Every great project begins with a dream. The dreamer becomes obsessed with his dream and pursues it relentlessly. He inspires his relatives and friends to join him in making his dream a reality. This book is about one such dreamer, Raghubir Singh and his dream of setting up an institution combining the best of the ancient Indian tradition with the needs of the future. He spent his entire life in the fulfillment of this dream which materialized into the Modern School.
Modern School was the response of a small group of far-sighted men and women to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for creating nationalist institutions. Lala Raghubir Singh, with his small group of friends and mentors, prominent among whom was Sardar Sobha Singh, made the blueprint of an institution where Indian children would receive an education comparable with the best in the world. They gave it a strong nationalistic base by introducing all ingredients which would make the children proud of being Indians. They devised a curriculum in which equal emphasis would be placed on academics, sports and extra-curricular activities to develop well-rounded individuals who would help in the reconstruction of post-colonial India.
This book is not just the history of Modern School. It is also about a new philosophy of education which was born out of the anguish of slavery and the desire for freedom. It is an unabashed account of men and women who were proud of being called idealists and dreamers. All the events of seventy-five years are encapsulated in this book, as seen through many different eyes and prisms. It draws upon archival materials, including a bunch of old letters and oral history recounted by many who had been with the original team. Then there are the contemporary accounts. Articles have been contributed by artists, poets, writers, businessmen, professionals –all of whom have gone through the Modern School mill. In addition, there are the teachers, past and present, who have seen the dream taking shape.
The book commemorates the Platinum Jubilee of its foundation, as Modern School moves on towards its first millenium.
I am glad to know that the Modern School, Delhi is celebrating its Platinum Jubilee this year.
For an educational institution to devote seventy-five years in the quest for learning is no mean achievement. Beginning with a small group of six students in 1920, it was established in the historic period of our freedom struggle and has grown over the years into one of the finest schools of our country.
The credit for its success lies in the vision and commitment of its founder, Lala Raghubir Singh. Its eventful history of seventy-five years is replete with creative and imaginative action for the cause of imparting education to the youth. Through a wide spectrum of activities, the School has rendered valuable service to the cause of education and made important contributions in widening the awareness of young students. In the pursuit of this enlightening task, this School has become a model of excellence to many others.
Its students, both past and present, have excelled in many walks of life and emerged as responsible citizens of our country. It is in schools that a sense of discipline, dedication and patriotism is nurtured. In keeping with the spirit and objectives of its creation, the Modern School has not only provided an atmosphere for academic and extra-curricular excellence but also imparted modern education to fulfil the needs of a ‘borderless world’.
In an age characterized by the relentless pursuit of materialism, it is necessary to orient teaching for the creation of better ‘human beings’ rather than ‘mental machines’. Our culture and heritage which are marked by humanism, tolerance and unity of mankind, provides a good function in making education socially relevant. It is imperative to have a balanced approach blending modernity with tradition.
I am confident that the School while celebrating its Platinum Jubilee and tracing its glorious past will further endeavour with redoubled vigour to enrich its contributions towards nation-building and international understanding.
The two of us who have edited this volume, share a common experience-Modern School. Khushwant Singh, the batch of 1920, among the first six students of Modern School. Syeda Saiyidain, one among four hundred students, who joined Modern thirty years later. The preparation of this book evoked in both of us, individually and together, memories of our school days. There was no tangible thing that featured in our common recollections. We did not even have the same school building. With the exception of one, Pandit K.D. Bhardwaj, we did not have any common teachers. But in certain other ways it seemed as if time had stood still in the years that spanned our respective terms in Modern School. We were to discover, during the weeks and months of editing A Dream Turns Seventy Five, that the spirit of the school has remained unchanged.
It was seventy-five years ago that a man called Sobha Singh, with little formal education himself, became a partner with his younger friend Raghubir Singh in the dream of building a school which would combine the traditional with the modern educational values. I, Khushwant, was his second son, who along with my older brother, Bhagwant was enrolled on the very first day. Father was one of the most liberal men not only of his own time but for all times. It was Sardar Sujan Singh, our grandfather, who was a tough nut. Once he came to a school function at which my brother and I, along with other kindergarten children, were playing sitars in the school orchestra. He was disgusted at seeing us engaged in such ‘feminine’ pursuits. But when he saw Miss Bose presiding over the function, he could not contain himself and told Papaji that he should have known better than to have expected any real grit from male children whose education was entrusted to a woman! My autobiography gives some candid glimpses into my school days.
