The 124-year-old Government Central High School, Attakulangara, once a proud centre of learning in the city, is in danger of losing its campus and its green cover
The city has a number of schools that have crossed the centenary mark. A few of them still flourish, but some of them are getting ready for the vanishing act. Right in the middle of the historic city area, the 124-year-old Government Central High School, Attakulangara presents a picture of neglect that is perhaps inevitable in the changing social milieu. Getting ready to surrender the spacious campus to a proposed bus terminal, the school has many problems to address.
The school was founded as the Native High School in 1889 by T. Marthandan Thampi who was also its first Headmaster. Later, the Government took over the school, renaming it as Attakulangara Vernacular School and sometime thereafter, renaming it again as Central High School, Attakkulangara.
On its list of former teachers are poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer, former Chief Minister Pattom A. Thanu Pillai (chemistry), freedom fighter and social reformer Sahodaran Ayyappan, former Chief Justice of erstwhile Travancore, U. Padmanabha Kukkiliya, Swami Vedachalam (Tamil), Marai Malai Adigal, and so on. Its alumni includes Subramanian who secured first rank in the SSLC in 1971 and also former Minister M.M. Hassan.
The school had 1,700 students in 1988 and 1,200 in 1998. In 2008 it came down to 200 and, at present, it has only 60. Students are mostly from the nearby Karimadom Colony and some from far off places. Many of them come to attend the Tamil medium. Over a dozen teachers under the dedicated leadership of B. Vikraman oversee the school at present.
It is not only the number of students that is dwindling. The school campus also seems to have shrunk. The teak wood board inside the headmaster's room declares the school campus as two hectares in Iranimuttam Village. The 1988 school magazine says the same, but, at present, it is 2.5 acres only! SIEMAT’s building has already taken up some area. The compound wall on the side of Chalai has crumbled at many places and entry of anti-social elements into the compound is a constant headache. In the play ground of the school, one can see playing marbles (which itself is a vanishing sport).
There is a Subramaniam Memorial bell tower that does not toll for anyone now. The school kids have a great time as they are lucky to get individual attention. Eighty per cent of the school buildings are unused and in a rundown condition and there is ample space for them to play and run around.
The trees in the compound are imposingly huge and the canopy almost covers the whole compound. School children claim having seen a Velli Moonga (barn owl) among the trees. They are lucky to be able to listen to chirping of birds and squirrels.
The school seems to have had a performance hall which at one time was the best in the city. It is to be assumed that it has been demolished some time in the past. An open auditorium is still there. Narasimham Thampi, a choreographer and singer, in his unpublished autobiography Jeevitha Smaranakal mentions that this hall had witnessed performances and concerts of stalwarts in Carnatic music such as Ariakkudi. The School also had the unique distinction of teaching Kathakali since 1970s until the turn of the century.
The central location had made the School a popular centre for examinations and tests. Its entrance is currently not visible due to the bus bays in front of it, filled with buses plying in the Kovalam direction. There are no security personnel for the school. So travellers as well as drivers and conductors freely move in and out of the campus.
The saddest part of the School’s fall from eminence is in the form of its library with precious old books dating back a century. The library is teeming with termites that are quickly wiping off all marks of history from the School, as if readying it for the impending downsizing.
Why are our great schools fading away?
Before we philosophise, let us note that Kerala has a dwindling school-age population. In place of around 5 lakh children who went to all types of schools, we have now around 3 lakh only. This has brought down the inflow into all schools. When it reaches a critical low in some schools, they easily get branded into ‘good’ and not-so-good’ that further reduces its student strength. While schools like Cotton Hill Girls School flourish, Central School has slumped to the other side.
Madhusoodhanan Nair, a speech and hearing impaired sweeper of the school, also has a huge decrepit hall all for himself. He sketches pictures in his free time and sits amidst the ruins quietly, as the historic school prepares itself for the inevitable.
School History Centre
Most century-old schools in the city have valuable and rare collections of books that portray the social and educational history of the state. Many of the collections are not immediately relevant in the current education system and are dumped into rooms exposed to the threat of leaking water, humidity and termites.
Thinly staffed schools find it difficult to maintain and circulate new books and periodicals and cannot be expected to find time and resources to protect and preserve old books. Even if the Government steps in with financial resources, it seems very unlikely that these libraries can be professionally retrieved. In any case, the old book collections are not relevant to the schools anymore, but are a teasure trove for scholars, historians and researchers. It might be a wise idea to transfer all old books from all Government and aided school libraries to a single location where preservation and digitisation could be organised. Such a location could be identified in one of the old schools itself and can be set up as School History Centre. It could also house and collect school magazines that capture the ambience of each school year. Rare paintings in schools are also facing destruction and they can also be archived in the School History Centre.
The Government should turn the campus into a green lung for the crowded heart of the city. It could incorporate a children’s park and also conserve the wonderful trees on the campus. As of now, there is no place for the children in the adjoining areas. Such a playground would be an outlet for the children and prevent them from developing anti-social tendencies. During a tree walk conducted by us, we found 25 varieties of trees there. The school could be made economically viable if the Government makes it a higher secondary school.
The Government should declare the entire area as a heritage zone. Although I have lived in the city all my life, I am yet to see the East Fort in all its glory thanks to the many hoardings, shops and banners all around. The entire bus station should be removed elsewhere or be taken underground so that the East Fort area regains its past glory. All inter-city and inter-district buses should be terminated at designated areas outside the city and circular buses (that keep such centres connected to the city) be re-introduced.
Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s play Avanavan Kadamba was first staged on the premises of the Attakulangara School. It was the late Gopi Poojapura who did the lighting for that play.
(Vice-president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee is a former student of the school)
I am concerned about the future of the school and plan to appeal to the Government to see how the school can be saved or preserved. One will have to think of innovative ways to maintain the school.
This copy has been corrected for editing error.