Our schooling in New Delhi was continued by another Englishwoman called Miss Connolly who had a small school in her home on Barakhamba road. (The house still exists. It is JK House at the corner of Barakhamba and Hailey Roads.) We were enrolled in the school which had a few classes for older children, aged 7 to 12 years, in three rooms in her house. She had two other teachers who taught all subjects. We attended the school for the rest of the school year, and made some good friends. By the summer of 1942 with the heightened disturbances in the country Miss Connolly realized it was time to return home to England and informed the parents of her students that she was handing over the school to a new owner.
It would be fair to say that our schooling actually started in the year 1942 when Reverend J.D.Tytler, Chaplain of the Church of the Redemption, agreed to accept Miss Connolly’s students and start a school called the New Delhi Church High School in the grounds of the official church of the British government.
The New Delhi Church High school started with less than a hundred students but soon many students from other schools, particularly those who were enrolled in the Presentation Convent school in old Delhi, but lived in New Delhi, found the new school preferable. Rev. Tytler was a well known personality and his name attracted many parents and teachers.
James Douglas Tytler, a Scotsman, was a minister of the Anglican Church by profession, but was by nature cut out to be a British Public school headmaster. He had a love for teaching, and struck an instant rapport with young children. There was always a smile and twinkle in his eye as he greeted us every morning. He often joked with us, his sense of humour was always at the surface and the ease with which he spoke to students of all hues, was the hallmark of his personality. In later years he was known for his interest in sports and in dramatics, as he often acted on stage and later in a film called “Shakespearewallah” Many years later I met him in Udaipur where he was with the film crew, when he greeted me by name and inquired about my two sisters, “the three dis-graces” as he named us with a laugh.
He knew all his students by name, greeted them warmly, but was a very strict disciplinarian. Many a student remembers a stinging palm when his ruler whacked down on it in punishment for inadmissible behaviour.
Rev. Tytler and his school were always struggling to raise funds for a building, It seemed my parents were frequently meeting him with other parents, with complaints about shortcomings in classroom accommodations, lack of facilities, irregular school buses, and of course about the fees they were asked to pay!
We were a heterogeneous group of students. Some were children of bureaucrats in the Government and professionals and businessmen working in Delhi, a very few were from British families who had business interests in India, a significant number were Anglo-Indians who dominated the Post and Telegraphs Department and the Railways. They lived in the area behind Eastern Court in Atul Grove (which was pronounced as one word “Attlegrove”!) or from Railway quarters near the railway station. Our teachers too were either Indian Christian or Anglo-Indian, an exception being the “oldest” teacher, one whom Tytler hired first – Mr. Banerjee who taught us Hindi.
We were fortunate that four or five senior teachers from Presentation Convent joined the staff, and they made a great difference to the quality of classroom teaching and discipline in this diverse bunch of students. In the beginning the students were accommodated in the outer verandahs of the church, later tents were pitched in the spacious grounds and the strength of the school increased to about 350 boys and girls. There were two school buses, for north and south Delhi, but many of us bicycled to school.
The curriculum we followed was the Cambridge School certificate examination which was held every December. The Junior Cambridge was for class 8 and Senior Cambridge for class X. The papers were set in England and also evaluated there and the results declared by January. As the college academic year started in July after the summer vacation, all the Senior Cambridge students had a six month break between the end of their school in December and the college admission process in May.
The first Senior Cambridge class from the school passed out in December 1945 and enrolled in the Delhi university colleges in July 1946. My sister Kanaka was one of that batch of six students, five girls and one boy, who passed that examination.
The Church of Redemption in New Delhi, a Protestant Anglican church, was often called the Viceroy Church, because it was the official church of the British Government and it is arguably one of the loveliest churches in north India. Built in 1931 when the capital was under construction, it was designed by Henry Medd. Edwin Lutyens, the chief architect of the new capital was one of the members on the committee that planned its location. The Viceroy, Lord Irwin gave the design his approval. Built with pink and yellow sandstone it blended with the buildings of the newly built capital, and matched the buildings of the Central Secretariat and the Viceregal House. It is located to the west of Parliament House , and faces west towards the tree lined North Avenue which was then a broad road leading towards Connaught Place and Gole Post Office. (Today the green borders of the once- wide avenue have been taken over by houses for members of Parliament, –as is the case in South Avenue, on the other side of the secretariat complex which leads to the Commander-in-Chief’s residence – now known as Teen Murti House.)
The Church which was completed in 1935 is a high Gothic building crowned by a pink sandstone dome. Its square base has four porches at each corner. The main entrance faces west and as one walks up the aisle and looks up at the soaring arches and the grace of the altar at the far end, it invokes a quiet awe. The high ceiling keeps the church cool in the hot summer months, and at that time there were no cooling fans for the congregation.
