Pradesh: Residential schools
through the night
Pradesh: Residential schools
Himachal Pradesh, with its cool environs and sylvan surroundings, is home to some of the best residential schools in the country. These schools boast of excellence in academics as well as sports and extra-curricular activities. In the first of a series, The Tribune turns the spotlight on 158-year-old Lawrence School, Sanawar.
SANAWAR conjures up the image of a picturesque school nestled in the hills, exuding old world charm and vibrating with life. Open playgrounds, colonial-style buildings for classrooms and a camaraderie among students that compares to none.
With the fragrance of pine trees wafting through the campus, Lawrence School, spread over 150 acres in Simla Hills near Kasauli, is now a historical landmark. It was founded in 1847 by Sir Henry and Lady Honoria Lawrence for orphan wards of British soldiers.
The school started with 14 boys and girls. Initially known as Lawrence Asylum, it metamorphosed into Lawrence Royal Military School in 1920 and Lawrence School, as we know it today, in 1949. It is also the first co-educational boarding school in the world. Today, the strength of its wards is 664. The ratio of boys to girls is 70:30. The teaching faculty comprises 80 members. The teacher-student ratio of 1:8 is perhaps the best in the country.
Interestingly, by 1853 the school had 195 wards when it was presented with the Kings’ Colours, one of only six schools and colleges ever to be so honoured in the entire British Empire. The others included Eton and Sandhurst.
Aiming to include the intellectual, moral and physical development of its students from Class V to XII towards preparation for college and life, this residential school boasts of its own shooting range, a solar heated indoor swimming pool, rain harvesting and recycling of bath water plant.
"We are in the process of working towards the concept of ‘smart classrooms’ that have computer and projection facilities. We have a lab of 100 computers. Inculcating discipline and moral values is high on our agenda besides the all-round development of the children," says Parveen Vashisth, Headmaster.
After the controversial tenure of the previous Headmaster things are again beginning to look up for the school and its students.
With a not-so-glorious last two years, the school is now back on the rails following the appointment of Vashisth, himself a passout from the school. Once again, the days are beginning to smile at Lawrence School, which is evident from the fact that the school authorities got an overwhelming response during the admission season this year. Contrary to this, last year, around the same time, the authorities had their hands full dealing with the mass exodus of staff and students.
Any day at Sanawar comes packed with a lot of punch — academics, activities, sports. In fact, the school is not about churning out large numbers into the world. It lays a lot of emphasis on the overall development of a child, creating an individual unique in his own right, yet belonging to the world, concerned about it and interested in making it a better place.
No wonder then, passouts from the school have made a mark for themselves in practically all fields of activity, be it politics, Bollywood, sports, the armed forces, the corporate world or public services.
They may be in any part of the world but they keep their Sanawar connection alive through the old students’ association of the school. Rao Inderjit Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, BJP leader Maneka Gandhi, Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla, actors Sanjay Dutt and Rahul Roy, NCP president Omar Abdullah, are a few of the passouts.
Every year, they meet on home
turf, their school, for a couple of days and walk down the memory lane,
reliving the pranks of childhood and the zest of youth, departing with the
promise to meet again. Lawrence School goes on. Another year rolls by.
Mission to stage
Nadira Babbar talks to Shveta Pathak about her passion for theatre during her recent visit to Ludhiana
IT is difficult to distract a person involved in an activity he likes. But distraction is not just difficult, it is next to impossible, when the involvement is passionate. This, one realises the moment one gets to meet theatre personality Nadira Babbar.
When Nadira is at work, little does she realise how seconds turn to minutes and minutes to hours, for it is only an extension of pleasure and not worktime. Nadira was in Ludhiana recently while conducting a theatre workshop for children. "I just love everything about theatre," she gushes.
Associated with theatre for the past more than 34 years, Nadira’s passion is also her mission, she is accomplishing along with her theatre group Ekjute.
