It goes by several names, officially and unofficially, but for the Government Model Primary School in Gavipuram, that doesn’t really matter — the name that counts is the one that everyone knows: the Rajinikanth School. Here, the legacy of the man who once attended it is far bigger than its name on paper.
He’s the main reason people know of the school. They know where it is, what has happened to it over the last few months; they know where the children are and they keep track of them.
Venkatesh, a postman, helpfully and enthusiastically tells me where and when he sees the students, and exactly where to find them.
The people of the locality are fiercely proud of their link to Rajinikanth, and they cling to it.
But there are other things that go unnoticed about this school and its students, as the local corporator K. Chandrashekhar patiently and matter-of-factly details.
Like the fact that the building was almost 70 years old, crumbling, single-floored and housing around 250 students in two to three rooms.
Or that once the government finally agreed to fund a new building, it took six years to get past a land dispute with a private landowner and actually begin construction. The uprooted students are now temporarily in the girls’ high school (having lost almost 100 students in the process of moving because not all children can travel so far) in the next ward — in basement classrooms. The children at this school play on the field with no coach or teams.
They sing and dance, without teachers. They study. They get good marks. They, too, are proud to go to the Rajnikanth School. The boys’ high school is much better off than the primary school.
They have a beautiful and fairly large green campus, a small courtyard, a P.T. coach and lots of sports teams, after-school training programs and a pass rate of 80 per cent. The headmistress, S. Malini, and the P.T. coach, K. Subbaiah, remind me several times that Rajnikanth went here, too (before he dropped out after Class 8), and even now children in the area want to study there for just that reason.
Inevitably, Rajnikanth resonates throughout this locality, through all its wards: in the conversations at the tea stall where I stopped to ask for directions, among the vegetable sellers. The locals see him not just on screen, but in the register in which his name is on the school records, and in the neighbourhood streets on which he once played.
They believe he still loves and remembers his hometown.
Many seem to mistakenly attribute the generous funding for the reconstruction of the primary school to him, though it’s all government money. And even C. Gurappa, the headmaster of the primary school, who clarifies that this not the case, shrugs and says with a degree of faith, “He is also supposed to give some money.” Shoulders droop slightly when I ask if Rajinikanth has ever visited since leaving. “No, but he might!”
The shadow of Rajinikanth is evident in Gavipuram, particularly in ‘the Rajinikanth School’