Tracing the origin, one must say that Oak Grove School has deep roots in British Indian history. Strange as it may sound, the setting up of Oak Grove School can be a case study of the divide and rule policy, the British had initiated in India. It is also a case study of how the policy failed to divide the people; and how Britishers, Hindus and Muslims became part of the larger whole.
In the late 19th century, when British Indian Railways were spreading its network across the country, many Englishmen were involved in the effort. These English employees of Indian Railways, were part of the typical middle class of 19th century England.
Staying far away from their homeland, these Englishmen pointed towards the lack of British schools for their children in India. Their argument was that while they were prepared to work in India, they couldn’t afford to send their children all the way back to England just for studies. Even some of those who could financially afford to do so, didn’t want the children to be in England, while they worked in India.
To address the concerns of these Britishers, the Railways decided to have a school in India itself where the English education could provided, much to the satisfaction of the employees. Considering the torturous summer heat, Britishers had already set up what were known as hill stations in the early 19th century, when Marquess of Hastings was the Governor General. It was felt that area around one of these hill stations could be well suited for the proposed school, where the students and teachers, more used to the cool climes of Europe, could stay unhindered by weather-related hassles.
When the Britishers zeroed in on Jharipani, near Mussoorie, they noticed there was one glitch. Most inhabitants of the area were Garhwali Hindus. Memories of the revolt of 1857, were still fresh in the mid of the British. During this revolt across north India, Hindus and Muslims had fought side by side against the British. The general perception was to heed to the old Latin motto, Divide et Impera, or Divide and Rule, as proposed by Lord Elphinstone, the former governor of Bombay and Madras presidencies.
One of the cornerstones of this divide and rule policy was to not to have a single, cohesive group belonging to one religion or caste in a place of work or administration. To get around the glitch in Jharipani, it was decided to bring in Muslims from sleepy little town of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, to physically contribute in the establishment and running of the school.
Thus, many Hindu Garhwalis who worked as labourers in construction of the school in the 1870s, were later absorbed to do work of bearers and guards. Muslims from Shahjahanpur were taken in as tailors, khansamas (cooks), masalchis, carpenters and other types of skilled labourers. Britishers had a special liking for Muslim khansamas.
In this way, began a tradition, while Britishers studied and taught, Hindus and Muslims performed the non-teaching jobs. Gradually, the lines got blurred. A special, lovable bonhomie developed between the students, teachers and non-teaching employees. To this day, various entities mingle, without even once, a thought crossing one’s mind of origin and class.
After India’s independence, most Britishers left the country and school’s control was taken over by the Northern Railway. The school got Indianised. Not only did the Indians started teaching and studying in the school, many other changes were made. In the 1950s, Boys’ School Headmaster, the venerable Mr Edwards initiated the change of name of Houses from English personalities to Indians – Ashok, Patel, Shivaji, Tagore and Mirabai, Padmini and Sarojini.
Overall, memories have always been sweet. The distinctions which were there at the time of origin have faded. During Oak Grove’s centenary celebrations of 1988, when Britishers came back for the celebrations, various generations met, as long lost brothers and sisters. It was an occasion, which was to be seen to be believed.
More than a century later, several generations down the line, Oak Grovians of Jharipani have maintained contacts with their roots in Shahjahanpur, though many have bought houses and settled down in Dehradun.
Oak Grove has been an oasis of peace, love and camaredrie for ages. It is a unique case study in several ways, but it also reflects and represents the ethos of our country. During the morning assembly in Boys School, in 1980s, the then Head Master, Mr K. C. Kukreti used to call Oak Grove as Mini-India, in special context of the national cricket team, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, or vice versa. This Mini-India element is true in other aspects as well.
Hindus of Garhwal and elsewhere and Muslims of Shahjahanpur have lived as One entity in Oak Grove, ironically brought together by an imperial policy; sharing each other’s happiness and grief. Notwithstanding the political and social conflicts and upheavels in rest of the country and world, this rock-solid bond is expected to stay there forever. As Ruskin Bond would say,
“Our Trees Still Grow in Jharipani”.
– Sameer Mohindru.