I, Syeda, thirty-five years after leaving Modern, can unabashedly say that those were the happiest four years of my life. Prior to Modern, my schooling was a subject of continued controversy between my parents. My mother preferred to see me in convents where I would be educated under the strict discipline of the nuns. Not that I was a brat, but that was her strictly feudal outlook on education. My father, himself a distinguished educationist, wanted to see me in a liberal co-educational school, specially where academic and extra-curricular activities were given equal emphasis. I recall that when we lived in Bombay, I had to attend two schools to fulfil the requirements of both parents. I attended J.B. Petit School in the forenoon and Gamadhiya School in the afternoon. That proved too much for me and ultimately even for my parents.
When I was finally transferred to Modern School in the mid-fifties, I was still hurt from an incident which today would be called a communal encounter. I say still because it had been resolved for all practical purposes and a couple of years had passed. But it continued to hover over me and I could not get it out of my mind. I want to write about his incident here because it brought into my life a man who was to become my lifelong friend. His name is Khushwant Singh. This communal encounter may have had a crippling effect if it was not for Khushwant Singh and Modern School. It happened like this.
My family came to live in Delhi in 1951. Most of our relatives had migrated to Pakistan because our ancestral town of Panipat had been emptied of all Muslims, most of whom were safely transported by government order to the other side of the Indian border. My father, under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Zakir Husain, decided to stay back. We children were brought up in a gently devout Muslim household and within the most liberal and enlightened traditions of Islam. In Delhi we were provided accommodation in a mixed neighbourhood consisting of old residents and newcomers from West Punjab. I started playing in the park with the neighbourhood children. One day someone asked me the question which I had learnt to dread due to my secret reading of new literature born of the Partition trauma of writers and poets. A small girl asked, ‘What caste are you?’ So far I had successfully avoided the issue by concealing my name but now I was caught.
When the children discovered that I was a Muslim by ‘caste’ they said that no one would play with me. The humiliation of having to go home and relate this to my father still makes me wince. Meanwhile, the children’s grapevine sent the word around that a little Muslim girl was not to be played with. It was then that a Sikh neighbor came calling on us with his little daughter, and she became my one and only and best friend. Thus the tragedy was averted. But my father suggested that while the incident was still fresh, I write it up as a story for the children’s number of the magazine, Shankar’s Weekly. A young Argentinan artist, Brigitte Frankfurter, from Buenos Aires read my story which she found stirring. She took up her brush, illustrated it and sent it to me as a little book. The illustrations were so beautiful that the book was published by Rajkamal Prakashan. That was when I received my first ‘fan’ mail. The fan wrote that he had been ‘moved to tears’. Since he happened to live in the same block, my father and I went up to his door and rang the doorbell. I was painfully shy. That was my first encounter with Khushwant Singh. As I was to discover later, he had just completed his two volume History of the Sikhs and understood the spirit of all religions better than most people. I might add that forty-five years later I am still ringing his doorbell.
It was my first day at Modern School. My father had left me in the Principal’s office. Mr. Kapur took me by the hand to the morning assembly. There everyone knew one another from long association through Kindergarten and Junior schools. I stuck out-one who had dared to enter closed circles, a gawky newcomer in an out-of-uniform shalwar-kameez. The day seemed endless. Mr. Kapur, majestic in his black academic gown seemed omnipresent. I imagined him as my emotional anchor in the waves of blue uniforms which seemed to engulf me. The Social Hour was announced. Talent after talent flashed across the stage. I wanted to sink into the wooden floor of the gymnasium with growing awareness of my own awkwardness and some apprehension of Mr. Kapur’s canny reputation for singling out individuals.
Suddenly he was calling my name. I darted a look across the hall and met his eyes. They were at once bemused and filled with kindness-exuding strength. In a flash, I recalled seing a theatrical performance of Sir Geoffrey Kendal’s ‘Shakespeareana’ doing Merchant of Venice. Between the acts there was a filler, a popular song, ‘Where are you going my pretty maid?’ rendered by to players. I had been struck with the sauciness of the girl who acted the part of the cockney milkmaid. In a few seconds I was playing both roles, the maid and her beau, and taking my bows to a thunderous applause. Once again, I was intensely aware of Mr. Kapur’s unspoken shabaash.
It was his unbounded kindness and the healing ambience of Modern School, gathered into a few moments of performance at the gymnasium, that ultimately wiped the echo of the words ‘What is your caste?’ Recalling the lines spoken by Edgar in Shakespeare’s immortal tragedy, King Lear-
Men must abide their going hence
Even as their coming thither
Ripeness is all
I realized that in Modern School excellence was all. That was the creed of Lala Raghubir Singh and Mr. M.N. Kapur. Those four years gave me a sense of dignity and self worth. I never lost it despite the somewhat rough terrain of subsequent years and the general hardening of communal feelings all around the world, wherever I lived.
