Transcending Language Barriers
CHENNAI: A 73-year-old institution, tucked into a narrow lane under the Royapettah flyover, Kesari Higher Secondary School has made a special contribution to the field of education. The school has produced students who have gone on to become a Supreme Court judge, an RBI governor and stars in the Telugu film industry.
More than 13 years before the State of Andhra Pradesh was carved from the Madras Presidency, the Telugu speaking populace in Chennai realised the need to start a school specifically for children of their community. An elementary school was started in 1940s, but it soon faced a fund crunch. This was when K N Kesari, a famous Ayurveda physician and a rich man from Ongole, stepped in with funds and took over the school. “He had a house with a big garden at Basavangudi in Bengaluru which was sold, and the funds were used to set up this school,” reminisces his grandson K Radhakrishnan. Radhakrishnan is the vice-president of the school’s governing body and the father of famous Carnatic singer P Unnikrishnan. Kesari wanted the school to cater to the economically under-privileged students in the city, who had no access to primary education. “Till this date, we are following his vision,” Radhakrishnan says.
The 100-year-old building known as Palmgrove, houses a part of the school. It was the palatial residence of eminent lawyer S Doraiswamy, recounts historian Sriram V in his blog. Kesari had bought it from him for `70,000. “In addition, he donated `50,000 for the school and in 1947, he announced another sum of `1 lakh to be held by the trustees of the school,” notes the school diary. A walk into the principal’s office, which has a high ceiling, is enough to remind one of the old-time architecture of the building.
The governing body of the school comprises alumni like advocate KSV Prasad, K Hariprasad Reddy and Dr M Sudhakar, the son of famous vocalist M Balamuralikrishna.
“Nine of the 13 members of the governing body are alumni,” Prasad said.
In the 60s and 70s, the school had students who were children of Telugu film industry stars, as the entire South Indian film industry was headquartered at Chennai. Palagummi Seetha, an alumnus of the school, who is now the programming head of Gemini TV, remembers how the school used to have baseball as a sport. “We had baseball bats and balls as well. I don’t think any other school at that time had baseball as a sport,” said Seetha, who studied there in the late 60s. Another key feature of the school was its focus on languages, apart from Telugu and Tamil. “We had a wonderful Hindi teacher who bought Hindi novels for us. At that time, we would listen to Hindi songs on the radio and note down words that we didn’t understand. The teacher would then explain the meaning,” Seetha said. In the 90s, when the Telugu film industry moved out of Chennai and privatisation of schools kicked in, the school began to lose out, say its former students and board members.
Being a Telugu linguistic minority government aided school also didn’t help as it faced procedural issues. Today, it has 547 students, including 87 in the Telugu medium, and most of the students belong to the economically underprivileged sections.
- Supreme Court Justice M Jagannadha Rao, who was later the Law Commission Chairman
- Former RBI governor Y Venugopal Reddy
- Mullapudi Venkatramana, Telugu film story-writer and producer
- Children of vocalists PB Srinivas and M Balamuralikrishna
- Telugu music directors Raj-Koti
- Actress Rajashree of Kadhalikka Neramillai fame