If Gandhi Nagar in Adyar is home to several educational institutions today, the credit for creating a atmosphere conducive to this should go to C. Ranganatha Aiyengar.
Ranganatha Aiyengar, one of the early residents of the neighbourhood and my maternal grandfather, was an educationalist and he was instrumental in starting one of the early schools in Gandhi Nagar.
He retired as headmaster of a school in Gooty (Ananthapur) where he served for 30 years and returned to Madras in 1946. Later in 1949, he bought a bungalow at Gandhi Nagar in Adyar.
It must be remembered that Gandhi Nagar was one of the first planned layouts of Madras. When families started moving into the locality, Aiyengar sought to improve their life by starting a school.
An active member of the Co-operative Movement, South India Teachers Union and the All India Federation of Educational Associations, the retired teacher found allies in his efforts to start this school.
The vast area where Kumararaja Muthiah School is now located was the space that had been set aside in the layout as common area for the establishment of a school.
Some early residents got together to form a Committee, and the Madras House Construction Society allowed them to use the land to run a school.
The Committee included P.K. Gnanasundara Mudaliar; A.R. Narayana Rao; Dr. G.D. Boaz; K.S. Ramamurthi; G. Vasantha Pai; V.V.L. Rao; C.V. Vedachala Ayyar; and V. Natarajan.
Gandhi Nagar School was founded on July 1, 1950, functioning as an elementary school from 1950-54. Classes were conducted in thatched sheds. There was also a Telugu section catering to many Telugu children in Gandhi Nagar. The Telugu teacher was Ms. Regina.
The school served children not only from Gandhi Nagar, but also Kottur, Arunachalapuram and Urur.
As children from elementary classes were graduating to high school — in 1954 the elementary school had 175 students, six teachers and six classrooms — the school had to be upgraded.
The Co-operative Society could no longer continue with the school initiative. Again, the local residents formed a new registered society called Gandhi Nagar Education Society (GES) and the School was upgraded as a Middle School under GES. The Co-operative Society entrusted the ground to the newly-registered Society and soon executed a long-term lease deed of the land to GES.
Ranganatha Aiyengar was one of the seven signatories to the Memorandum of Association of GES. The other signatories were K.S. Ramamurthi; K. Veeraswami; C.S. Hariharaputran; Dr. G. D. Boaz; V. Soundararajan; and R. Balam.
In 1956, when the Society needed more finance, they got the support of the Rajah of Chettinad family and the co-education school continued with a new name Rani Meyyammai School. With the munificence of Rajah Sir Sri.M.A.Muthiah Chettiar, the School got its first pucca building.
Rani Meyyammai School now functions from Fourth Main Road, next to the cricket ground. The original place where the Gandhi Nagar School was established is occupied by the boys. Aiyengar’s role did not end with developing the school. He was actively involved in its day-to-day activities.
The School Parents’ Association was formed and he was the secretary. His ideals were unique and his service to the School was via the Parents Association that he kept guiding. He would go around the entire school premises every morning and inspect if the classrooms were kept spic and span. He took up the work of purchasing and distributing class textbooks to all children. I remember that he received review copies from various publishers and went through all of them to recommend the good ones to the School.
Aiyengar lived a very simple life. Every morning, he would turn his charka and spin khaddar yarn.
When there was sufficient yarn, he would visit the khadhi shop and exchange it for an angavastram which he sported around his neck. To encourage education of fine arts, he offered some free space in his house for conducting Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music classes. He mentored local youngsters who aspired for higher education in mathematics, free of cost.
(Edited excerpts from V.S.Sukumar, honorary secretary, Gandhi Nagar Cricket and Sports Club, who is compiling profiles of well-known residents of Gandhi Nagar, past and present)