Old is indeed gold

From small beginnings... The stately building of RBANMS High School.

From small beginnings... The stately building of RBANMS High School.  

RBANMS High School, established almost 130 years ago, is one of the oldest schools in Bangalore. The institution, started by a pious visionary,works for the upliftment of children of backward classes.

"MEET MR. A.K. Ananth Narrain, Hon. Secretary and Correspondent of the Rai Bahadur Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar Educational Charities Trust, and he will give you the history of our school," advised Mr. Jayarama Bhat, Headmaster, RBANM's High School over telephone.

Sitting comfortably in the cool, high-roofed lobby of the Office of the Secretary that warm morning, with the purple blooms of the fallen jacaranda carpeting the ground outside, it was a step back in time to an era of graciousness and charm. When we were ushered into Mr. Narrain's spartan office, the first piece of furniture that caught our eye was the imposing Burma teak desk, behind which he sat.

"We run 16 institutions," said this precise man, "which one are you interested in writing about?" After a patient hearing, he immediately took us to a large teak-panelled conference room to meet T.V. Annaswamy, another board member who has made research into the history of the charities his personal interest.

The large picture of the founder, Dharmarathnakara Rai Bahadur Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar, gazed down benevolently at us during the interview, a legacy of high-minded charity and service of the late philanthropist.

Mr. Annaswamy took us through the spacious five-acre school campus with its imposing granite building and the 11-acre playground even as he held forth on his illustrious history. The founder, Mr. Narrainswamy Mudliar, was the scion of an ancient family of Arcot. From modest beginnings in vegetable and salt trade, his resourcefulness and perseverance enabled him to open a grocery store on Cavalry Road in Bangalore. In 1859 he was granted the royal patronage of Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, the Maharaja of Mysore. As a token of gratitude, he named his outlet on Cavalry Road Mysore Hall.

Subsequently, he ventured into a new line of business with Wallace & Company in partnership with Rai Bahadur Ramtharan, who had secured from Col. Sankey, Chief Engineer to the Govt. of Mysore, the contract for the construction of the New Public Offices or the Attara Cutcherry. This contract earned him a fortune and soon he was into real estate and auctioneering, setting up The Bangalore Agency on 19, South Parade (now M.G. Road).

Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar was not one to see money as the end. Instead, he viewed it as the means to plough back into society what he had benefited from it. A visionary who believed in education for both sexes, he was determined to use his wealth for progress.

During the Great Famine of 1876 -78, the Mysore State Railways was one of the relief works undertaken with the primary objective of providing starving people with employment, and therefore food. The famine resulted in revenue collection plummeting and public debts mounting. Public loans were floated to undertake works to employ starving peasants. Mudaliar, with astonishing foresight, invested in the railway debentures to provide security to the amount he had already set aside for the schools established by him.

Rai Bahadur Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar.

Rai Bahadur Arcot Narrainswamy Mudaliar.  

Those days Bangalore's Cantonment did not have schools teaching in vernacular languages and students had to go all the way to the city side, often on foot. Mudaliar was determined to bridge this gap. He was one of the movers and shakers behind the setting up of a free English primary school on April 24, 1873, which was inaugurated by J.D. Gordon, then Commissioner of Mysore, in a rented building on Commercial Street.

The school initially had only the first standard but gradually grew to become the Free English High School in 1881.

Bipin Chandrapal served as the first headmaster of the now-renamed Arcot Sri Narrainswamy Mudaliar Free English High School during 1891-92.

The school was accorded recognition under the Madras Educational Rules in 1892 by the Director of Public Instruction, Madras. Till 1911, its students prepared for the matriculation exams, after which the Madras SSLC was introduced.

The imposing stone building was constructed in 1893 under the personal supervision of Mudaliar at a cost of Rs. 50,000. The school achieved a first by virtue of its being established by a Hindu citizen with English as the medium of instruction, apart from vernacular languages.

The Mysore Gazette of 1897 says that the principal high schools located in Bangalore Cantonment were Bishop Cottons, St. Andrews, Baldwins and other `convent' schools for Europeans, with Narrainswamy Mudaliar's institution reserved for `natives'. After Independence and retrocession of the Civil & Military Station to Mysore State, the school was brought under the purview of the Educational Department of the Government of Mysore.

It was upgraded to a Higher Secondary School in 1963.

As the student strength increased, it was bifurcated into RBANMS Higher Secondary School and the RBANMS High School in 1968. Today, there are 515 students in the main high school. There are 15 sections and the languages offered are Hindi, Higher English, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.

In the year 2000, one section was made exclusively for girls which now has more than 250 students. This section has an Interact Club and a training programme via the medium of computers, sponsored by a Canadian organisation. Most of the students are from the lower and lower middle strata of society whose parents struggle to give the youngsters a better future than theirs. The school continues to do what is had started to achieve: to give a deprived generation an education.

From small beginnings, thanks to a visionary who was influenced by the life of Tamil saints, the school has concentrated on the upliftment of children of backward classes. Even though it is a mere stone's throw away from the busy Commercial Street, its atmosphere is serene, harking back to gracious times.

As we made our way out with the happy shouts of the schoolboys ringing in our ears, we were pleasantly surprised to see youngsters playing marbles, a game that seems to have disappeared from our more elite schools, where children prefer using their fingers to push buttons and the mouse.


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