The Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary School, Mylapore, completed 60 years on February 3. The celebrations on February 8, that saw the release of a book documenting the institution’s history, were tempered somewhat by the passing of one of its iconic principals — Tara Satyanarayana, on the 2nd.
Vidya Mandir owes its beginnings to the Mylapore Ladies Club, that operated from Vembaukam Gardens, a vast property that belonged to Sir V. Bhashyam Iyengar, the first Indian to become Advocate-General of the High Court of Madras. Till then, the P.S. High School was where most boys of the neighbourhood went, if the parents preferred education with an oriental slant. Another option was the Rosary Matriculation School, which took in boys in the primary section. In 1956, the ladies of the Club decided that they would start a school for the boys having to leave Rosary, and that is how Vidya Mandir began. It owed its initial growth to founders Sister R.S. Subbalakshmi, M. Subbaraya Iyer and Padmini Chari, and several principals.
Tara Satyanarayana joined the school almost immediately after inception, and initially taught the junior classes Geography and Math. Even in the 1960s, she held charge briefly as Principal, but officially took over the post only in 1975. When she retired in 1987, it was after three decades with the school, 12 years of it as its head. She would later be the Correspondent and then go on to occupy the same position at Bala Vidya Mandir, Adyar, an institution that languished till the Mylapore school extended a helping hand.
Not one to raise her voice, Tara Miss, as she was called, was a force to contend with. Easily identified by the enormous circle of kumkumam on her forehead, she would keep walking incessantly around the campus, invariably barefoot! Any misdemeanour meant a twisting of the ears — never painful, but enough a deterrent against any repeat offence. In later years, this became something of a joke — it was said that when you were summoned to her office it was best to cover your ears. During the Golden Jubilee of the school, a booth was set up, in which she sat while old students lined up to have their ears twisted. The fee for this privilege was five rupees and the proceeds went to charity.
Tara Miss kept the traditions of Vidya Mandir alive — the emphasis on extra-curricular activities, the recognition that school had to be a fun place, and that while academics were no doubt important, emotional quotient was paramount. Most notably, she led the team that helped the school make a major transition in 1975 — affiliating itself to the Central Board of Secondary Education, thereby joining the national education stream. Under her, the school also expanded its campus to the extent possible, and most of what we see today was acquired in her time.
She will be missed, but Vidya Mandir will remain a testimonial to her spirit, and others like her, who mothered and mentored students.