An 80-year old college magazine takes Manu Remakant to a dark cranny in the life and history of Travancore.
The assembly begins after the prayer in Women’s College, Travancore. Miss. Carrapiett, the former Principal welcomes the new students. Hundreds of girls stand in line in rapt attention as she introduces the incumbent Principal, Miss. FE Grose.
This is 1st of July, 1929. The college has reopened today after the summer vacation.
Libraries sometimes soar like flights. They take us to unchartered territories of the world; bathe us in emotions; enlighten us with experiences; startle us with spectacles; but the one I took, dropped me gently into a dark cranny in history – a small virgin spot in the heart of our city.
I turned the page to know what else happened on that July, 80 summers ago.
It was by sheer accident that I stumbled across two campus magazines tucked in a remote shelf in the Sree Chithira Thirunal library, Vanchiyoor. Two old campus magazines – one born on a misty winter morning in 1925 and the other on February 1930 – age like wine in the top storey of an ancient library in the city.
You cannot touch anything 80 year old without trepidation and reverence.
The rough cover grated on my fingers as I tried to feel it. It had a faded photograph of the college. The wafer thin paper was caked with a film of dust. The cover gave in with a crackle, as I turned the page. The brittle yellow pages were stiff; a tiny press could crack them into little pieces. Hark, you could hear snow-haired women speaking huskily through a century.
The general assembly at which the former Principal Miss. Carrapiett gave way to Miss. FE Rose is etched in detail.
New teachers were introduced: Miss LCM Ouwerkerk BA (Cantab.) History and Dr. H Subramaniya Iyer. The magazine committee is happy to see Miss. E Gomez as Assistant Professor in English, but regrets the transfer of Malayalam pandit, Mr. CP Parameswaran Pillai to Science College (University College).
There was light refreshment after the assembly, the magazine says.
The editorial proudly waxes about the new buildings in the campus. “A few of the rooms are remarkable; its spaciousness is a source of delight and pride. The India Music Hall will be completed shortly.”
The campus hummed with activities of myriad sorts, the magazines vouched.
July 24, 1929: Clubs were formed.
Malloor Govinda Pillai attended the session organised by the Debate Club. The point of contention was ‘Knowledge is an end in itself’ proposed by Sry. R Sarada Amma of Class IV. Miss Anpammal Daniel threw her weight behind her team opposing the proposal. After a long discussion the motion was thrown out. Knowledge doesn’t end in itself.
Elsewhere in the campus, the age-old battle between Poetry and Prose was raging on in the Malayalam debate session. Poetry romped home victorious.
Girls fought outside the class rooms also. It was ‘warfare’ in the campus when the BA students challenged those of Intermediate in Basketball. The latter emerged successful. Another match was rained off. The seniors were sad at the lost opportunity as they were miles ahead, when the heavens opened.
But ask the juniors; they had a different story, says the magazine.
See. A play of light and shade could be seen through the open window of another classroom as a scholar was using lantern slides to illustrate his point. But Dr. Subramaniya Iyer’s talk on celestial bodies came to an abrupt end as another celestial body – the sun- had set and shadows began to drip like ink from the giant trees inside the campus.
The Science Club decided to postpone the session. Another day, another time.
K Priyamvada – President
AK Devaki Amma – Secretary
TP Bhargavi Amma – Treasurer
The union had to work for the welfare of the rest of the inmates – M Ammini Amma and Miss. Nancy Gabriel. Period.
4th December, 1929: A special meeting of the union was summoned to celebrate the birthday of Her Highness the Maharani Regent. “The items were welcome song, tableaus, toast to her highness and a boat song. This was followed by ‘a living cinema’ entitled ‘Some Scenes from Hostel Life.’”
The magazine lavishes praise on Her Highness Maharani Regent for the benign measures she took for the upliftment of women. She gave a “hitherto forbidden” gift to womanhood in the form of a few landmark appointments: Sy. GR Thankamma in the Secretariat, P Chellamma in the Revenue department, V Ammukkutty and Miss. Hebzeba in the High Court.
The name of Travancore had spread far and wide.
A travelogue, ‘Northward Ho!’ narrates an incident when the students visited Calcutta which “looks like a fairyland lit up by electric lights!” The team visited the famous Science institute of JC Bose. “What a warm welcome we were accorded by the great scientist when he was told we were Travancorians!”
“You came from the happy land of Travancore!” he said.
Travancore, he had heard, was the only state in India where women enjoy a high place, legally, socially and economically. It stood first place in the “race for literacy” in the country. “‘The women of Travancore are really advanced,’ he tells us with a hearty shake of his head and a beaming smile.”
The girls looked at one another proudly.
In yet another article, a student ponders about spending Rs. 5/- she got as a prize for winning a Crossword Championship. What to do with the money? Buy a box of chocolates? Ribbons? Slides? Kerchiefs?
At last she decided to buy a “voila frock” from Chalai. Her father would pick her at East Fort if she reached there on time by the “Town Service”. That was the condition.
Pretty white trams went up and down the road frequently, but the girl had never traveled in one. She was excited in the morning and was seen mumbling to herself, “East Fort, East Fort…” even while she brushed, so that she wouldn’t forget her destination. In the background, the song, “Constantinople…” was wafting up from a gramophone. The haze of half-sleep, the song, her mind wandered for a moment but rushed back with alarm to the name she was repeating a few minutes before.
West Fort. No, South Fort. Or West Court? East Court… er…ehm…
She began to sweat profusely. She had forgotten the name of the place where her father was waiting.
“One High Court,” she told the puzzled conductor. All the passengers including the driver turned to look at the young girl who wanted to go to the High Court. The article doesn’t mention whether the poor girl could finally buy her “voila frock” or not.
There were the girls, the campus, and a place called Travancore.
Sad to say, most of the girls mentioned in the magazines have left us. Sometimes, a few –hundred-year old muthassis — might be lumbering on in some remote corners in the city with frail minds struggling to piece together the broken shards of a vibrant past into at least one complete piece of memory.
Touch a page.
You will loosen yourself from your moorings, drift away bit by bit and wake up in a virgin island. The brittle yellow pages tug at your heartstrings, buffing you with the spirit of a weird and wonderful age.
Touch a page.
There is the basket ball court. Girls of History and Science have lined up facing each other. The whistle is blown. The showdown begins.
Which side are you on?