Thursday, September 07, 2017

A School Turns 80 But Asbestos Has To Go

Dear Chakku Akka

There's a photo that hangs on one of the walls of the Children's Garden School office. It's a picture of your German mother Mrs Ellen Sharma (nee Teichmuller) sitting on the steps in front of the office, surrounded by little girls who were no more than five or six at that time. Some of the girls went on to graduate from the school in 1990 and I am one of those writing to thank you for the wonderful start you gave us in life.

Akka, we are now a group of forty-somethings who live in different parts of world leading disparate lives. Some of us have gone on to get doctorates, some work with young people, some, like you are heading schools, some others are working in technology and some are raising a wonderful next generation. A few among us have defied great odds and with your benevolent support have gone onto make something of our lives. But all of us carry within us the light that you lit all those years ago. 

I look back on our years at Children's Garden School and realise my time at school was as much about music and dance as it was about Maths and Science. The emphasis was on all round education and not just the academic. I took part in writing competitions, sang in the school choir, threw javelins, essayed lead roles in the annual school drama...not because I was any good at it, but because I could. And my teachers saw no reason why I shouldn't.

Unlike other schools in the city where the children wore fancy uniforms complete with shoes and socks (imagine, in the hot and humid conditions of coastal Madras!) we wore slippers to school and took them off before we entered class. What use was a colonial hangover of an impractical uniform for children who needed to be dressed in tune with the surroundings? Our education was in harmony with our environment.

Even today the smell of cooking cabbage never fails to take me back to school days and the free hot lunches you offered. Those were perhaps the only hot meal of the day for some of my classmates. You knew that children cannot learn on an empty stomach and proceeded to address this issue. 

Our classes were made up of children from from different economic background, yet it mattered little when we slipped on our green skirts and white shirts and plaited our hair up in green ribbons. We were all students of Children's Garden School.

A couple of years ago, one of my classmates who grew up in an orphanage told us how you had funded her college education and when you saw how stubborn she was with wanting to study further, you funded her Master's degree too, then found her a good man to marry, gave her off in marriage and today her son calls you 'Paati' (grandmother). For many like my classmates, the school was much more than a place where we came to study.  

And our teachers! What an extraordinary lot you managed to recruit and retain, Akka. I still remember when I was thirteen, spending several days during my summer holidays in Lakshmi teacher's house working on a magazine which I hand wrote and illustrated. And still younger, my kindergarten teacher Miss Bertha Paul was entrusted with the unenviable job of feeding me eggs (despite her best efforts I continue to abhor that vile stuff). How they went above and beyond their call of duty! 

From Seethalakshmi teacher to Nalini teacher to Kusuma teacher to Neelambal teacher to Saroja teacher to Lakshmi teacher to Pankajam teacher...our school definitely had an amazing gathering of teachers who ignited young minds.

Our school was founded this very day 80 years ago by a German woman and her Indian husband who wanted to start a school that combined the best of Indian tradition with the liberal thoughts of the West. The school has evolved considerably from its humble origins of just seven students to educate hundreds today. 

Yet it pains me to hear that the classrooms have asbestos roofs over them. I am glad that my classmates and I are doing our bit to fundraiser to replace them with more suitable materials. 

Akka, we are proud to have been your students. And it gives us infinite pleasure in being able to celebrate the 80th anniversary of our school. Here's to several more decades of educating and instigating a love of learning in tomorrow's generation.

Namaskarams at your feet.


A. Abhirami (class of 1990)

P.s. Anyone interested in contributing towards our fundraising efforts, please click here

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