The Hindu’, R. Raghunandan, Chartered Accountant and Investment Banker, V. Ramachandran, MD of Kar Valves (Rane Group), Mr. Girija Shankar, BJP activist and Narayanaswami, Editor of The Madras Law Journal, were all part of Vidya Mandir’s ‘Class of 1956’.
R. Raghunandan of the first batch fondly recalls the first school uniform - navy blue shorts and a white shirt. He also vividly remembers the names of the teachers who taught him then, images of his grandfather A.K. Ranganathan’s palatial mansion - ‘Kumara Vijayam’ on Royapettah High Road, opposite the school campus where the boys used to throng to for drinking water and the last hour of school which was dedicated to story-telling. The immense pride in belonging to the first batch of students of such an epoch-making institution, comes across when he happily mentions in passing that his son is today a XII standard student of Vidya Mandir.

Donors and Advisors
It is while in conversation with S. Venkatraman (former secretary of Vidya Mandir) of the founding family that a multitude of little known facts about the school come to light. Like how Subbaraya Iyer, his father, willingly parted with a substantial amount of his personal wealth to help in buying the 10 grounds of land on which the Vidya Mandir buildings stand today, like the fact that the name ‘Vidya Mandir’ was chosen by K. Chandrashekar, noted music and art critic of yesteryears, and ‘sammandhi’ to Subbaraya Iyer, or the quaint fact that the first batch of students squatted on the floor and used traditional floor desks to place their books on.
A culture of philanthropy and good-will was established from the early days of the school, when a popular decision was taken that a family with two children in Vidya Mandir would have to pay only for the first child.

Apt motto
In its golden jubilee year, it is this unshaken trust and faith that proud parents all over Chennai place in its name, that stands Vidya Mandir in good stead. Quite aptly, this unique principle of partnership and cooperation between the institution and society is best mirrored in the school’s motto, “Saha Veeryam Karavavahai” - “May we both put in the effort required to acquire the knowledge”.

February 02, 2006

Landmark Mylaporean - V. Krishnaswami Iyer

If you are in Luz and then move down Royapettah High Road, take time off to stop and gaze at the campus of The Madras Sanskrit College, just behind the statue of Thiruvalluvar.
Here is a landmark Mylaporeans should be proud of.
This week, this unique college kicked off its centenary celebrations.
Its goal has been this - to promote higher education in Sanskrit along traditional lines.
Over the decades, its students who come from all over the country, have gone on to become well known scholars who have been decorated in India and abroad.
The man who set the foundation for this, and many other institutions in the city, was V. Krishnaswami Iyer, a well known and wealthy advocate of his time.
Besides the college, Krishnaswami was responsible for the founding of The Mylapore Club, Ranade Library, Indian Bank and Venkataramana Ayurveda College, besides supporting institutions that remain with us today.
Here are some highlights of one of Mylapore’s most distinguished personalities.

1. Krishnaswami was the second of four brothers, born in a Thanjavur village. His father went on to become a munsiff while his mother died after her fourth delivery. While at school, he was joined by Sivaswami, the man who later became Sir P. S. Sivaswami Ayyar, a celebrity of his times and whose name is remembered in the schools of Mylapore today. After schooling, Krishnaswami came to Madras to study at Presidency College.

2. Though Krishnaswami wasn’t inclined to read law, well wishers persuaded him to become a lawyer. He then joined the ranks of juniors at the office of R. Balajee Rao, a leading advocate who lived in Mylapore. The early days were tough, life was tough and he and his wife were sustained by his brother.

3. The young lawyer’s stock went up after he began to work at the office of Sir S. Subrahmanyam Aiyar, and with colleague, P. R. Sundara Aiyar, the duo slowly began to scale great heights. Krishnaswami settled down in life and moved to South Mada Street, Mylapore. He was a busy ‘vakil’ and while being an office bearer of the Vakils Association, he played a vital role in starting the Madras Law Journal (MLJ) in 1891, on the lines of contemporary English law journals - with critical notes and obeservations on judgements. The MLJ is still being published.

4. Krishnaswami became a household name when he was the contending advocate in the famous Arbuthnot bank case, In 1906, this popular bank crashed on account of bankruptcy, depositors were aghast and had it not been for this advocate’s public spirit and professional efficiency, the powerful Englishman would have gone scot free. The event then encouraged him to set up Indian Bank.

5. Realising the need to revive interest in India’s ancient systems, he founded the free-to-public Venkataramana Dispensary and the Ayurvedic College in 1905 on Kutchery Road. (While the dispensary/clinic still exists here, the college has moved to the suburbs.) A year later, he started the Madras Sanskrit College. He suggested that students be given free boarding and lodging and even paid a stipend to sustain their families, and that teachers be given free accommodation - a practice that is followed to this day.

6. His involvement in public affairs naturally drew him to the Congress party. In 1907, the Congress had split and it was Krishnaswami’s idea to hold a convention in Madras which brought the ranks closer and made the moderates win. Gopal Krishna Gokhale acknowledged Krishnaswami’s practical idea - one which had a bearing on the history of the Congress. The two were to get very close in the years to come.

7. Gokhale laid the foundation stone in 1904 for the Ranade Library in Mylapore and the South Indian National Association was also started; conceived to promote research among students in economics and politics. Though the two institutions exist today, few people use the well stocked library and SINA’s activities are low key today.

8. Krishnaswami became a judge of the Madras High Court in 1909 at a time when he was admired in political circles. Some saw him as an impatient man keen to clear all arrears. He was judge for a mere 15 months and then, became a member of the Executive Council of the Governor of Madras, a top ranking post, offered to him by the admiring British.

9. Krishnaswami packed many things into his short public life. Working on educational issues at the University of Madras, funding the trip of Swami Vivekananda to Chicago, intervening in the management of properties of the Kanchi Math when they fell into the wrong hands when the Paramacharya, then a minor, took charge.

He was 49 years old when he died. In about two decades, he had executed and accomplished a lot. The Sanskrit College and the allied institutions in Mylapore are a living memorial to a great man.

PHOTO CAPTION : Dr. M. Rama Jois, former Chief Justice and former Governor, unveiled the bust size statue of V. Krishnaswamy Iyer, on January 25, to mark the beginning of the centenary of the college. Seen in the photograph are Dr. N. V. Devi Prasad, Principal, Dr. Rama Jois, and B. Ramamurti and B. Madhavan, both grandsons of the founder.