Many schools with sprawling grounds have been converted into premises that retain none of the charm of the original
Barton Hill School is not alone in its vanishing act. Many city schools have lost in the fight with time. Indira Ramakrishna Pillai, granddaughter of G.P. Pillai (Congress man of yester year) recalls that her tiny school, the Punnapuram L.P. school, leaves no trace. So is the case with a school at Nadavanam.
Octogenarians of Vanchiyoor recall a school on Ambujavilasom Road and another one in Uppilamoodu bridge area. The Kunnu Bunglow atop the beautiful hill in Mudavanmugal (famed as the favourite spot of composer King Swati Tirunal) housed a school for some years. Neither the school nor the bungalow exists but a concrete water tank stands still in its place.
Yet another school in Poojappura area that was washed out by the gush of time is perhaps the least known. It was a music school named ‘Swathi Thirunal Sangeetha Vidyalayam’, which pre-dated the Swathi Thirunal Music College. It was led by Ponnamma Thankachi (decendent of Irayimman Thampi and her husband, Narasimhan Thampi). The famous Lalitha, Padmini, Ragini (Travancore sisters) were students there, and visitors included K.B. Sundarambal and Harikesanalloor Muthaiah Bhagavathar.
In the memoirs written by the founder, we can see that the school flourished well with students being invited to perform in many festivals. The school vanished after the Music Academy came into being in the late 1930s.
Many schools (already referred to in this series) seem to be preparing for the inevitable. The Attakulangara school established by T. Marthandan Thampi (who, in recognition of his rejection of caste taboos was addressed as Pulaya Thampi by the great Ayyankali), great uncle of Gandhian Dr. G Ramachandran, and given to the government almost 100 years ago, is on the verge of being partly converted into a bus station and commercial complex. This conversion is in the face of opposition by civic activists, historians and environmentalists. Its 125-year-old library, its performance hall that once was the best in the city, and the rich green cover – all are under threat.
The Vanchiyoor School established in early 1940s, which once was filled with students, now has less than 100 students. Gopala Pillai, a long-serving teacher of the Vanchiyoor School, passed away couple of years ago at the age of 100, was not only a teacher, but a guardian angel to the local community for many years.
Till the mid 1980s, the Devalam Memorial School existed at Ulloor Junction for about 70 years. This school was set up in memory of Reverend Devalam and had a handloom training facility on the premises for girl students (this is common with many schools with long history – the Mahilamandiram school in Poojappura has the facility intact even now, though not in use anymore).
Some schools like the City School in the PMG area remain in existence but in a different avatar – as vocational higher secondary school. Those schools that haven’t got higher secondary schools face the danger of government and quasi government institutions staking claim for the unused land and buildings. The ethos of a traditional school campus with a lot of open space and greenery is becoming the stuff of nostalgia.
All hope is not lost for public schools. Amidst the ruins, a handful of schools show that survival is possible, but not that easy.