THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Janardhanan Nair, in crisp whites, did not hunch like a 94-year-old. He is perhaps the oldest alumnus of Attakulangara Government Central High School. Standing upright, he declared, “Do not mistake this for a small school. It is an old school, in which I studied. And I wish that it should stay here forever. It should be treated like an ancient temple.”
He, along with S E Perumal and Sukumaran Nair, former students of the school, were invited by the alumni association to distribute Onam kits among school children.
Janardhanan Nair studied at the school from 1936 to 1939 and Perumal from 1937 to 1940. Travancore was still a princely state, then. Both remember how their drill master would make them stand in neat rows to greet the king, Sri Chithira Thirunal, every morning. “The king would pass by the school on his way to Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple. Seeing us his Rolls Royce would slow down. We would bow and touch the ground,” says Janardhanan Nair.
“When Pattom Thanu Pillai was elected as the Chief Minister, all Malayalam schools became English schools. I believe this was the only Malayalam school for higher classes, that is class 8 and 9,” says Janardhanan Nair. Perumal confirms it, “Someone who studied Malayalam till class 9 from here was equivalent to a Malayalam ‘vidwan’ (scholar). For us, English was an optional subject. So was Agriculture.”
Sukumaran Nair studied at the school from 1956 to 1959. “In 1957 or 1958, there was a time when the school gates were closed. Because, outside, there was a tidal wave of people protesting against the death of Pauli, who was killed in Valiyathura,” he recalls.
Janardhanan Nair says, “There was no political unions in schools. However, we had our political beliefs. If we wore ‘khadar’, we would be questioned by the school authorities. I still have my ‘khadar jubba’ from those days. After I passed out, a union called Students’ Federation (SF) was formed. C M Stephen was one of its early leaders. SF was the predecessor of the modern SFI.”
They sound like war veterans oft accused of bragging imagined history. Their eyes survey the school for proof of their claims. Janardhanan Nair says, “Is the board calling it a ‘native school’ still there?” Some respond with a yes. With triumph he continues, “The school’s facade was a two-storey building. It was brought down and that portion is where the bus stand is now.”
Janardhanan Nair wonders, “Was Ulloor really a teacher at the school? He had come for our anniversary function.” The old man is then taken to the old building which bears the title ‘The Native High School 1889’. They cross rolls of dust and cobweb, to discover Ulloor’s painting on the wall. The painting as well as the building which witnessed the change from Travancore to Thiruvananthapuram stands neglected.