Campus Reconnect: Vasantha Ramkumar, former head and dean of faculty, Department of Education, University of Kerala, gushes about her students days at University College

Even now when I pass by the majestic University College, my eyes light up. Why? Is it because I am still in awe of its rich tradition? Probably, it has to do with the picturesque memories that I carry in my mind about the college with which I have had an association even as a child.

We stayed in Tutor’s Lane close to the college where my father, the late A.S. Narayana Pillai, was professor of the Department of Philosophy. He was also a former student of the college. In fact, eight members of my family, including me, have studied there.

Most of the professors, lecturers and teachers of the college used to stay in Tutor’s Lane and many of them came home where they had informal meetings with my father. He was more of a trouble shooter when it came to some problems in college.

Although I could have got admission in a medical college, I wanted to take literature and joined the BA Honours course after my intermediate course at Maharaja’s College for Women. It was one of the famous departments of the college, with its alumni now being counted among the who’s who of society. The Principal of the college was held in high esteem. My father was teaching there when I joined the college in 1956. So even now when I go to the college, I am introduced as his daughter.

There were 10 of us in the class, five girls and five boys. It was my first experience of studying in a co-ed institution and the first advice I got was that I should not enter the college by the main gate. For, under the mango tree were seated the naughtiest boys who unabashedly made fun of girls entering the college. So, we chose to enter through the side gate.

I was interested in sports and was selected for the state tennis coaching programme. So, while in University College I had the privilege of representing the college.

The best part of my campus days was a national-level essay contest on Abraham Lincoln. I won the first prize and the hype given to that victory was so much that I couldn’t believe it.

Another highlight of my college life was that I stood for election to the college council. It was a seat reserved for women and usually it was an uncontested seat. But that year, there was another candidate and I got elected eventually.

I have to mention about the illustrious faculty we had, most of whom were poets or writers. There was Ayyappa Panicker sir, G. Kumara Pillai, and E.P. Narayana Pillai, head of our department, who was very strict and ensured discipline among the students.

Among my classmates are former Chief Secretary C.P. Nair and the late Krishnan Nair, former Police Commissioner.

After passing out of the college in 1959, I worked at an institution in Coimbatore and then at NSS College at Neeramankara in the capital city before moving to the United States. Later I did my Master of Education at Stanford University. After coming back, I joined the Department of Education at the University of Kerala as a research scholar, and went on to work for the department for 33 years till my retirement as the head in 2000. While working here, I got the opportunity to teach at many universities abroad as a visiting faculty. And I always felt that my college had the grandeur and appearance of Ivy League universities.

Of course, things have changed now. In fact, when I went to the college to inaugurate an orientation programme for teachers, I just took a walk around the college. The side gate was closed, the tennis court was in shambles – it was the best in the city once upon a time, and a lot of things were amiss. When I made this observation at the meeting, my comments were totally lost on the audience. None of them had shared this close association with the college. I felt the passing away of a legacy.

(As told to ATHIRA M.)

(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.)