"Theatre is the highest form of art, which not only entertains, it can carry a serious message and has the power of bringing in social changes, which is why it is extremely important to promote it. This is one medium where one enjoys the flexibility the medium offers in terms of diversity and that is what makes me passionate about it," she says.
Ekjute, which is more than 25 years old, has over 50 persons associated with it. The group has come out with plays like Yahudi Ki Ladki, Ballabhpur Ki Roopkatha, Sandhya Chaya, Court Martial, Baat Laat Ki Halaat Ki, Sakubai, Dayashankar Ki Diary and the recent Begum Jaan and Bharam Ke Bhoot. The group also has a script bank that stores more than a 1000 copies of scripts.
Unlike the notion of theatre being a medium generating little or no money, Nadira feels otherwise. "It all depends on how you work. Our group is generating revenues. One has to come out with good plays that people would like to see.Only then can one get sponsors. Even new groups can make money if they want to."
On how Ekjute survived even amid the dearth of funds and dwindling audience, Nadira says the motto was to continue working. "There was nothing called demotivation or stepping back. We continued and that is how we managed to reach where we are today," she reveals.
Theatre groups can involve in various activities to promote this art. Roping in corporate houses and schools would be an effective way, Nadira says.
But to move in the right direction, efforts need to be made at various levels, government and industry.
"Most places do not have good halls. Then there is a problem in carrying out publicity and attracting audience." She adds, "industry can easily provide such facilities. When we talk of social responsibilities, promoting art is also one of them."
While she feels art is neglected, she is not disheartened at the state of affairs. "There is always a room for improvement in everything we do. The good thing we have is the availability of artistes and willingness of the people to do theatre," she says.
About the plays close to her
heart and she says the ones she wrote herself Dayashankar Ki Diary, Sakku
Bai, Suman Aur Sana and Ji Jaisi Aapki Marzi are her favourites.
Nadira was recently in news for her performance in Gurinder Chadha’s Bride
India gets its first firewoman in Harshini Kanhekar, who graduates this month-end. Aparna Pallavi reports.
LIFTING and handling heavy equipment, performing strenuous drills for hours at a stretch, studying seemingly unconnected subjects like applied psychology and heavy vehicles, town planning and rescue techniques, paramedics and water supply, are all in a day’s work for Harshini Kanhekar, who will soon graduate as India’s first firewoman.
Three years ago, Kanhekar, 23, created history when she became the first female student to get admission in the fire engineering course at the National Fire Service College in Nagpur — the only institution of its kind in India.
"I did not know I was going to be the first and only female student when I applied for the course," she says candidly, "My parents got nervous when they found out."
Being the first woman in an all-male institution meant a lot of adjustment for everyone, she says. "When it came to the medical test, it was found that there was no existing criteria for women. So they just took my height and weight and checked me for colour-blindness."
Constant attention and wonder was part of her three-year stint in the institution. "Everyone, from fellow students to professors to visitors, was awed by the fact that there was a girl in the institution. People came to just look at me, or to tell me how proud they were of me."
This also meant she had a lot of expectations to live up to. "I was a guinea pig," she smiles. "Everyone looked at me and wondered, ‘can she?’" The then director of the college, Dr K. C. Wadhwa, even asked her if she felt she would be selected at the campus recruitment. "It was kind of awesome, and it inspired me to put in extra effort so that I did not disappoint anyone."
"But the good part," Kanhekar remarks, "was that my instructors scrupulously treated me exactly as they treated all other students. I was not spared any pains, not even the rigorous punishments that come with training. And on my part, I never asked for any relaxation. I have not been absent for a single day during the entire three-year course."
The strenuous drills that are part of all fire service courses were never much of a problem, says Kanhekar, who graduates by June end.
"It is a myth that women can’t take as much physical strain as men," she asserts, adding that she was an NCC cadet, and found that she was very good at the drills that are a part of the fire engineering course. "Every morning during the entire course we were required to practice our drills for 90 minutes, and I never felt that I was behind anyone. I was always right marker (the one who leads a squad) for my squad in all parades. Girls should not let themselves be intimidated into thinking that they cantake physical strain."
