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Updated: March 28, 2010 16:50 IST

Madras Miscellany - Remembering the Kulapathi

S. MUTHIAH
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Kulapathi S. Balakrishna Joshi.
Kulapathi S. Balakrishna Joshi.

A record of even greater longevity in an institution and in the field of education than that of E.A. Hanmick whom I mentioned last week is that of Kulapathi S. Balakrishna Joshi whose birth centenary — which was in February — is to be celebrated with a public function about three weeks from now. The legendary Balakrishna Joshi, whom I first met during his last years as Headmaster of the Hindu Theological School in Mint Street, Sowcarpet, may have looked old school in his attire, but on English, History and Moral Science/Theology he was a remarkable communicator in a fast-changing world. Honoured with the title Kulapathi by the Jagadguru Sankaracharya, Balakrishna Joshi was as much a nationally renowned teacher as he was a much-listened-to mentor of the South Indian Teachers' Union and the Madras Teachers' Guild.

Born into a Gujarati Khedawal family that had connections with Madras from the early 17th Century, Balakrishna Joshi followed his father and grandfather into the portals of the Hindu Theological School that had been founded in 1889. His grandfather must have been amongst the first pupils of the school founded by Sivasankara Pandyaji. Joshi himself, schooling and college finished, joined his alma mater as a teacher when he was just 19. The Headmaster, who had himself been Joshi's teacher, assigned him to the SSLC class, so confident was he in Joshi's ability and the new teacher found himself teaching students as old or older than himself.

Joshi found himself in rather a similar position when in 1944, as a 34-year-old, he was elected by the staff, most of them older than him and many who had taught him, as Headmaster of the School. He was to serve the School as Headmaster till the rules forced him to retire in 1970. He had been associated with the school for 55 years.

The day after he retired, Joshi took over as the founder- principal of DAV School and within five years made it one of the leading secondary educational institutions in Madras. In 1975, he retired from DAV and within months became founder-principal of the Sindhi Model School. When he finally retired in 1978, he had actively served education for 50 years and thereafter continued to serve it as an advisor to many an institution till he passed away in 1992.

Joshi, whom I used to meet when I was a printer and he the Chairman of the Expert Committee on the English textbooks prepared by the Tamil Nadu Text Book Society, was a much sought-after speaker and writer on educational matters. In the context of education in Tamil Nadu today, two quotes by him are worth recording:

Study of English: “Without making English the medium of instruction at the earlier stage, which may hamper the growth of the mind and stifle creative thinking, it can be taught as a major second language. The methodology has to be of the right type, suited to the genius of our children, without it being a replica of what is adopted in the case of those whose mother tongue is English. Teachers who have a rich background of the English language and who have received effective training should alone be entrusted with the work of teaching English. It has been my privilege to be a teacher of English for well over fifty years. In my opinion, the distressing fall in the standard of English is due to the poor quality of the average teacher of English.”

Education today: “Unfortunately today our education is in a very sorry plight…Education has come to be identified with instruction in a few subjects and thus our educational institutions have become almost teaching shops… Education is valued only as an aid to secure degrees that serve as pale passports to fitful employment. Success at examinations has therefore become the goal of educational endeavour. On the plea that the end justifies the means, any method that helps the accomplishment of this objective, is glorified into a virtue…”

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The church by the sea

An elderly visitor from England wanted to visit St. Thomas' Church in San Thomé recently, to see where her parents had worshipped during their years in Madras in the 1930s and off I took her, without a question, to the Basilica. But this is nothing like the church they described to me, she regretted, and added, “They never mentioned it as being a cathedral.” Now where had I gone wrong, I wondered. And trying to find an answer wondered whether she was Roman Catholic or Protestant. It was when she said they were Anglicans that it dawned on me that there was another St. Thomas' Church in San Thomé, a Protestant church I had visited only a couple of times but which in its heyday in the early 20th Century was a church where many of the Protestant elite of the city had worshipped.

So off we set to what is called St. Thomas' English Church, just south of the Basilica. The sparkling white Church of St. Thomas-by-the-sea was raised a few decades after the Vepery and other Protestant missions had begun working in Roman Catholic San Thomé from 1810, 200 years ago. Conceived by Rev. Robert Carver, one of those missionaries, work began on the church around 1840 and it was consecrated in 1842. Carver died in 1845 and was buried beneath the altar.

The oldest Protestant church in San Thomé, it was in the days of the Raj regularly visited by those who lived in the numerous garden houses of Adyar and by officialdom whenever the Governor was enjoying his retreat at Guindy Lodge (now Raj Bhavan). The church, in fact, at one time had a Governor's pew.

St. Thomas' Tamil Church was consecrated in 1848 nearby.

I'm sure there's much more that could be narrated about this Church, but that's all I could pick up during that brief visit that made my guest's day.

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When the postman knocked….

And knock he did several times, and getting in touch with me by other means were several other readers, all to point out how careless I had been last week in identifying wrongly the Governor in that Annamalai University group photograph.

Having lived with the Governors of old Madras for the last 18 months, it must have been exhaustion — and being overwhelmed by the profusion of moustaches — that had me calling Sir George Stanley (1929-34) as Sir Arthur Hope (1940-46).

Both were balding and both had heavy brush moustaches — and when the viewer is tired of generations of moustachioed Governors, many beginning to look alike — this is what must happen. Mea culpa.

Readers also point out that I should have recognised Sir. S.E. Runganadhan, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, to the left of Sir George. Runganadhan had succeeded the first Vice- Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Sastri, during his latter's Agency in South Africa.

I should have also recognised Laksmanaswami and Ramaswami Mudaliar standing behind Sir George, I was told.

I was, however, not rebuked for not recognising R.V. Krishna Ayyar, who had advised Annamalai Chettiar on setting about the founding of the University and who was a founder Syndicate member.

Pointing out that he was deservedly sitting to the right of Annamalai Chettiar, my correspondent, who prefers anonymity, points out that Krishna Ayyar was a legendary parliamentary personality (see Miscellany October 29, 2007) who deserved mention during the inauguration of the new Assembly complex for his contributions to the Indian parliamentary system.

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