“In the present educational system the personal element is being very much neglected. Our present teachers are only connecting links between books of reference and the pupil’s note books...So, now we have an education system in our country which is so very costly and laborious, which means so much of waste of energy and yet does not produce the maximum result.” -- Page 28, The American College Magazine, Vol II, September 1919.
“It’s been almost a century since Tagore spoke these lines at the main hall of The American College. Yet, it’s so relevant to the present times,” exclaims Professor C. Muthuraja, Director, The American College Alumni Cell. Muthuraja was excited about the piece of history discovered in one of the dusty wooden shelves of the college library last week. He and his students were there in the archives section of the library, when they stumbled upon a frayed copy of a September 1919 copy of the college magazine. In the yellowing pages was recorded Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to the city and the college earlier that same year in the month of March. ‘We have tried to make this issue of the Magazine - A Tagore Number’ -- says the editorial on the front page. The 37-page magazine contains selected writings of Tagore including Gitanjali for which the poet was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1913. It also throws light on three lectures delivered by Tagore at The American College – ‘The message of the Forest’, ‘The spirit of popular religion’ and ‘Indian education’. It was compiled by a staff member, N.R. Kedari Rao.
“None of us knew that Tagore had visited Madurai and it was a sheer coincidence that the day we found this (May 7) was the 153rd birth anniversary of the poet,” says Muthuraja. “His visit should have been significant. Given the British rule at that time and considering that the college was a Christian missionary run institution, the fact that he had spoken about popular religion assumes importance.” The magazine copy refers to two lectures delivered by one Mr. C.F. Andrews in February 1919 upon the life of Tagore and Santiniketan. It is also apparent from the magazine that Tagore was specially invited during the period of Principal W.M. Zumbro and that he was paid Rs.1000 to deliver the lectures. A surplus amount of Rs. 365 from the proceeds of the sale of tickets was kept as a nucleus for a Tagore Scholarship to be awarded to students.
A black-and-white group photograph of the poet seated with the staff and students of the college is taken against the main hall building inside the campus. “He had visited in the 37th year of the college. And since the address was ticketed, even outsiders must have been among the audience apart from college students,” notes Principal Dr. M. Davamani Christober. “This discovery has intensified our pride in our college and we want to call this the Madurai lectures of Tagore and introduce them to students from all colleges.” He points to the other famous personalities who have visited the college such as Rajaji , U. Muthuramalinga Thevar and Sivaji Ganesan.
The college plans to hold discussions and workshops for students based on the speeches of Tagore. “Even while designing the new curriculum we would like to take points from these lectures as they are relevant to the youth in particular,” says Davamani. Currently, the college is actively working on revamping its alumni cell and is collecting rare pieces of history and events connected with the college.