Veteran art and craft teacher Ramani Rajamani looks back through the threads of time

Fifty years of teaching arts and crafts at Sacred Heart and St. Ursula's in Chennai, thousands of students spanning generations, and even more memories of those years to share. That's 86-year-old Ramani Rajamani for you.

This self-taught artist from Salem first stepped into Sacred Heart in 1952. The campus, however, was a little different back then. “We used to have a separate section for boys,” explains Rajamani.

“The girls were taught painting, as well as needlework — crochet, knitting and dressmaking. They would sit on the floor next to me while doing their work…that's how much they were at ease during classes. The boys took equal interest in the subject, and were just as creative,” she shares. It takes some effort to imagine schoolboys knitting. “Oh no,” she corrects, “the boys had woodwork.” And, among them was the Prince of Arcot.

One tends to wonder if the subject was gradually eclipsed by math and science. “During my time, arts and crafts was always encouraged by the management. Also, the students' creativity did not dwindle over the years.”

Talking about the projects she undertook with her students at Church Park, the teacher reminisces: “We once had to design the sets for ‘The Wizard of Oz'. It was a challenge to arrange for Dorothy's little hut to take off in the tornado, but we managed it by fastening pulleys on either side. After Dorothy and her dog went in through the front door, we used the pulleys to uproot the hut.”

Sacred Heart is well-known for its alumni, and Rajamani has fond memories of many of them. “During her first term as Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa invited some of us over for tea,” she recalls. “She used to dance so well when she was in school, both Kathak and Bharatanatyam. She was the head girl, and was gifted in art and craft. She would always be the first to finish her work, and then help the others with theirs. She was a very lovable student.” Also in her roster of students are Bhanurekha (Hindi actor Rekha), the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, N. Ram, Rajya Sabha MP Jayanthi Natarajan, and policy advisor to the British Prime Minister, Dharshana Sridhar. “Dharshana contacted me when I was in London last year, and we met. You feel so good when old students meet you.”

Passionate about her craft

Though she retired in 2002, Rajamani is still teaching and learning. “Right now, I teach crochet, painting, and other crafts at Sudhananda Vidyalaya, a school for fishermen's children near Neelankarai. I've also learnt quilling and parchment craft post-retirement, and would like to explore new things.”

How does she retain her passion for the craft? “It's important to cultivate a hobby that you can continue in the later years of your life. If you do, you will never feel your age. Twenty-four hours never seem enough for me,” asserts Rajamani.

And, her works — brightly-painted greeting cards, handkerchiefs with finely-embroidered edges and cylindrically-folded patterns on paper — match the rich texture of her life.

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