I did all my schooling in India at this school. It is located in Adyar, Madras right next to the Theosophical Society. A fitting neighbor I suppose, considering that the school is named after a religious leader (Sankaracharya).
The main thing I liked about the school was that it was hassle-free. I could do pretty much what I wanted (within reasonable limits), and as long as I kept up to the academic standards, I was okay.
At the time I was there, the principal was Mr. T. R. Meenakshi Sundaram, a man that was loved by practically all. He had been with the school for many many years (which means I don't know how many). He left just as I was entering 11th grade.
Meenakshi Sundaram has done a lot for the school. I believe when he started as the principal, there were only 20 students in the entire school. By the time he left, there were more than 2,000. Somewhere around 1986, the school's name was changed from Sri Sankara Higher Secondary School, to its current name. I believe it had something to do with 11th and 12th grade, but I could be wrong.
Nostalgia Trip - The following is a fond remembrance of the school premises and atmosphere, largely colored by my memory.
There were two buses that would transport students to school, if they chose. They were called "5750" and "501", after the digits on their license plates (MSR 5750, and MSN 501, thanks to B. Karthikeyan of the class of 1994. Those were so old, the license plate letter M identified them as being registered in Madras state). I guess those buses were replaced later, but those of you who remember know what I'm talking about. They were rickety old buses. They were also used to transport students to other schools, when there were any contests that a significant number of students were participating in. There were also two Matador vans that the school contracted from a local guy to bring students to school, and drop them home.
The school is at 9 Vasantha Press Road, Adyar. The street is named after the Vasantha Press, that used to function out of the school's current premises. The old buildings used to still be there until they were demolished in the late 1990s. The main building (which used to be there when one entered) had a sign as part of the building structure in cement that read: "Vasantha Press, 1908". It's a pity that such an old building had to be demolished. That building had the school office, the Principal's office, and the staff room. All the faculty fit into one half of the floor. At the beginning of the year, there would be a Ganapathi Homam, at which time, the staff area would be cleared of all faculty desks, and the ceremony would take place right there. I remember mostly the amount of smoke from the agni, and scrambling outside to collect my shoes, and gasp for air.
Upstairs in the building, were some classrooms and another staff room where the rest of the faculty were seated. Off one side of the corridor that led to some of the classes (from the Kedros block) was a wooden staircase that led to the roof. Noone was ever allowed on those stairs except the peons.
To the right of that building used to be the Press Room of the original Vasantha Press. It was first used as the Science lab, and later, the library. That was also shifted when a new block was built, but the building was still called the "Old Library", and some classes would be held there. If one looked at the ceiling, one could see big steel beams holding the structure, and they were imprinted with the words "Birmingham Steel Factory". There were big holes in the ground, about 9" by 9", where the presses used to be bolted to the floor.
To the left of the main building was a stage. It was about 5 feet tall, and made of cement. The school's Annual Day Celebrations used to be held on this stage, with the crowd seated in the grounds. The stage was demolished at the time the T.A.R. block was being constructed. It turned out to be filled with sand, which was then used to mix the cement for the new block. The Annual Day celebrations moved to the new Thiruvanmiyur Sankara Vidyashram, another branch which was operated under the State Educational Board's syllabus. After a few years, they were moved to the Mylapore Fine Arts auditorium on Oliver Road in Mylapore.
Behind the main building was the Kedros block. It was built as an annex to the main building and was connected to its structure. If I remember correctly, it was opened by the then Defense Minister, R. Venkataraman who was a schoolmate of the principal, T. R. Meenakshi Sundaram. This building had three floors of classrooms. It actually, only had two at first, and a third was added in the mid 1980s. The first classroom on the left, on the ground floor was the first library, when I came to the school in 1985. Since me and my brothers were at school at 8:40AM even though it only started at 9:30AM at the time, the library was our refuge, and the three of us would sit and read until the bell rang for school. That habit died within the year, and the library also moved to the Press Room.
When I was in 8th grade my classroom was the last class on the top floor. All classes started 5 minutes late. Eventually, I think another floor was added to accomodate the growing student population.
There was a small room in the left corner of the Kedros block where the P.T. teacher, V. Krishnamurthy had his office, and all the equipment. That was moved eventually into another room in the Kedros block, the one nearest to the new Madhuram Narayanan Block.
The classes on the lower level were all the kindergartens. They had the nicest teachers (one of whom, Mrs. Saraswathi, was my mother's classmate!), and tiny little chairs in the classes. They also had their own little playground with a jungle gym, and a slide which was a safety hazard.
Between the Press Room, and the Kedros block, a row of huts was built as temporary classrooms. It partially blocked the playground. They were built some time in 1986 and came down soon after. Before the huts were built, we used to have an evening assembly prayer (for which few people remembered the words) in that area. The only people that still have that prayer are the students in 11th and 12th grade who are taking Sanskrit, because their teacher, N. Panchapakesan, is a stickler for this sort of thing.
