Lifescapes

A Personal History
Rajeswari Chatterjee

Chapter 5: 1928-1934
Banglore City School

Because Nanjangud was a small town , it had a primary school and a middle school for girls. There were a boys'primary school, a boys' middle school, and a boys' high school. All these schools were managed by the government of Mysore State, with good teachers, and the medium of instruction was Kannada except that the boy' high school had English as the medium of instruction. The girls' schools did not have too many pupils, because according to orthodox customs, the girls were married at the tender age of twelve or thirteen or so, and usually their education was stopped after marriage. However the girls were not sent to their husband's family until they they were sixteen or seventeen years old. In the meantime, they were taught by the older women of the family, the intricacies of housekeeping like cooking, washing, keeping the house clean, stiching simple clothes , and the intricacies of religious ceremonies and so on.

My grandmother (mother's mother) was a very highly educated woman ( she was one of the very few women in South India, and particularly in Mysore State, who had a University degree of Madras University), and she was serving as Honorary Secretary of a pioneering women's institution in Bangalore City, called Mahila Seva Samaja, which means " Women's Service League ." The institution not only had a modern type of school for girls and boys but was also involved in adult education for women. It also had a sports club for badminton and tennis where the children of the school with their teachers and also the members of the organisation could have some recreation.

My grandmother induced my parents to allow me to stay with her in Bangalore , so that I could attend the school managed by Mahila Seva Samaja. My mother's older sister Putti and her daughter Vijaya also stayed with my grandmother in her house. Vijaya's father Sethu was my grandmother's younger brother. Those days, in many families of South India, it was usual that a girl was married to her maternal uncle (mother's brother), and sometimes to a first cousin. These customs probably originated for the reason that the girl being familiar with her close relatives, could get along with her husband's family. Though this custom has become less and less, it is still followed in many families in South India. This custom does not seem to exist in North India.

My cousin Vijaya was only ten months younger than I, and was almost ready to go to school. She and I became good pals, and just like many other children of nearly the same age, we were friends at one moment, and enemies the next. All the relatives and friends of the family used to pair us together, saying " Raju and Vijaya", while they very rarely paired me with my younger sister Seetha, who was four years younger than me.

Vijaya and I started going to the school which was managed by the Mahila Seva Samaja in 1928, and were placed in the first year class of the English medium section, which had just then been started. There was also a Kannada medium section which had more students and was already functioning for more than ten years, and which had classes up to the eighth year, when the students had to appear for an examination of the Education Department of the Mysore State. The subjects taught were Kannada, English, History, Geography, Arithmetic and Domestic Science.

This new English medium section was started in 1928, more due to the initiative of my grandmother Kamalamma Dasappa who was the only woman University graduate in the Council of Management of the institution. The other women were all women from good cultured middle class families, but their educational level was much lower, and they trusted my grandmother and gave her support in all her new iniatives. This new section was called the "Special English School" and taught the same subjects like the old Kannada medium section, but the medium of instruction was English, because it was felt that English being a very important language of the world and also the language of the British who ruled India at that time, the students will get a more universal education Also, it was planned to condense the eight-year program of the government approved Kannada medium school into a six-year program, by teaching in such a manner that the students would learn the most important fundamental ideas well, instead of cramming a lot of useless information. The government did not approve of this new special school, but gave permission to start it as an experiment. Because of this, very few parents were willing to send their children to this new school, but a few pioneering parents who agreed with my grandmother, were willing try this new idea for their children.

In our first year class we had only eight students, six girls and two boys. We were taught English and Geography by an Anglo-Indian lady named Miss Donne, who was a big-sized and fair-complected lady, and who used to drive an old model British-made Austin car. Her accent was almost British, unlike the English spoken by Indians with an Indian accent, and slowly we learnt to understand her. My grandmother taught us Indian History, which was her favourite subject. The other teachers were three men, one to teach Arithmetic, one to teach Kannada, and one to teach our classical language Sanskrit.

Mr. Subba Rao, the Arithmetic teacher was very good, but also very strict, and sometimes used a small cane to punish us. However, he was advised by the women , who were members of the Governing Council, to avoid using the cane. It must be remembered that there were no men on the governing council.

The Sanskrit teacher, Mr. Nanjunda Shastry was a very lovable person, who used to tell us interesting stories. He wore a dhothi ( an Indian dress for men , consisting of a long piece of white cloth with or without a narrow coloured border, about four feet long and one and a half to two feet wide, which was wound round his waist, and the front portion brought to the back between the two legs

A Note on The Ango-Indians:

The Anglo-Indians belong to a small community in India, which came into existence in the eighteenth century or so. At that time, the Europeans like the British, French, Dutch, and Portugese, who came to trade, had to take a long risky voyage of three to four months duration by sea around thecontinent of Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope, to enter the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea or the Bay of Bengal, to land at Indian seaports like Surat, Bombay, Calicut, Madras, Pondicherry and Calcutta. Actually Calcutta is a riverport situated on the Hooghly (Ganga or Ganges) river, about hundred miles upstream. So it was mostly men who worked for the trading companies like the British East India Company, who came to India. They did not want to bring the women, because not only the journey was risky, but also life in India would be strange and difficult for them.