While she has enjoyed an excellent rapport with her batchmates in the course, Kanhekar candidly admits that being the only girl in an all-male institution is not that easy. Fire service courses are all residential, but since there had been no women in the course before, there was no women’s hostel in the campus.
Being a resident of Nagpur, Kanhekar was allowed to be a day scholar.
"I was the first student who was allowed this liberty. But staying at home had its drawbacks. While the other students were free to consult the instructors at all times, I had to make endless phone calls to get my doubts cleared. I also missed the advantage of group study."
Journey through the night
Nirupama Dutt reports on a couple who have made the theatre of resistance their life’s work
NEELIMA Sharma, who leads the Delhi-based street theatre group Nishant, has been part of the two worlds of theatre. She has acted in lavish productions of the elite stage as well as sung herself hoarse carrying forward the message in street plays along with her life partner, Shamsul Islam. Ask her how does she see herself and her place in the two worlds and Neelima’s reply is, "I am an actor and I feel I should be able to fit with ease in both worlds but I get greater satisfaction from doing street theatre and carrying a message to the people."
As for her husband, Shamsul Islam, it is street theatre all the way. Shamsul says, "I have been involved in left-wing politics and theatre for me has been an important vehicle for carrying the message to the masses." Nishant started its cultural journey in 1971 with the object of taking the dreams of justice and equality of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah, Chandrashekhar Azad, Udham Singh, Bibi Gulab Kaur and Ramprasad Bismil through songs and street plays to the common people.
People may or may not agree with the stylistic form of this theatre but no one has ever questioned their commitment. Shamsul says, "Ours is a theatre of resistance and we wish to carry the message fast to the people. The impact of our songs and plays is such that often we have had old people in tears blessing us."
Any social or political issue that goes against the common man or the secular image of India becomes the subject for play and in recent years Neelima and Shamsul have staged many plays against communalism. The two have even translated their ideology into their personal lives. Neelima was a student of Shamsul, who teaches political science at Satyawati College in Delhi. For the starry-eyed student, it was a case of ‘To Sir with love’ and she defied her family to make this inter-religious marriage.
"His family put no resistance. But I dare say if his sister or cousin had chosen to marry a Hindu boy, they may have raised objections." The two have come a long way since then with their daughter Shiri choosing not to carry a second name. When Shiri chose to marry a boy born in an Ismaili family settled in the US, parents happily supported her as well as relatives from both sides.
Neelima did her course in theatre from the Shri Ram Centre, Delhi, and is the only actor who worked for the National School of Drama (NSD) Repertory Company even though she had not studied at the NSD. Her memorable productions include Ghasiram Kotwal, Kavi Kahani, Qaid-e-Hayat, Sakharam Binder, Karmawali and Mitro Marjani.
As far as Nishant goes the keyword is idealism and the group has functioned regularly without taking grants or registering it as a society and falling into the familiar pattern of NGO funding. Shamsul says, "When Arudhati Roy picked out groups to distribute a share of her award money, Nishant was on the list. We were actually in panic on how to accept the money. Finally after much debate we accepted the Rs. one lakh and bought a video camera to make short films and continue with our struggle to reach out to the masses."
Nishant publishes low priced literature on issues relevant to the current cultural, social and political events in present day India and the world for circulation among its audiences. And now Nishant also has a series if audio and videos of its songs and plays. Some of their popular songs include ‘America ke aage nache Atal Bihari’ or ‘Bharat ne chhoda hai Bam, Bam ko salam karo.’ The tunes are taken from popular jagrata songs or film numbers.
Having witnessed a number of Nishant
plays and protests, one can say that they always succeed in inspiring
the audience and instilling hope for a better morrow. This theatre couple
journeys through night but with the conviction that is to be found in the
now-forgotten IPTA slogans ‘Har Zor zulm ki takkar mein sangharsh
hamara nara hai’ (Our slogan for the fight against injustice is