Also in that space was a neem tree. It is smaller than the one in the main ground. It had a cement platform around its base where the music teacher would sit, and teach during CCA period (Co-curricular activities which for some reason, was always music). One thing notable about that neem tree was that it was totally bereft of leaves on the branches that bordered the first floor (second, for those of you in the US). Students had a nasty habit of stripping those leaves off, and either throwing them down, or eating them, which left a nasty expression on their faces the rest of the day.
There was some space between the main building and the gate. In 1985 when I came to the school, there were few enough students that we could assemble in that space for a morning prayer. These prayers soon moved to the main playground after the student body expanded enough.
At that time, there was also a row of huts on the left when one entered. These were also demolished soon. They had cement and brick walls and floors, but the ceilings were thatched. Rainy seasons were interesting. That was my first classroom in 3rd grade. I was also a few classes down in 4th grade before we were moved to a dark class in the main building. The place was vacant for a while, until in the early 1990s, a new block was constructed in that space, and named after Mr. T. R. Meenakshi Sundaram's late father, T.A.R. The new building has classrooms, and a new computer lab.
The main playground was essentially just the space left. There was a huge neem tree smack in the middle which lent a little shade from the scorching sun. Sometimes, we had Tamil classes under that tree when our teacher, the late Mrs. Dhanam felt the need for a traditional class. Occasionally, music classes were also taught there.
There was another strange pair of trees near the main building on the playground. One was a coconut tree, and the other was called a peepul tree (I have no idea what that is). They had grown together, and the coconut tree had twisted around the other in its search for light as the two grew. At the time the main building was demolished, one of the trees was cut down.
To the far left was the basketball court. It was cement, and rendered any new basketball smooth as a bald head within 3 months. There were two baskets on either end. One of them was broken completely when one of the buses backed into it. Most of us were surprised that it wasn't the bus that was broken down. Eventually, some of the boy scouts took to it under the able direction of the P.T. teacher, V. Krishnamurthy, and flattened it completely. The other basket was okay (no net though) until the bus backed into it as well. This time, they heard it early enough, so the backboard was the only thing that was damaged. It bent down at an angle low enough that I could slam dunk when I was in 10th grade and not very tall. Not many people played basketball. The craze started and stopped with the class of 1991. Then, again started with the class of 1994 and 1995. I don't know if anyone played after that.
A most important part of the basketball court was a tamarind tree that grew off the corner of the court. After school, there used to be a small crowd of students throwing rocks up at the tree to bring down some of its sour fruit. During play, of course, it made for a rather restricted play outside the "D".
Right next to the court used to be the spot where our cricket matches would be held during P.T. period. Of course, since the wicket was drawn onto either a wall, or the base of the post that supported the backboard of the basketball court, you could only hit in front of you. There was little need for a wicket-keeper. In addition, since we were so close to the wall on the off-side (for a right-handed batsman), proper play needed batsmen with a strong leg-side stroke. Fours and Sixes came easy. Special credits for hitting the ball outside school premises. I believe there have been occasions when the ball went into the premises of the Theosophical Society across the street.
Across the playground from the T.A.R. block was built the Diamond Jubilee block. It was opened by the then Vice-president R. Venkataraman. It housed the new science labs, one for each Physics, Chemistry and Biology. After it was built, morning assembly moved to the main playground. The principal would give his morning address standing on the steps of the lab with a microphone hooked up to the aging sound setup, complete with cone speaker, engineered by either Ravi, or Kandasami, the peons who were in charge of it. These fine pieces of equipment were stored in the Physics lab, for some reason.
Eventually, classrooms were built on to what used to be the roof of that building. It was structurally linked to the Kedros block. The 4-foot wall that tried to stop students from getting on to the roof of the labs was broken down to provide the entrance to these classes.
Some time in the late 1980s, a new block was built to the right of the Press Room. It was two floors, and was called the "Madhuram Narayanan Block". The letters which were made of Styrofome quickly deteriorated to a nonsensical phrase. I don't know if the sign has been replaced. That block was opened by the then President, R. Venkataraman. The block had six classrooms, and two staff rooms. The one downstairs initially had all the male faculty members (3 at the time). When the T.A.R. block was opened, they moved there, and two more male faculty had joined as well. If I remember correctly, another staff room has been added off to the side of this building.
One of the most important parts of my memories was the bathrooms. They were located beyond the T.A.R. block, right behind the basketball court. They were good old-fashioned (read non-working) bathrooms, with a smell enough to bring tears to your eyes. They were cleaned about once a day, but nothing could remove the stench. There were times when students couldn't keep a straight face in class because of the smell, at the time the row of classrooms next to the bathroom were thatched huts.