So it just happened that many of the young European men had liasons with Indian women, whoever was available easily. The children born as a result of
these liasons became the Anglo- Indian community.

Most of the girls in the higher levels of Indian society, whether they were Hindu or Muslim, were not available, because they were married off at a young age and confined totheir homes. So the women available to the Europeans were mostly from the lower classes. For the one or two generations, the Europeans did not usually marry these women, and the women brought up their children in their own faith, either Hindu or Muslim. They had difficulty being accepted into their own Indian classes (Or castes , if Hindu). Seeing the plight of these people, Christian missionaries, especially the Roman Catholic missionaries who were in larger numbers compared to the Protestent missionaries, converted these unfortunate people, who were not recognised by either the mother's community or by the father's community, namely the Europeans.

The missionaries not only converted them, but started schools for the children through the medium of the European languages.
and tucked in at the waist). His upper portion of the body was covered by a white or coloured shirt. He had long hair which was tied up in a round knot (called juttu) at the back of his head. He did not wear anything on his feet, because the orthodox South Indians thought it was unclean to use leather footwear.

We had physical exercises in the morning, and South Indian Karnatic classical music classes or games in the afternoon. We had to sing the National Anthem " Kayo Shrigouri Karunalahari" of Mysore State before we started our classes in the morning. Mondays to Fridays were full days,and Saturday had only morning class.

As we became older, we became members of a girl-guide group ( they call them Girl Scouts in the U.S.A.), and Miss Donne was the group leader. We enjoyed this activity very much.

The education department of Mysore State watched the progress of this new special school, and finally permitted the school to send six pupils to take the Lower Secondary Examinaton in 1934, in private. Five of us passed, and I passed in the first class with Honours. We were given certificates which would permit us to enter any high school in Mysore State or anywhere in India.
 

A Note on Sanskrit:

Sanskrit was taught in this new special school, because they thought that it was very important to learn about our traditions including religion by learning this very old language of India, which is about three thousand years old. This language is not spoken anywhere in india, except by Sanskrit scholars, but it is learnt as a classical language in which our oldest literaturwe like the Vedas and Upanishads exist. Many modern Indian languages are derived from it. India has about twenty major languages
each with its own script and grammer, and many more dialects. India is more like a sub-continent like Europe.The four South- Indian languages, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam are not derived from Sanskrit, but use a large number of Sanskrit words. The languages spoken in the north-eastern part of India, which is very mountainous , and borders China , belong to another family, and are so numerous, that English has been recognised as the official language of these states.
Why was this experiment done at the Mahila Seva Smaja, to reduce the number of years for the combined primary and middle school, from eight to six years? The reason given by the council of management is as follows. Those days, most girls were married around the age of twelve or thirteen years, preferably before puberty, all over India. The age of marriage in some North Indian states like Rajasthan was much lower, and this custom exists in rural areas of that region even today. This custom probably crept in hundreds of years ago, when the Muslim hordes from countries like Afghanistan and Iran invaded India to loot and plunder and carry away unmarried girls and convert them to Islam. So to prevent this, the custom crept in to marry the girls off as early as possible and keep them housebound. The women of North India suffered much more due to this custom.

A Note on The Portuguese:

The Portuguese, who were probably the earliest Europeans to come to India as traders, remained as traders for a long time. They were concentrated on the west coast seaports of Goa, Daman and Diu. They brought in the Inquisition to convert the local people to Roman Catholicism. Large number of people of these areas fled to other seaports like Mangalore, Cochin, Calicut and so on, which are also on the west coast of India, because they had strong faith in their own religions, Hindu or Muslim. However, those people who were converted by the Portuguese, were permitted to keep some of their old social customs like the caste system. Once they got converted they treated these converts fairly well and educated them. The better educated among them were employed by them in their government which ruled the surrounding areas according to Portuguese law. Actually, the Portuguese were the last of the Europeans to leave the shores of India in 1960 or so. These Portuguese converted Roman Catholic Christians still keep the Portuguese surnames like D'souza , D'costa, Noronha, Fernandez, Lasrado,Machado, Saldanha, and others. It is interesting to know that India's present minister of Defence is George Fernandez, whose wife has a Moslem father and a Hindu mother. He is certainly an example of national integration for India. And in the state of Rajasthan, cradle marrianges exist even today, though the present Hindu law has mandated the minimum ages for girls and boys to get married. Though the girls of South India were married at or around puberty, they were not always housebound, and could go out sometimes with their families. They never observed the custom of Purda (covering their faces) in front of men as the North Indian women did.

So the council of management, which was all women, decided that if a girl could at least finish her middle school education by the time she was twelve years old, she would have enough background knowledge to read and learn by herself, even if she were taken away from school after her marriage.

In fact, many of the girls whose formal education came to an end bymiddle school, read a lot literature in both Kannada and English, read the newspapers and magazines, and almost became scholars in their own right. My mother's cousins Chaluvakka, Lakshidevi, and Shankari were examples. Chaluvakka had read all the plays of Shakespeare in English and understood them so well, that she could help her daughter Padma to understand Shakespeare when Padma was studying for her master's degree in English literature at Mysore University. In fact, today Padma is a literary person, and has translated into English many important novels written by famous Kannada authors, and these are published by Penguin India Ltd.

To Chapter 6