As students we sat quietly on the polished wooden pews at morning Assembly. The hymn books in front of us taught us the words of some familiar hymns which we, the older students learnt to sing. Although this was a Christian house of worship, and the service was Christian, those of us who were Hindu or Muslim followed the protocol, respecting the ambiance, without feeling any resentment that we were subjected to a different religion or any covert attempt to convert us.
However, we were curious and asked many questions. This was even more so when a few of us took Scripture as a subject for our Cambridge examination because we were required to take seven subjects. In our school, largely in tents, we had no opportunity to take science – physics and chemistry – as our subjects, with no lab facilities. English language, Literature and Maths were stressed more, along with Geography, History and Hindi. Rev. Tytler taught us Scripture; the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles were part of the subject syllabus. He was a very interesting teacher, as he taught us the Bible as an absorbing historical narrative of the times. We were a small group of six or seven and the sessions were interactive. We learnt the Bible in an inter-disciplinary study of its history and geography. (Forty years later when I visited Israel and the Holy Land, I surprised the tour guide that I was familiar with the incidents and knew the Biblical history and geography of the region that I had learnt in school.) I remembered then with a smile and some pride, Rev. Tytler handing me the prize at the annual school function, saying with a wry smile “And this year again the Scripture prize goes to a non-Christian…!!”
We were outdoors for a large part of the day. Our music class and choral singing was under the trees, outside a tent inside which the teacher played on an upright piano. At a physiology class, one of the boys eyed a large grapefruit on the tree nearby and asked the teacher a simple question : “Why does my mouth water when I see that fruit?”
There was some tense excitement one day when our English teacher Mrs.Mina Nayak announced that Mr. Sethi, the Director Education was coming for an inspection of the school. She had kept our notebooks in a neat pile on her desk making sure that Kanaka’s essay on Wit and Humour, (which she had marked ‘Excellent’) was right on top. Mr. Sethi walked in, a tall bespectacled man with a slight stoop. The small class of twelve students stood up, scraping back their chairs, to wish him ‘Good Morning’. He looked over the rims of his glasses down his nose at the anxious faces, picked up the topmost notebook on the teacher’s desk, and noticed the essay on “Wit and Humour”
“What is the difference between Wit and Humour?” he asked, looking over his specs, inquiringly at the class. There was nervous fidgeting and no answer forthcoming, until Indira blurted out “Well, one day when Akbar and Birbal went for a walk….” Her attempt to “illustrate by example” was cut short by an abrupt remark from Mr. Sethi: “Sit down, I know that story.” Indira sat down, flustered and squelched.
He looked around at the class again, over his glasses down on his nose. He said, ”If I came running into this room, slipped on a banana peel and fell down. And you all laughed. Would that be Wit or Humour?”
Kanaka spoke up immediately with a cheeky remark, “That would be an accident, sir”
Mr. Sethi looked at her with a half-smile, and said, “That’s Wit” – then he turned around and walked out , as the class subsided into giggles.
* * * * * *
An excellent Maths teacher who we feared, but also considered slightly mad (not merely eccentric) was Miss Simpson, an Anglo-Indian older grey-haired woman, who never seemed to comb her hair, and who wore multiple dresses one over the other. We noticed the varying lengths of her skirts and decided she possessed, and wore, about five frocks, and every day of the week she peeled off one, before coming to school! She had an audible sniff as she drilled maths into our heads with great clarity and determination. But, she openly discriminated against girls, saying we were genetically useless at learning maths, and she reserved her praise for the boy students. When one of them gave a right answer to her question, she visibly brightened as she barked at him “Take an Extra Mark for That!” We all were commanded to come to the blackboard by turn to write, solve problems or draw diagrams to show that we had understood the lesson. We were all addressed by our surnames, but if that was too difficult to pronounce it was just “YOU there, come here!” (Sniff!) My surname got me into trouble on one occasion: I was inattentive, probably doodling away and not listening, when one of my classmates was drawing circles, diameters and radii on the blackboard. When she made a mistake in the formula, Miss Simpson said sharply “ Pi ! π “
Hearing my surname ‘Pai’ I shot up out of my chair and answered “Yes, Miss Simpson”
She was startled as was everyone else, then the class burst into laughter and Miss Simpson too could not hide her smile – with a sniff.
* * * * *
One morning in January 1946 the Principal announced that there would be a holiday the next day. We were surprised, because there was no official holiday that week to give us this welcome day off. We heard later that Joan Wavell, the daughter of the Viceroy Lord Wavell, was to be married in the church the next day. Four or five of us gathered to talk about this exciting news and wondered how we could possibly witness this romantic event. We knew there was no point in asking Rev. Tytler who would hardly be expected to give us permission to be there when the distinguished guests arrived. We talked to Hiralal, one of the two vergers whose duties involved taking care of the church and its ritual functions. Hiralal gave us the information about when the wedding was scheduled. We stayed back after school, four of us, to plan where we would stand (and not be visible), to see the bridal procession and the guests arrive. We slipped into the church to decide our plan of action and to our surprise we heard the beautiful strains of the organ. Having never heard a pipe organ before we were awestruck by the beauty of the music as it soared toward the high arches and filled the space with rich harmony. It was the church organist practicing for the next day’s function. As the music ended we climbed the narrow stairs to the organ loft where the organist sat – startled by our surprise appearance. We chatted with him asking him about the organ, how it worked and watched his fingers on three levels of keys and his feet on the pedals, as he continued to play for our benefit. In a small voice I asked him if we could come and watch him play for the wedding the next day. He looked at me for a long thoughtful moment. “IF you will promise to be absolutely quiet and stay out of sight,” he said, “otherwise I will be in trouble with Rev. Tytler” Delighted at his reply we solemnly promised to behave ourselves and scuttled down and cycled home with great excitement.
