Lessons from a parallel life

C.R Sankara Menon of Menon and Krishnan institute. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

C.R Sankara Menon of Menon and Krishnan institute. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

“Raise your 0 to 100,” went the advertisement for Menon and Krishnan, Kochi’s most popular parallel college at one time.

Parallel colleges sprung up around 1960s to cater to thousands of students who could not make it to the handful of spots in regular colleges. Students would register to take the examinations under universities while preparing privately. Parallel colleges tutored these students to help them clear the examinations.

Menon and Krishnan, started in 1967 by two former professors of Sacred Heart College at Thevara, had a reputation for being the best of parallel colleges in the city.

“It was even considered better than some regular colleges,” says a former teacher at Menon and Krishnan.

At its peak, the institute had centres in Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram with around 1,000 students at each centre. It had science labs, and six hostels in Kochi.

Many smaller institutions called themselves ‘Menon and Krishnan’ to dupe students into joining their colleges.

The reputation of Menon and Krishnan was built on the proficiency of its professors in English and Mathematics, two subjects that students found tough.

S. Krishnan, one of the founders, passed away in Kochi on Saturday. The 83-year-old Mathematics professor’s partner in the institute was C.R. Sankara Menon, who taught English.

“Krishnan was an excellent teacher. He was a genius. He didn’t need a text or notebook to teach. All he required was a pen,” says Mr. Menon.

Both teachers were friends from their stint at Sacred Heart College.

“In those days, college teachers weren’t paid much. Madras University professors were paid Rs.150 a month,” he says.

Money and a difference of opinion with the college management prompted the professors to leave.

When they started the college in the building of the Ernakulam NSS Karayogam, all they had was their reputation as excellent teachers. Menon sir, as Professor Menon was called, had been at Cambridge and had handled classes of more than 100 students when he was at Sacred Heart.

Krishnan and Menon grew in fame quickly. “I used to take class in Kochi, and then fly to Thiruvananthapuram to take class there. There was a joke going around that the students in Thiruvananthapuram would look up at the sky and wait for teachers,” says Mr. Menon.

But parallel colleges soon went into decline. Engineering, medicine, and science subjects that parallel colleges were ill-equipped to teach grew in prominence.

“Students wanted to study new subjects, like Gynaecology for example. Teaching these were beyond our scope,” says Mr. Menon. The biggest parallel college in the city could not adapt to the changing times.

“It would have required us to change our whole system,” he says.

By the time the institute shut down 17 years ago, its centres outside Kochi had already been wound up. Professor Krishnan had slowly been withdrawing from the institute’s affairs. Krishnan and Menon, along with other parallel colleges, died a natural death.

Professor Menon continued his teaching at home. He also published a book on the subject. The 80-year-old professor still keeps a thick bamboo stick at a corner beside his chair at home.

“It’s only to scare students. You should not beat them. You should never inflict physical pain to bring about mental change,” he says.

Many of Menon and Krishnan’s former students went on to become professors, judges and other prominent public figures. Helping them grow was a group of teachers well-versed in their subjects and eager to impart knowledge.

“I am still studying. Everyday, I like to learn something new,” says Menon sir.

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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 3:39:19 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/lessons-from-a-parallel-life/article4686755.ece