Events

The sound of history

Students dance at an event to mark WCC's centenary year  

Historic Doveton House, set in the heart of the city, does not often catch the public eye. It is hidden from busy College Road in Nungambakkam, by a tree-lined path on the Women’s Christian College (WCC) campus. Even to students, who make their way around it every day for classes, the building is just the place where one goes to get permission letters signed because it houses “Princi’s office”.

Last week, however, 217-year-old Doveton House basked in the limelight, literally. It served as a dramatic backdrop to a sound and light show hosted by WCC as part of the educational institution’s centenary celebrations. For about 60 minutes, the centre of WCC’s campus was transformed into an open-air theatre, as students told a fascinated audience about the early years of the college.

The show begins with the sound of hoofs. Clip-clop... Clip-clop... Clip-clop... Then the rattling of jutkas (horse-drawn carriages) fills the air, as young women in full-sleeved blouses and saris arrive at WCC.  A tall student, who plays the role of the college’s first principal, Eleanor McDougall, takes the stage.

McDougall is lucky to have acquired Doveton House. She started the college with just 41 students in a rented building in 1915, but always dreamed of a campus of her own. With a donation of $25,000 (then Rs. 77,600) from America in 1916, she buys the building and the land that comes with it.

The spotlight moves to a second stage, illuminating a boatload of students. To soothing cries of "elelo ilasa, elelo" from the boatman, students alight at a ferry house. The scene is from the time when students took a boat along the Cooum, flowing behind Doveton House, to get to college.

The historical re-enactment goes on to show how eventful the 1920s were at WCC. A student sings a Bengali song when Rabindranath Tagore visits in 1922. The stately chapel, with its unusual design encompassing 17 doors, is built in 1923. When Mahatma Gandhi visits in 1925, the student choir sings 'Abide with me', one of his favourite hymns.

Then, the soothing tune is replaced by gun shots as Doveton House is flooded in orange light to mark the middle of WW II when the Japanese threat loomed large over Madras. Windows are darkened with cardboard and the college’s 'Main Hostel' offers temporary accommodation to troops and prisoners. But the buildings and the college remain safe, and stand strong.

The re-telling of the college’s beginnings was a labour of love for those who worked on the production. “It’s our first ever sound and light show,” says principal Ridling Margaret Waller, “All the performers are our students and alumna Shobana Mala Martin directed it.”

The excitement is far from over, says Dr. Waller. Next month, WCC is set to host its centenary year college play.


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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 6:57:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/events/revisit-history-at-wcc/article7526042.ece

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