Running behind the T.A.R. block up to the bathrooms was the bicycle stand. It wasn't a real stand, but that's where everyone parked their bicycles. They were packed as close as possible. That way, if one tipped over, there was too much weight to push, so none of the others would fall. Actually, it had more to do with cramming as many cycles into the space, but this was a nice side-effect. People would try to park their bicycles as far away from the bathroom as possible, not only to avoid the smell, but also to avoid the dreaded run-off problem.
An advantage to parking near the bathrooms was that the sand embankment against which the wall to the outside rested, was much higher. This meant that you could actually walk over the wall (without getting your hands covered in moss, or leeches) carrying your bicycle if needs be. The watchman always looked up and down the street to make sure nobody played truant using this escape route. They also objected when people took that as a shortcut after school had finished for the day, to avoid the rush at the front gate.
Towards the end of the academic year, the peons who supervised the bicycle-parking would start requesting tips. The fancier the bicycle was, the more was expected. My brothers and I had it worse off because it was a known fact that we were from the US, and all of us had held some executive post or the other, and the peons had a nasty habit of calling us, especially Mony, "President" and demanding more than the usual tip. The practice of asking for tips continued onto other areas as well, such as waiting to meet the principal. Bribing the peon would get one in faster. A similar queue-jump occurred for getting end-of-year paperwork done.
One of the impacts of being located on Vasantha Press road was rain days. The entire road sloped down to the school, and sloped back up past the school. This made a sort of bowl that attracted all the rain water that happened to fall in Adyar. When it rained hard, the school would be flooded, especially the kindergarten classrooms. At the time there were thatched huts, the ceilings would leak. Then of course, there were the bathrooms. Nobody wants to imagine the area around the bathrooms when it rains. We got a few days off during the year when it rained. Decisions were rather arbitrary, and the school's telephone would be busy all the time when it rained, jammed by parents anxious to see if they had to send their children to school.
Student Activities (Past) - One of the biggest things to happen to student activities at Sankara was the formation of the Interact Club. It was originally conceived as a school chapter of the Rotary club of Madras. However, the first president of the Interact club, Venkatasubramony (a.k.a. Mony), managed to talk his way with Mr. Meenakshi Sundaram into making it a cross between the Interact club it was supposed to be, and the student council. There was an entire cabinet under him, and they organized many things for the students. Two things come to mind immediately - Extra-curricular activities such as debates, and elocution contests were organized occasionally for the students. The other was Lunch Duty. Student volunteers were given jurisdiction over a part of the premises where they would patrol, and make sure that people cleaned up after themselves at lunch time. It had a major impact on the level of squished rice in the hallways where most students would sit down for lunch.
The Interact club did not survive more than 2 years after Mony left. But in its stead, when Santhanam took over as Principal, were special interest clubs. He set up clubs for Science, Mathematics, Geography, Nature, Music etc. The clubs had weekly activities. There were faculty advisors, and each club had its own executive positions. There were exhibitions of the clubs' achievements at the end of the year.
In 1995, Santhanam removed the posts of President and Vice-president of the clubs, and made the highest student-position that of Secretary. This was because most of the executive members were in 12th grade, and he wanted them to concentrate more on their academics than on club activities. Around the same time, students in 10th and 12th grade were given lower priority for participating in inter-school and intra-mural cultural activities.
The present - In 1994, T. R. Meenakshi Sundaram retired, and was replaced by Mr. S. R. Santhanam, who was the principal of Gil Adarsh before. He resigned after 3 years, and was replaced by Mrs. Rama Swaminathan, the former principal of the Annex school, in Raja Annamalai Puram who is still in that office.
The main building was demolished. The Press Room was demolished. The school now has a large playground, the T.A.R. block, the Madhuram Narayanan Block, the Kedros Block, and the Diamond Jubilee block.
The academic standards there remain as high as ever. The only change I noticed, was that over the years, the student population has become slightly more diverse. It still has a predominantly Brahmin population, but that is more by incident than by intention. It still has a reputation of being an "Iyer" school.
Mr. N. Panchapakesan, the Sanskrit teacher, and undoubtedly the best there is, is now the vice-principal. He still teaches Sanskrit.
The school used to work for a half day on Saturdays for grades 6 and up. This changed after Mr. Santhanam took over as principal. It happened largely by accident, because Gil Adarsh was on a 5-day work week. Over a period of a year, people just stopped coming to school on Saturdays, and the next academic year, no classes were scheduled for Saturday.
The school hours were also changed by Mr. Santhanam - instead of working from 9:30AM till 3:55PM, it was changed to 9:00AM till 3:45PM. I believe a further change has also been made.
If there is any additional information you think should be on this page, or if there are any inaccuracies, please email me. I will be making the dates when the various buildings were completed, certain after my imminent visit to India.
There is a partial list of alumni at the India Alumni Net registry's website at http://www.infophil.com/India/Alumni/SSSSS/
Please note that neither this page, nor the Alumni Net registry has any affiliation with Sri Sankara Senior Secondary School; they have not seen, nor endorsed the contents of this page.