Malayalam professor and author K. Retnamma takes a nostalgic trip to her campus days

Women’s College and University College are different in many ways, but the days I spent as a student and a teacher on these campuses are enriching.

In 1943 I joined Women’s College for the intermediate course. Having studied in a school in the suburbs, I was in awe of the college. Huge buildings, unfamiliar surroundings, fashionable teachers and the rules and regulations made me nervous. A few of us felt inferior to the students from city schools, I was uncomfortable about certain teachers whose English accent I couldn’t follow. But gradually I got accustomed to the ambience.

Miss Anna Nidhiri was the Principal then. She was very matter-of-fact and stern, but very warm-hearted. Then there was the soft-spoken and pleasant Daisy Muthunayagam, Malayalam professor Ponnamma who made quite a flutter with her attire and matching accessories, Prof. Anandavalli Amma who was a motherly figure, slender Sanskrit professor Karthyayini Amma, and music professor Mrs. Nair, to name a few. I still remember how a few of us used to bunk the physical education sessions only to be caught red-handed. I am very proud about the fact that people like Justice Fathima Beevi and BJP leader Rachel Mathai were my contemporaries.

Later I joined University College for the two-year B.Sc. course in Zoology. I didn’t go for medicine because there weren’t any medical colleges here and going to Madras to study medicine was not an option for me. The atmosphere was totally different from that at Women’s. Author and illustrious teacher Professor Bhaskaran Nair was a guiding light. Malayalam was my second language and among those who taught me were the great Dr. Godavarma, N. Krishnapillai and S. Guptan Nair.

Malayalam has always been my favourite subject and so when I didn’t get a first class for my graduation, I decided to do post graduation in Malayalam. Bhaskaran Nair sir said, ‘Nobody in England studies English as their main subject’ hinting that he was disappointed with my decision. But I went ahead. With such towering teachers handling the classes, the MA classes were really enriching.

That was when India became independent. I used to wear khadi saris woven at the charka at my home. The infamous police firing that happened near our home at Pettah shook our conscience.

I got appointment at Women’s College on leave vacancy in 1949. That was when I felt how different these two colleges were. While University College always reacted to matters of national and international importance, Women’s College kept away from all that. However, there were illustrious students such as K. Saradamoni and Susheela Gopalan who spearheaded many activities on the campus.

I had a pretty relaxed time there as a teacher. But once I was transferred to University College, things were different. Malayalam was one of the main subjects there and we had to read a lot and refer Sanskrit texts. Also, I was tense about teaching boys. Moreover, I was pregnant with my second child. So some teachers suggested that I should apply for a transfer to Sanskrit College. However, I didn’t do it because teaching at University College was a matter of great privilege for me. So I devoted a lot of time to read more and more books which eventually helped me in the long run.

A point came when I had to teach linguistics and philology which were completely new subjects. None of the teachers were ready to help me. I was determined to learn on my own for which I attended the evening batch of linguistics course at the Linguistics Department. And there I was taught by my old students! Thus while I worked as a teacher in the morning, I became a student in the evenings.

I treasure every moment I have spent on these two campuses, and remember my friends, teachers and students who made my student life memorable.

Fact file

K. Retnamma retired from the Directorate of Collegiate Education as deputy director in 1982. She is the author of six books, A Linguistic Study of Early Manipravala, Early Inscriptional Language, Ananthapuravarnanam: Vyakhyanavum Padanavum, Malayala Bhasha Charithram: Ezhuthachan Vare, Pracheena Shastrangalum Malayala Paribhashayum and Nellum Pathirum.

(A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University.)