Friday, May 18, 2007

Autobiography of a School

When I reached Olavipe on the morning of May 13, I was presented with a hot-from-the-press copy of ‘Padavarambu’ -- an autobiography of the local government lower primary school, ghostwritten in Malayalam by some of the alumni.

The next day The Hindu, one of India’s leading national newspapers, carried a feature by Dennis Marcus Mathew on the book. “Autobiographies,” it said, “are nothing new. But one by a school… is something unusual. (It is) said to be the first by a school in Kerala, probably in the country.”

‘Padavarambu’ is a fascinating little book. It is well produced and illustrated. The language is simple, almost poetic. I am proud that my village has people who can write like this. The authors used what they termed ‘memory boxes’ to collect data. Each old student available was asked to jot down his/her experiences relating to the school. From that collection evolved this poignant piece.

The book covers a short span of time, a period during which Olavipe saw great socio-economic changes, the transition from feudalism to an increasingly egalitarian society and the opening of the passage to knowledge and wisdom through the gates of the school. Forays into the past offer glimpses of the history of the land.

The most interesting parts of ’Padavarambu’ are the school’s reminiscences about her children. The epigram reads, “Some children know how to fly kites very well. Some do not know how to fly kites. There are others who themselves are kites.”

Here are some of the scenes: An old lady near the school regularly collects fallen mangoes and distributes them to the boys and girls. Another, stick in hand, chases off children who try to pluck mangoes from her tree. Then there are the innumerable little things – friendships and fights, a little girl crying because her skirt fell off.

One incident is about a boy who was asked to stand up on the bench in punishment. He bolted from the classroom, ran to the Olavipe Lake and jumped in. The teachers and the locals ran after him, pulled him out of water and brought him back to school, wet clothes and all.

Slowly, the situation changed. As the family planning campaign took effect, birth rate in the village dropped. Parents started sending their children to better schools outside Olavipe. This too was progress.

The autobiography concludes with these words: “Through the same paths that I reached the village, English School buses came. As I watch, they drive away with the children. What can I tell those kids, except ‘ta ta’?” One can almost feel the deep sigh.

This Mater is still young – only forty-six years old. She is dying though, facing closure for want of sufficient number of students. Only around fifty are left.

Some people like the publishers of the book (Group of Friends. Office: Shade of the Mango Tree, School Compound, Olavipe, India – 688 526) still hope that the lady would revive. But progress, which she herself helped to set in motion in my village, is a blind bulldozer. It rolls on, regardless.



Meera's Blog said...

interesting,wish i could read this book too!

Unknown said...

Glad you found the post interesting.

Anonymous said...

This autobiography may act as a catalyst for me to write an autobigraphy of my rural town where I am staying for a long period of two months after being away for 45 years. There are some superfluous things like few buildings have changed. But there are many things which are frozen in time especially interaction between different communities. There is an interesting dynamics of unity in diversity among six different communities divided by religion and language. Unfortunately the ill winds of electoral politics has started to change this equilibrium and difficult to guess what it will be within the next 50 years.

Dr YNI Anand said...

Reminds me of my childhood days and the schools where I studied. I wish I could write something about my schools too.

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Is that book written in Malayalam or English? If it is in englsih, I would like to buy it from a bookstore. Found it really interesting. I love the concept of a school's biography...I think every school should have one.

latha vidyaranya said...

Death is always sad. Death of young is sadder. Death of a school that was just 46 is saddest.......

A school is always a hub of activity, of friends, of teachers, of head masters. Not only the people. It is also a sentimental collection of class rooms in which so many lessons are taught, so many lunch boxes shared, a collection of benches that are a witness to the blossoming of so many close friendships and breaking up of equal number of friendships! and so many students writing exams to make their future secure, of the play ground where National Flag was hoisted proudly on so many occasions and sweets distributed, so many life skills learnt � of decision making, problem solving, diplomacy, inter personal relationships etc. Behind the school is that founder who dreamt big, who inspired hundreds of students to dream big and together they made their dreams come true����

And one day, after many many years, perhaps after two-three generations of families have passed out of that school, it has to be closed! Why? - because there are no sufficient number of students wanting to join this school. It has become obsolete. Its walls are crumbling, its colours are fading, it has no English medium of instruction, it can not boast of computer labs, it does not possess �an international school� tag and nobody wants it any more. Very soon labourers come (in the form of �yama dhutas�) to demolish the building and soon a concrete and glass structure is erupted there, giving the village a tag of �progress�!

If this is progress, I would rather be a fossil lying low peacefully :))


latha vidyaranya

Unknown said...

Thank you, Bhamy V. Shenoy.

It must be quite a fascinating experience going back to the home town after 45 years! Please do write about it. If you don't it will all be lost.

Readers are interested in places, people and experiences that are different from their own.

I started my Blog as a record for the younger generation. It has grown into something more.

Unknown said...

Dr. y.n.i., I am grateful for your comment. People would be interested in reading about your schools, experiences and Army life. Writing is simple - it's just a matter of sitting down and getting on with it.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Lakshmi Bharadwaj. The book is in Malayalam, but efforts are on to translate it into English. When that is done, I'll give the details.

I totally agree with you - it would be very nice if each school writes its autobiography. This is a brilliant idea that is worth promoting.

Unknown said...

Latha Vidyaranya, thank you.

The closure of a school is really tragic. This is a threat that many government schools are facing in Kerala. The reasons are two: (1) the birthrate in the State has dropped considerably and as a consequence, there are not enough children to fill the schools, and (2) the parents want their kids to attend better schools; with lesser number of children they can afford the extra expense.

The answer is to improve the quality of the rural schools, government or otherwise. My siblings and I studied in local schools, but then, those were the days of committed teachers and more enlightened policies.

ലാസര്‍ ഷൈന്‍ said...

im lasar the ghostwriter of this autobiography.
my id:

thanks for ur comments