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Hefty, tall and bespectacled, wearing spotless double “veshti” (a two-fold long loincloth worn by elderly men in India) and a crisply ironed white bush shirt, its length reaching down to his knees, a large-size shirt pocket containing papers and a Parker fountain pen, properly buttoned shirt holes tied to each other with a thread, a voice majestically thundering like a military commander, a man with a very sharp look and an elegant walking style is the person emerging in my memory whenever I think of my primary school headmaster- Mr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer.
He preferred wearing spectacles with thick and strong frames to suit his squarish, strong face. His raised shoulders, and long as well as strong arms added to his grandeur, befitting his position of a leader with a commanding look- though only in appearance, he was very soft from within. His inherent softness was a hindrance for him which he vehemently resisted by putting up a firm look. And this made him put up two fronts- as someone he really was, and another, for dealing with people.
He was the founder of Nurani Thondikulam Upper Primary School in Palakkad (Kerala, India), in the 1930s. And in those difficult times, he put in great efforts to bring up the schooling complex with classrooms, blackboards, benches, and desks to accommodate up to 500 students from classes One to Eight.
After India attained independence in 1947, the State of Kerala made a lot of educational reforms and provided grants to schools, appointed teachers, and insisted that every child born must get admitted to primary school once they reach the age of five. The government also made arrangements for midday meals for poor children so that they were well-fed and comfortable. Public awareness about education increased and people were really inclined to have their children educated. In this situation, the happiest person was Mr. Iyer whose zeal for children’s education got a fillip because of the government’s efforts.
He would go to villages around the school, also to hamlets within a radius of 5 kilometers to look for prospective new admissions likely in forthcoming academic sessions of about three years and even more. For this purpose he had maintained a register where he would list infants and also little older children keeping in consideration the period by which they would be 5 years of age to forecast for subsequent academic years. By this process he knew the names of children even before they got admitted to the school. Not only that, but he would also write about the background of the kids’ parents, family conditions, etc. With this list he would plan and prepare the infrastructure well in advance.
Totally devoted to this cause of education, Mr.Sivaramakrishna Iyer did it like a man on a mission. However much he did, he felt that he could have done better and this craving made him a complete person.
His house was within the school complex, with an office room on the first floor from where he always has an eye on students, teachers, and all the activities happening in and around the school. He was always easily visible, seated on his chair, and even while at work he would be watchful. Consciously aware that the headmaster was on vigil, the students and teachers never looked back or looked up at his office room.
He was a strict disciplinarian with regard to the administration of the school, cleanliness, etiquette, and rules. However, children are naturally mischievous, and especially since these children were from the rustic village background, their play would mean climbing trees, jumping in the village lake not caring for the ordeals of weather conditions, playing pranks in school.
Such children would then be brought to him or he would find them while he was out on his usual rounds. These mischievous children would then be seen lined up in fear of punishment. While he was firm, he had novel ideas in punishments that weren’t very hard on students, and yet kids would follow discipline and gradually learn to follow the rules. Such a thoughtful man he was.
Having said all that, Mr. Iyer was highly respected by the students and teachers alike. All the parents also had the highest regard for him. His commitment to impart education to children transformed the plight of many families when these children grew up to excel in their respective fields and some of them reached greater heights in their career and contributed substantially to society.
Many of us, even today, are indebted to Mr. Iyer who created a strong foundation for providing basic education which was the need of the hour in those days. People with unparalleled commitment and sincerity like that of Mr. Sivaramakrishna Iyer might be everywhere but they are silent workers- unnoticed and unsung, though they would never care about it. May God bless such people with more energy and enthusiasm for the upliftment of human society!