Saturday, February 12, 2011

khushwant singh on modern school in new delhi

khushwant Singh » Modern school

Modern school
By Khushwant Singh

Delhi’s Modern School recently celebrated its 90th birthday.

I am perhaps its oldest living product — so old that the celebration committee was not aware I was still around. I would like to tell you about its birth and early development. It is the child of a well-known Jain family which owned a lot of real estate in the walled city Shahjehanabad — including a large mansion along the Mughal wall in Daryaganj facing the house of the Congress leader M A Ansari. The patriarch of the family Rai Bahadur Lala Sultan Singh Jain had one son Raghubir Singh who was a nationalist and wanted to raise children with patriotic ideas. My father Sobha Singh was a friend of Sultan Singh. So he persuaded my father to lend a hand in his venture and made him president of the governing body.

Modern School was truly modern in every sense. It was the first co-educational school in the city with as many women teachers as men. The first principal was a Bengali Christian Kamla Bose. She brought two of her nieces to join the staff. It started off with about 30 students, three of them were girls — one Kaval Malik was later to be my wife. We were the first modernite couple. Besides the normal curricula Modern School also introduced painting (with the eminent Bengali artist Sarda Ukil), music, carpentry, scouting and military drill under an English sergeant. At the same time Raghubir Singh invited national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu to address the students. Altogether it was way ahead of the times which the older generation found unacceptable. One of them was my grandfather Sujan Singh after whom Sujan Singh Park is named. He preferred living in Punjab where he owned a lot of land and factories.

He happened to be in Delhi on the third or fourth anniversary of the school’s founders day celebrations. My father took him along to see how his grandsons were doing. He was shocked to see so many women teachers. He called us brothers ‘rann mureed’ — disciples of low class women. He was more enraged to see us playing ragas on the Esraj. Back home he berated my father: “You want your sons to become ‘mirasi’ beggars playing Sarandas? he asked. In any event he called his grandsons ‘bharooas’ —pimps, no doubt affectionately.