We left for school at the usual time the next morning, our parents unaware that it was a holiday. Hiralal and Nathaniel were too busy with the florists and the decorators to notice us. As we slipped into the church we saw the aisle and altar decorated with beautiful flowers and ribbons. The church was transformed with flowers and greenery. We reached the organ loft well before the organist arrived and looked down on the scene below, our chins resting on the polished teak balcony ledge. The shining pipes gleamed above us. Below, Hiralal and Nathaniel, unfamiliar in their white surplices, arranged the tall white candles on the altar, the lectern and book for the minister at the head of the aisle near the step where the bridal couple would take their vows.
The guests began to arrive, and we kneeled to peep over the edge of the loft, to stay out of sight, quiet as church mice! Most of the guests were British either in formal suits or military uniforms. The organ started playing as the pews filled up, the Viceroy’s household arrived last and sat in the front pew. Our excitement heightened as the organ played Lohengrin’s wedding march and the bride arrived on the arm of her father Lord Wavell, her long white train held by two bridesmaids. At the end of the aisle she was joined by her groom, an army officer in uniform. Rev. Tytler, impressive in his white robes, conducted the service. We stayed till the end when the newly wedded couple came out of the vestry to the triumphant march by Mendelssohn, our romantic hearts thrilled with this fairy tale wedding.
By 1946 Delhi was busy with political activity. The Constituent Assembly was elected and met in December that year. Hectic political activity brought to the capital personalities from all over the country elected to the assembly. The Muslim members boycotted the assembly demanding a separate constituent assembly. Among the Muslim politicians who lived in Delhi in 1946-47 were some well-known men but two names were known to us school students because their daughters attended school with us. Gen Iskander Mirza, who was Joint Defence Secretary in undivided India, brought his family to Delhi. While his son Humayun Mirza was sent to England to study, his three daughters, Zeenat, Fakhrie and Taj attended the Church school and traveled on the school bus with us. (Later he became President of Pakistan in 1956 and established military rule in that country in 1958,) Hasni-ara Haque, daughter of Azizul Haque (Muslim League, East Pakistan) was more conservative than the Mirza girls. Her parents refused to let her wear short skirts, which were our school uniform and insisted on her wearing long-sleeved kameez and salwars to school. She was a curiosity but did not seem to motivate the other girls to refuse to wear our drab grey and maroon school uniform!
These Muslim school friends spent a very short time in the school in late 1946 before the Mountbatten plan made Partition a reality that none of us had seriously thought about. So by the summer of 1947 many of our Muslim school friends had already left Delhi and, sad to say, we never heard of them later.
Rev. Tytler was disturbed by Partition for he had no desire to leave India give up his vocation as school headmaster. He resigned as Chaplain, and was separated from his wife Cynthia and children Ruth and Graeme who returned to England before the summer. The children were in any event going to school in Britain but were always home with their parents for vacations and we had got to know them only slightly.
He talked to us at Assembly one morning that with the birth of a new India the school would take on a new character and a new mission. He announced that he was negotiating for a plot of land where the school could move. He suggested that we think of a new name for the school. He announced with a smile that there would be a competition and a prize would be given for the chosen entry.
About six or seven entries were given to him and I was delighted when my suggestion “Naveen Bharat High school” was chosen along with my design of a school crest – a shield and a hand holding a flaming torch. I received the prize money of ten rupees and could hardly wait to rush home and inform my parents.
My choice of the name and school crest was implemented soon thereafter. By the end of 1947 in a letter I wrote to my mother in December (as my parents were in Moscow at that time), I mentioned that he had nearly finalised a location near the golf club. By 1948 a plot of land on Mathura Road had been allotted and Naveen Bharat School got a new identity, different from the Church school, as did its Principal who gave up the ministry. The tents were moved to the new location, and Mr. Tytler re-organised the school in its new home.
The management of the school was handed over to the newly formed Delhi Public School Society headed by a group of leading citizens of Delhi : This was the birth of Delhi Public School.
I had finished my senior Cambridge exam by then, but my younger sister Shanthi and her new friends who had moved to Delhi from the Punjab after Partition went to school in the new location on Mathura Road, where Delhi Public School was established.