The latest outburst and disgust expressed over changes in Oak Grove (2009), reminds one of protests in 1975-77 when Standard I and Standard II were abolished. Incidentally, those were also the years of Internal Emergency in India. The difference is that at the time it was the parents who were at the forefront, protesting and arguing that their wards are being deprived of timely education.

When my sister, Manisha, was to appear for the Standard I entrance test, it was abolished. Next year, when she tried for Standard II, the class also ceased to exist. So she only made it the third time around. Similarly, my sister Meenakshi and myself, first studied in a school only from Standard III, when we were eight years old. And of course, Oak Grove is the only school we studied in.

Now it is the school alumni which is feeling sad, disappointed and agitated, to say the least. This is understandable because our alma mater is part of our soul. The problem occurs only if the Establishment feels it is always right and doesn’t want to budge on its stand. If things are talked over, authorities are receptive, then changes can be made for the better.

It also reminds one of the 1973 Supreme Court case, Keshvananda Bharti Vs The State of Kerala, where a 13 Judge bench ruled that the basic structure of the constitution can never be changed, no matter how large the majority in Parliament. Later on, the apex court struck down part of the 39 th and 42 nd amendments to the Constitution on the grounds that they are against the basic structure.

Arguably, the maroon blazer/banner/crest/tie/pullover is part of the basic structure of the school, which shouldn’t be tinkered with. Basic structure is not about the architecture alone but about the spirit of a school, which includes its uniform, curriculum and diet. Just because Indian cricket team wears blue or Indian Railways has changed colour of wagons to blue doesn’t automatically qualify Oak Grove to change its colours. But yes, we did have and may be still have blue overcoats.

What happens to the nomination for being declared the World Heritage Site, if UNESCO learns that the school isn’t retaining its basic structure. As Nirad C. Chaudhuri said in his last book, “Three Horseman on a New Apocalypse”, three important strands of a culture are its dress, food and language. OG needs to preserve its culture. Of course it is a profitable venture to supply blue cloth in bulk and do tailoring of hundreds of blazers but it doesn’t necessarily enrich the school traditions.

A strong alumni can always help preserve traditions in co-ordination with the establishment. One has to think big and get the big thing done. As Greek poet Archilochus said in the seventh century BC,

A Fox knows many things but a Hedgehog knows one big thing.

This is not to say that changes have not been made in the past. There have been numerous changes, some can even be linked with religion but the motive was never questionable. This was particularly because the school had to undergo transition from the British to the post-independence period. Changes were made in this context.

As a result the crest, motto and tie had to be changed to bring them in line with the post 1947 period. The tie which was adopted in 1988 during the centenary, had all the three crests, used from time to time, imprinted on it. That tie was welcomed by almost everyone.

Even though the school motto, Tamso Ma Jyotir Gamaya is from an ancient Hindu text – Shanti Mantra of Brhadāranyaka Upanishad, which is one of the older or “primary” of the 108 Upanishads, but it is universally accepted and it doesn’t even occur to us ever that it is religious. It is just about what it means – From darkness to light !!

During the 1950s, Mr Edwards, one of the best headmasters, Boys’ School ever had, decided that the names of houses, until then after British personalities such as Kitchener need to be changed and brought in line with an independent India. So we now have Ashok, Patel, Shivaji and Tagore, Padmini, Sarojini and Mirabai. But as I said, all these changes had a context, so no one saw it as Hindu God Krishna’s devotee, Mirabai. The latest changes don’t have such valid context. I don’t even know, when exactly did the colour of school blazers change for the worse and why?

Some changes are just natural. They just happen, and it doesn’t even occur to us. Take the case of Service Hall, adjacent to the covered shed of Junior School. In the earliest years of the school, it was meant for the Sunday Church Service. Later it became multipurpose hall, where students sat for Board Examination of Standard X and XII, also doubling up as Badminton court and music classroom.

Many would just remember Service Hall as the venue where Lord Krishna’s birthday, Janamashtami was celebrated, one of the best organised festivals in Junior School. Later, when our Arts teacher and Badminton player, Mr Verma, suffered a stroke while playing in Service Hall and passed away, the Hall was simply named after him as Verma Memorial Hall.

With the passage of time Christian carols gave way to Bhajans. Everyday, during morning assembly in Junior School, we recited bhajans before the National Anthem. Remember, Hari Tum Haro…..and Hamko Man Ki Shakti Dena…… By the end, the pitch for Hari reaching a peak. Hariiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. But this was just a way of life, nobody thrust anything upon us. It was just natural, like breaking a coconut before starting something new in our everyday life. It was supposed to be auspicious rather than religious.

Even in 1992, when posters of freedom fighters were handed over to us, we didn’t go overboard. We got all of them framed from the IOW and put one each in all the seven classrooms of Boys’ School.

During the winter vacation, when the school used to be whitewashed, all group photographs were removed from the walls of the Boys’ School corridor. The tradition of placing them back on the walls in February was getting a little erratic. Some photographs were gathering dust in the junk room and frames had cracked. All these had been restored in 1992, thanks to the help from then IOW Mr Shrivastava. Many of the vintage trophies, which we found while cleaning, what was then known as the Geography Room had also been restored. Their use during inter house competitions was resumed.

If the school is doing extremely well in academics and sports, it is a matter of great pride but at the same time archives and traditions should also be preserved. There is no harm in linking donations and corpus and alumni-linked funding to this issue.

– Sameer Mohindru


This content has been reproduced from a blog posted by Sameer Mohindru on Oct 29, 2009. Here is the link to the original post.

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