Friday, August 10, 2007

Death of A School

It was with a tinge of sadness that I heard that a multi-storeyed air-conditioned commercial complex would come up where my alma mater stood. The proposed closure of ‘uneconomical’ schools in Kerala had nothing to do with the demise of the institution where I had the last two years of my schooling. It was no Sherwood or Doon, Mayo or Yercaud, it was HEHMMHS.

Located bang in the middle of the bustling market in Mattancherry, Hajee Essa Hajee Moosa Memorial High School, named after the benevolent founder, was far from being one of the top-of-the-shelf schools. One does not know the exact contributory factors, but even during my student days it was a poor cousin of the neighbouring schools - The Gujarati Vidyalaya and the Tirumala Devaswom High School, run by rich committees. Not so the HEHMMHS (To most, the expanded version was more than a mouthful) which was run by a trust to which not many contributed.

The upkeep of the imposing two-storeyed building was neither prompt nor frequent. The heirs of the founder either had different priorities or had fallen into bad times. It was perennially starved of resources. The students were left to fend for themselves during the periods earmarked for drawing, craft, sports and games, drill etc, because there was no men or material for these classes.

Teachers had to go great lengths in their efforts to teach the students without the help of teaching aids. Predictably, the school did not have a laboratory. Mr Subramanian who taught us Chemistry would hold up a piece of chalk and say, ‘Suppose this is a test tube’, point to the chalk powder and say, ‘Suppose this is potassium chlorate.’ Holding it above his mailed fist which would double as a spirit lamp, he would go on, ‘Heat the test tube and oxygen will escape.’

But the teachers there were a dedicated lot. Like Mrs Thressiamma whose love for Physics made her announce extra classes on Sundays, undeterred by the fact that the attendance even on regular days was poor. Though one could pass SSLC those days even without securing pass marks in Hindi, our teacher Mr Namboodiri would pour his lungs out. Pranksters, bored with classes and looking for diversion would request him to explain the meaning of Hindi film lyrics like ‘Dil-e-naadaan, tujhe hua kya hai…’ or ‘Zindagi pyaar ki do-chaar ghadi hoti hai…’ and he would oblige, ever so patiently.

The khadi-clad Mr Venceslaus who was a municipal councillor too and taught us English, the Mathematics teacher Mr Govindankutty who also ran the school’s bookstore, the stern Mr Joseph whose cane taught us more than his History classes, Mr Sadanandan, a rationalist and a brilliant speaker, who taught us Malayalam but he could handle any subject for any class, the ageless Arabic Munshi Mr Syed with his neatly trimmed grey beard (He looked upwards of 60, but claimed to be in his late forties), the reticent Headmaster Mr Mohamed Ali – it was a great team.

Though handicapped due to lack of funds, the school did very well in extra-curricular activities like the youth festivals, inter-school sports, etc. In fact, it posed an effective threat to all the ‘good’ schools in the district in the competitive events.

The physical demise of the school, I am told, was caused by lack of maintenance, but on a higher plane, it was because it failed to attract ‘business’ – students and parents shunned the school because it did not ‘produce results’: in the 70’s it had the dubious distinction of drawing a blank at the SSLC examination.

The alumni of well-known public schools might, in later life, become renowned in different walks of life and prove resounding successes in their calling. If anyone who has I have been moderately successful in life discloses the fact that I passed out of HEHMMHS to someone, you can be one to ten that he would be asked, in disbelief, ‘How did you reach this position, then? Don’t tell me you studied there!’

The spiffy commercial complex rising from the debris at the junction of New Road and Palace Road is verily a sign of the times – commerce taking precedence over education. Yet, to the likes of me, it would revive the nostalgia-tinted memories of our balmy days in HEHMMHS, despite its failings.

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