This volume which commemorates seventy-five years of Modern School is divided in two sections; we have called the first section The Inspiration, the second The Memory. In the first, we have explored the genesis of Modern School. Using the private archives of the Raghubir Singh family, we have tried to discover how the idea was born. Among the carefully preserved correspondence we found a valuable source-letters written by Sultan Singh to his son Raghubir. In them, the father discussed, advised and helped his son realise his dream of establishing a school. From Sultan Singh’s letters we were able to construct the likely replies of Raghubir Singh and the pieces of story started to fit. We also relied on oral history. Form members of the family we gathered pieces of precious history. We learnt that Sushila Sultan Singh was a pioneer of women’s education and her school for the purdah girls of the inner city still exists in Daryaganj. We gathered that Modern School Daryaganj was across the road from Dr. M.A. Ansari’s house which at the time of the school’s inception was the hub of political activities. Talking to the first batch of students, we discovered how the school spirit, which is what Modern is all about, was first engendered among the boys and girls. We found out that then, as now, the girls played all the games with the boys-football, cricket, hockey. Whether riding horses or climbing trees they were neck to neck in every activity.
We learnt that the first class of three who matriculated in 1928 called themselves “The Three Musketeers’. They were Bhagwant and Anant are at the top of the pyramid-at the apex of the Modernites who are now tens of thousands, spread over all parts of the world. Rajeshwar became a pilot and was killed in 1937 in an air crash. The first section thus features all those who spun the dream, the inspired men and women who made Modern School what it is today. From Sultan Singh, elegant gentleman and a great visionary, who owned almost all the property in Kashmiri Gate and shopped in Europe for his wardrobe, to C.F. Andrews, who could not even bring himself to owning a single decent set of clothes, they were bound together in a common pursuit. They all are represented in some fashion or another in the first section of the book.
Wedged between the two parts is a section ‘Time’s Winged Chariot’ the title of which is taken from a poem of Andrew Marvel. It covers the major events of the seventy-five years. This is not meant as a calendar of events, a catalogue of achievements or a listing of the dignitaries who visited Modern School. The editors have selected for inclusion, a few landmark events which have shaped the school. Certain criteria were used as the basis for inclusion but a subjective judgement could not entirely be avoided.
The second part is called ‘The Memory’. Drawing upon the experiences of a few Modernites, we have tried to construct a section which covers every aspect of the school. We have started with the oldest and ended with the youngest Modernite-from Bhagwant Singh who matriculated in 1928, to Alieda Ali Baig who will finish school in 1996. The two aspects of school life, the academic and the extra-curricular are the subjects of the various articles. How was the balance created between the two aspects? What was the relationship between the teachers and students? How did the girls feel as an overwhelming minority? What was the state of the fine and performing arts education? Art, music, dance, drama, all appear in multi-layered interpretations by people who today are renowned practitioners in the various fields, the seedlings of which were planted and nurtured in Modern School.
Himself an accomplished sportsman, specially swimming and boxing, Mr. Kapur wanted every student to play some sport and above all imbibe the sportsman’s spirit. The philosophy of sports, method of reward and punishment, education through travel, life in the hostel, House system, community service, all facets find a place in the second section. Finally, there are projections into the future in the form of visions for the Modern Schools-Barakhamba Road, Humayun Road, and Vasant Vihar in the 21st century. Perhaps some aspects merited a closer look and a detailed treatment but we were not always able to make people adhere to their promises of writing for us.
As for us, we have enjoyed working together on this book. It has given us an opportunity of renewing some old and cherished friendships. There is something so special about sharing school memories that we were able to recreate a bond with whomsoever we approached in this regard. As editors of this volume we would like to take this opportunity of thanking most warmly all those who responded so readily to our invitation to contribute to this special commemorative publication. We are grateful to all the people from whose recollections we constructed the oral history of the school. To the Raghubir Singh family we want to express our deep appreciation, especially General Virendra Singh, Ashok Pratap Singh and Anju Pratap Singh. We received invaluable help from Mrs. Amrita Kapur, and many excellent suggestions from Geeta Kapur. We are grateful to Mr. O.P. Sharma without whose generous sharing of his time and his sources this book could not have been produced. We are thankful to Allied Publishers, particularly Ravi Sachdeva. Our gratitude to Surojit Banerjee for his expert assistance with the publication.
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