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Schooling children for the future

The Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary School has carved a niche for itself as an institution catering for the all-round education of children. Behind its success story is its founder, dean and director, Mrs. Y. G. Parthasarathy. A profile...

THE PADMA Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary School, Chennai, was listed as one of India's best schools, according to a survey conducted over a year ago. Behind the school's success story is its founder, dean and director, Y.G. Parthasarathy. Today, she seems to have answered her critics - PSBB with more than 7,500 students in its three branches, is among the most sought after schools in Chennai. The school follows the CBSE model and awards no ranks, only grades. Apart from the regular curriculum, students are taught slokas, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, Tai Chi and pranayama. The granddaughter of Diwan Bahadur T. Rangachari (former Speaker of the Federal Assembly), `Mrs. YGP', as she is better known, was born in Madras. After four years at Ewart School, she joined the co-educational St. John's Vestry School in Tiruchi. "I was a quiet child and very studious. I would immerse myself in the pages of a book and forget the world, not budging from where I was seated," she reminisces. She stood first in the Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary Examination and joined the mathematics stream at the Holy Cross College.

"My father's side of the family was against girls attending college and I was the first granddaughter to have had my way. In fact, I even took part in the students' Quit India movement and I vividly remember how I scaled a wall to lead a protest rally to National College," she smiles, adding, "Thankfully, the Collector of Tiruchi, a family friend, spotted me in the crowd and, thus, a lathi charge was avoided." Mrs. YGP fondly remembers having sat next to Pandit Nehru at a Bharat Yuvam Samaj conference in Kanpur. "I told him I wanted the rose he was wearing and he simply gave it to me. That rose was my treasured possession for very long. When her father R. Parthasarathy, then director of civil supplies, was transferred, the family moved with him to Delhi. And it was here that she met the Mahatma. "He asked me whether I could speak Hindi and I, in turn, asked him whether he could speak Tamil. With a smile he answered that he knew Tamil only as much as Ammu Swaminathan (Lakshmi Sehgal's mother) knew Hindi," recalls Mrs. YGP.

In 1946, she met Y.G. Parthasarathy in Delhi, who after a brief stint at the India Coffee House, had joined All India Radio, conducting special shows for the Indian soldiers on the war front. Slowly their friendship blossomed into love. "In the beginning, my parents did not favour our relationship but stood by us when we got married in 1948. In fact, in "Rickshakaran", one of YGP's plays staged at Delhi's Madras Club, it was YGP who pulled the rickshaw with my father seated inside," she chuckles.

Back in Madras, she enrolled for a journalism course at the Madras University and began writing freelance under the pseudonyms `Rashmi' (Sports & Pastime), `Jalak' (Kumudam) and `Sumangali' (Swadesha Mitran). She also underwent a ten-month apprenticeship with The Hindu. The birth of her second son marked a turning point in her life in a way. Wanting to put him in a Hindu-Indian school, she found that Madras at that time had only missionary schools. "I felt that children were losing touch with Indian culture. They seemed interested in following only a western lifestyle," she says.

And so, with friends from the Nungambakkam Ladies Recreation Club, she set up Bala Bhavan with 13 students in 1962 under a thatched roof at her residence in T. Nagar. As the school became popular, Mrs. YGP approached the State Government for land. Four grounds were allotted on lease in the Lake Area, Nungambakkam, at Re. one per ground. "We had to raise funds for the building. As my husband was connected with the film industry, I used to visit one studio after another. Savithri (Gemini Ganesan's wife) staged plays and raised funds for us. MGR, who was a close family friend, was one of the first donors - he donated Rs 7,000 for a classroom." Eventually, the building came up on the foundation laid by Kamaraj.

"When R. M. Seshadri's (a leading lawyer) daughter visited our school, she was impressed by the way students were being taught, by the classical music, Vedic heritage and sloka classes. When her father came to hear of it, he donated Rs 15,000 to perpetuate the memory of his wife Padma. And that was how the school was renamed Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan," she explains. Collecting a fee of Rs. 5, the school catered mainly for children from middle class families. By then more than 200 students were on the rolls.

"I was 40 when I realised that I was not a trained teacher. So, I decided to do my B. Ed. at the Regional College of Education, Mysore," she says. She stood first in the examination and won a gold medal from the South Zone. She was now equipped to take over as school principal in 1970. "Of course, there were dissenting voices that said a woman could not be the principal of a boy's school (the school went co-educational in 1980 after its affiliation with the CBSE) but I fought it out and got permission from the Vice Chancellor," she says. She went on to do her masters in education.

By now, there was a rush for admissions to the school each year and the PSBB needed to expand. In 1973, a building on Thirumalai Pillai Road was purchased from actress Jamuna, and three years later, five acres in K.K. Nagar were bought from the Housing Board. At PSBB, children are taken on field trips, history and geography are taught through special projects, students are asked to research some aspect of life, and school anniversaries are theme-based. There are continuous assessments and cycle tests. Bharat Kalachar, the cultural wing, provides opportunities to talented youngsters. Mrs. YGP has won several awards, including the Paul Harris Fellow Award, recently. However, she treasures the Vidya Seva Ratnam Award she received from Paramacharya on her 60th birthday.

"My satisfaction comes not from records or awards but from being able to inculcate a sense of accountability, integrity and responsibility in children, teachers and parents. Many of our past pupils come to see me.

"When I go abroad, it is not unusual to be greeted with a gurubhyo namaha. These moments have given me immense happiness," says Mrs YGP, who at 75 continues to be as energetic as ever.


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