The author traces the glorious history of SMV Higher Secondary School in a three-part series

A school with a temple on its campus run by a priest with a government post, a school which used to print its own magazine and produce notebooks in lakhs, a school that gifted the city with a stadium by converting a pond with physical effort of students, and today, a boys higher secondary school with a lady as head - Sree Moola Vilasom (SMV) Higher Secondary School is all this and more.

The SMV Higher Secondary School on the MG Road, close to overbridge, traces its roots to the first modern school of the city, the Maharaja’s Freeschool of 1834. As the University College established in 1866 grew, the school on its campus got bifurcated and gradually moved out or amalgamated with other schools.

N. Sekhara Pillai and M. Vaidyalingam Pillai, both students of the first batch of SMV school, recall the University College days. The middle school was in the northern buildings on the Sanskrit College campus and high school was on the north side of the ground floor of the main building of the present University College. SMV School was established in 1919 in Vanchiyoor in the majestic building that now houses the District court (the building seems to have been called Sreemoolam buildings, in memory of the monarch of the day, Sreemoolam Thirunal).

The then Diwan P. Rajagopalachari oversaw the design and construction at the cost of Rs. 7 lakhs. The school came up on the sprawling farm land that once used to cover the whole Vanchiyoor village. The building in the shape of the letter E was a mixture of Gothic and Kerala Style. The school also has a imported school bell, made to order, as seen from the engraving on it (Gillett & Johnston, Croydon VANJIOUR SCHOOL). It is in use even today.

The school was opened by the then Diwan Sir Mannathu Krishnan Nair in an evening in 1919 that saw a march of students from University College through the present AKG Centre-General Hospital- Vanchiyoor road, waiving colourful flags and singing Vanchipattu. Sir Krishnan Nair opened the doors of the massive hall and let students in, bringing into being one of the best school of the state for many years to come. MKK Nair, former Chairman of FACT and student of SMV, vividly sketches the life in the school those days. It had an examination hall which could seat 500 students, a 6.5-acre campus with ample playgrounds and a two storied lunch hall.

It had 1,600 students when it was the first to present students for the first ESLC (Elementary School Leaving Certificate – forerunner of SSLC) examination in 1926. In one of the divisions, out of the 30-odd students presented only five seem to have passed.

In 1925, Mahatma Gandhi visited SMV school and addressed the students. M. Vaidyalingam Pillai recalls the great day. It was in front of the south staircase room where a large table was brought and made into a dais with khadi cloth laid over. Gandhiji sat on it cross legged and students were spread out on the lawns. Gandhiji talked about India's heritage and the current status and challenges she faced. He finally posed a question to them - what is the difference between poverty and pauperism? As students did not come forward to answer, he himself shared his view that “poverty is not a crime. There is no shame in being poor. But not so when one becomes a pauper, he has committed a crime”.

In spite of the majesty, the school had caste based lunch rooms and many teachers were too fond of caning students. Malayalam teachers were looked down upon and were paid less. A noon meal scheme launched in the name of Rajammabhai (Wife of Udarashiromani Padmanabha Rao, son of Diwan T. Rama Rao of the Rama Rao Lamp fame) in 1927 continues to run and feed hundreds. The family members of Udarashiromani lineage associate themselves with this scheme even in recent times. Film actor Madhu who studied in the SMV school in 1943 recalls that he “used to abandon the lunch pack sent from home and join students for the free lunch. The taste of the simple lunch still lingers and there is no other meal that I can remember as better.”