Campus reconnect: Academic and author B. Hridayakumari recalls her days on the campuses of Government College for Women and University College

The country was on the brink of Independence and I was very happy as a student at Maharaja’s College for Women [Government College for Women] and, later, at the University College. While University College was a real university, Women’s College had a vivacious ambience but it was also a serious-minded high school. Even though my passion was for history, something which I imbibed from my father, I took second group for the intermediate course at Women’s College. My parents said that I must do science practical because they felt that without learning modern science, my ways of thinking would be out of date. I’m extremely happy that they had modern views on education.

I can’t say I was perfectly at home in the science classes. My science marks were just between 60 and 70 per cent, but I stood third in the state in English, which was then a compulsory optional subject. A beautiful old college, the campus was full of cashew nut trees, rows of kattadi trees through which the wind made a swishing sound, a few big mango trees and kunthirikkam trees. Parrots and other birds built their nests on them. In fact, if we lingered late after college hours, it was fascinating to see a variety of birds, especially parrots, flying back to their special trees.

There were around 500 students then, most of them belonging to the upper and middle class families. A majority came to college on foot and there were jhatkas (horse-drawn carts) as well, which were usually parked in front of the college.

Some of our teachers were inspiring and all of them competent. The then principal, Miss Anna Nidheri, the first Indian principal of the institution, was a quiet person. She ruled over us more or less like her predecessor, Miss Watts. I also remember Anandavalli Amma who was a great scholar. But her scholarship was somewhat taxing for all of us because she loved to teach us all that she knew. The volume of notes she used to give was too much! Then there was Janet Joshua, our Hindi teacher, an exceptional faculty member who always wore Khadi. She was a profound nationalist and admired Gandhiji. She was the only teacher who talked about contemporary events in class.

Our teachers also inspired us to read books. We always had regular meetings of various associations and when competitions were held, the whole college would be there, be it debates, recitation or speech. At University College where I did English Honours, the atmosphere was entirely different. Although I wanted to do History Honours, the rules didn’t permit a science student to take up history. I was almost in tears when I heard that. Then my mother said we would consult Prof. N. Gopala Pillai, who later became principal of Sanskrit College and was a well-known poet. He insisted on my taking English. But once I joined the institution, I felt happy and loved the subject. The learned professors opened large vistas before me. I must mention Dr A.S. Iyer, Professors Satyavageeswara Iyer and E.P. Narayana Pillai. They were so varied in temperament, but were abundantly helpful. They seldom made use of the syllabus. It was just studying.

Having no brothers, I was a little timid about interacting with the boys in the college. Dressed in a white Khadi sari, I must have looked a severe Gandhian and the boys too were a little shy. Girls and boys would mix, but there was a sort of formal distance between them.

To compensate for this the campus had any number of romantic couples. It was a sort of sentimental romanticism. I still don’t understand why many of them were always in tears when they talked to each other! There was this lady, my senior, considered the most beautiful girl around. When she went home in her jhatka, a large number of bicycles followed the cart. The famous line about Helen of Troy in Dr. Faustus was slightly changed then to “Was this the face that launched a thousand bicycles?’

I don’t remember my studies being disrupted by agitations. Later on strikes and agitations became a little too frequent, teaching declined and became a mere process for preparing for the University exams. Today I’m afraid of the college I love most. However, I heard that some of my students had got admission to Oxford and Cambridge without even a test. Let me hope that the day of brilliant students and dedicated teachers will come back.

I can claim I’m very lively because there was no break between my days as a student and a teacher. I cherish the large number of friends I made in both colleges, old colleagues, old students and their families… they are mine even as I am theirs. Thank you my friends. And thank you God!

From this week, we begin a new column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life go back to the campus to talk about their student days in various colleges under the University.

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Glorious dawn of freedom

I remember the wonderful dawn of August 15, 1947, the first day of freedom. Students from various colleges and schools assembled at our college and we took out a large peaceful procession holding the tricolour flag. Travancore was still under the Maharaja and Diwan C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer was recuperating at Bhaktavilasom Bungalow (the present All India Radio building) after an attack on him. We walked through the main roads, with police jeeps flanking us. The situation was a bit tense when we reached the Bhaktavilasom Bungalow, but since the leaders had an instinctive awareness of the solemnity of the occasion, we made no din. The procession ended peacefully. It was a day I’ll never forget. I will never get over the thrill of that day even as I find it so difficult to get over the pain and shame of what is happening in free India today.