Anusha Parthasarathy walks through the hallowed portals of the 157-year-old Teachers’ Training College, the oldest in India

The rumbling noises from a construction site fade into oblivion as one enters the Teachers’ Training College in Saidapet. It begins at a building that looks like a forgotten castle from a fairytale. Its tall, arched entrance stands majestically in front while the turret, the windows and everything behind its façade lie crumbling and broken. Creepers cling to its blackened walls and trees shoot out from inside, breaking through the stone. But the oldest Teachers’ Training College in India, which began 157 years ago, still survives.

A board outside the Institute of Advanced Study in Education (as it is referred to now) points to the administrative building, where J. Uma’s office (principal, IASE) is situated in a relatively new block. “When the institution came up in 1856 it was called the Teachers’ Training School and started in Vepery,” she says. While the idea of the school is attributed to Alexander Arbuthnot, Madras Presidency’s first Director of Public Instruction, the school is more closely linked to Charles Todhunter, after whom a housing colony nearby is named.

In 1887, the school was affiliated to the Madras University. “The school was shifted here in 1888, after which it was named as the Teachers’ Training College. A main building was constructed in 1889 and is still there behind this block. It’s a heritage building but it has deteriorated so much that it’s no longer in use,” she adds.

The school’s campus, when it initially shifted, was said to have been over 200 acres, according to Uma. “They say that the area was later split to form the physical education college, arts college and so on but these are just things I’ve heard,” Uma is quick to add, “As of now, our campus is 40 acres and we have a couple of schools operating out of here as well.” The Chennai Metro Rail Limited has now taken over some parts of the college.

In the earlier days, the school offered a Licentiate in Teaching degree, which later became a Bachelor’s in Teaching and now a Bachelor’s in Education. “The college also had a list of vocational and engineering training courses till 1997. Now we offer B.Ed, M.Ed, M. Phil and Ph.D. courses. The college has become a research institute.”

There are three heritage buildings inside the campus and only one is still in use, the Old Science Block. “Most of the buildings are old and in disuse. A block of classrooms was abandoned after a tree fell on it, and a men’s hostel cannot be used because it has been deemed unsafe,” says Uma.

And as if proving her words right, a classroom at one of the corners of the campus lies bare, with its roof broken, tiles shattered on the ground and empty stalks of fans and lights hanging mid-air, while the long corridor gives out a deserted look. The culprit, a dried tree branch, lies exactly where it hit the roof.

But it is the iconic main building that presents an eerie silence. Its long verandahs intruded by overgrown plants, wooden stairways and shattered windows are the only remains of its legacy.

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