Memories and Musings

My memories which have remained with me over so many years, coloured with my thoughts, and tempered by my experiences.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


A trader bought a dozen cows for Rs.3,500. After spending about Rs. 30 per month on each cow, he sold them after a year for Rs. 7,600. Find out whether he sold it at a profit or at a loss. And give the answer in Sarkar Rupai Chakram Kasu
This is one of the typical questions we used to get when we were in Std. VI and VII, at my school in Trivandrum.
Those were the days when India was under the British rule (I am talking of 1930s and 40s).
Nowadays children won’t have any difficulty in doing the sum. For they have to only calculate in Rs. and naye paise – a 100 naya paise made up a rupee. But when we were in school it was a different story.

Travancore was a small state in the south west part of India and Trivandrum was part of that state.
Travancore state had its own monetary system. Rupai, chakram, kasu. One British Rupee was 28 and a half chakkaram and one sarkar (Government) rupai was 28 chakarams. One chakaram was 16 kasu. A British rupee was made up of 16 annas and one anna was equal to 12 pices.
To a ten or eleven year old child all the conversions from British rupee to saarkar Rupai and vice versa were too much.
But school was delightful.

Our school was His Highness Maharaja’s School for Girls, and to me the best even today, and even though I have seen many in different cities of India, and also some outside India.
The school was so large and spread out over a large area, so well planned and laid out, with so much open space for games and to run around in, and play all sorts of games – there were two or three courts to play games like tennis and badminton. The school building, which housed classes from I to XI, with their numerous sections, was on three levels. The lowest level was for the lower classes – these classes had no desks or chairs – just mats to sit on and lots of room to run around in.
The second level had two big rooms for the preparatory class where one was started on English and nursery rhymes and easy sums in Arithmetic lessons.

Thiruvananthapuram, corrupted to Trivandrum by the British, is of hilly terrain, and is full of ups and downs – the roads, the buildings and everything. Our school was no exception. The grounds in the school were on different levels, as also the buildings, which housed the classrooms.
I can still visualize the school - as one entered by the front gate there was a portico, and then the staff room, the library and two sections of the sixth form. The other two sections were upstairs with the clerk’s room and the Headmistress’ room. And they were all spacious and airy.
There was a huge assembly hall on one side of this building, where daily prayer meetings were held with a prayer song for each day of the week (two of which I still remember) followed by ‘God Save the King’ since we were under British rule. And the last one, ‘Vanchi Bhoomi pathe chiram’, was for the health and long life our own young Maharaja Shri Chitra Thirunal, after whom the school was named, and whom we all adored and loved with respect.
On the other side a huge rectangle housing about fifteen classrooms, around two inner courtyards. So there was a constant flow of fresh air, and we never felt the heat. Fans were unheard of in those days.
There were two different dining rooms, one for the Brahmin students, and one for the others, where we had our lunch in. In those days, Brahmins were treated with special respect, for the Brahmins followed strictly the rules laid down by the sastras. There was also a watershed, strictly run by a Brahmin water man, where we used to rush for a glass of water in between class periods.
There was a huge science laboratory, where we were taught chemistry. And we were given sound basic education in Biology, Nature Study, Indian and British History, Mathematics (which included Algebra and Geometry) and Geography. Fine arts like music – both Carnatic and Western, and drawing and painting, with needlework, knitting and embroidery, were also part of the curriculum.
There was an annexe to the main building where our needlework classes were held, and our music classes. A couple of divisions of the first and second forms were also housed here.
Going up and down the classes and wandering around the school was a great pleasure. As the classes were on different levels there were many steps and staircases all around, creating nooks to play hide and seek.

I joined school in this class when I was seven years old. All the elementary education in numbers and Malayalam alphabet was given to me at home by a master. He was so gentle he could not say boo to a goose. I still remember him and the way he looked, after 70 odd years.
On my first day of school we were taught the rhyme ‘Jack and Jill’, and the teacher told us to learn it by heart for the next day. And I, being a novice in these matters, forgot all about it, and did not mention it to anyone at home – not that anyone asked about my first day at school. Two of my older sisters were also in the same school, and they also did not show any interest in my first day experiences. Net result – the following day when the teacher asked me to recite the rhyme, I just stood there gawking. As a punishment I had to stand upon the bench for a full hour.
What a start in school for a young child.

With so many subjects in the curriculum, by the time we left school we had a basic knowledge of everything. But though I was above average in studies (despite my first day’s experience) I was very poor in needlework, and embroidery.
We had seven periods a day - four in the morning from 10 am to 1 pm, and three in the afternoon from 1.45 pm to 4 pm.
My sister, who was in a class two years senior to me when I joined school, failed in two successive years, so that we were both in the same class by the time I reached Second Form (Class VII). It was a godsend to me that she was also in the same division, for she was very good with her needlework, and also good at drawing and painting. She helped me out in these classes. And I am sure that the teacher was aware of this, but turned a blind eye to us sisters. Ramal was also very good at singing, whereas I was at the bottom of the class in this too.

Most of our teachers dressed traditionally in Mundu neriyathu and chattai mundu; just three or four of them wore sarees. One teacher, known as Mammy teacher was our second form class teacher; she wore really colourful sarees – many in red, and she always wore a red rose . Our arts teacher was a Brahmin lady and she came dressed in nine-yard saree worn the traditional way. Today this is a rare sight; one can see a nine yard saree clad woman only on her wedding day or at a pooja.. Our headmistress was nicknamed ‘kaakkai’ (crow) by our senior girls, because she used to tilt her head to one side while talking to or looking at someone.
I can never forget the farewell party our teachers gave us on our last day - a sumptuous feast served on banana leaves, and the teachers serving us themselves – a fine gesture by the finest set of teachers one could wish for.
I remember other incidents too that happened when I was in form III. That was in the year 1942, and Mahatma Gandhi was leading the Quit India movement. The husband of our class teacher Mrs. Thanu Pillai, was arrested for he belonged to the national movement. The students staged a silent Dharna, that is not paying any attention to the teacher who came to the class to take classes, by hiding their faces in the desks. Only three students sat upright in the class, my sister, me and a girl called Kalyani Amma. My father was in the Government service, as was hers.
The teachers would come in, look at us with a frown and sit silently in the class till the bell rang.
I must mention here that when India became independent, the husband of our class teacher, Pattom Thanu Pillai , became the chief minister of Travancore-Cochin, as Kerala was called then.
Another incident I recollect happened in our needlework class. We were given materials to sew and knit by the school. Our craft teacher was a matronly, kind soul. During one class she distributed to all the students pieces of white cloth and strands of embroidery thread and needles, and instructed us to embroider a flower with two leaves. After awhile, one of the girls in the class stood up and complained that she had not got any thread. The teacher simply looked at her, told her to sit down, and carried on with her instructions. When she was done, without pausing she asked the girl, “Now what colour was your thread?” Pat came the reply “Blue.” And that was the end of that!

Even at this age, when I look back after all these year, I feel so proud of my school. I really had a good time there.
And as it turned out, we were the last batch of students to pass out of the school, for the very next year the school building was taken over by the University (the University Science College was just across the road) to add more departments and classes. The students of the school were divided and sent to the Fort High School and Cotton Hill School in Vazhuthakkadu.
I don’t know how many of my school friends remember my school as I do. But I feel a thrill as I write about my school, and feel I am giving it due homage. Unlike today, when children keep in touch not only with their school and college mates, but also their teachers and college professors, we were not able to maintain contact after school. But some of my classmates continued studying with me in the F. A. which was a two-year course, and for which we had a separate college for women. F. A. stands for Faculty of Arts, the equivalent of today’s Plus Two course.