Once upon a time in Maharani’s College. (Yes.)

GIRIJA MADHAVAN writes: Waiting at the traffic lights at the Metropole circle in Mysore recently, I saw groups of young girls hurrying across the road. It was a weekday and they were bound for Maharani’s College and all the excitements and frustrations of another college day. I was transported to a time warp fifty-three years ago.

I see myself, a nervous fifteen-year-old, with hair tightly secured in two ponytails, clutching a ‘rough book’ and a pen, among a chattering group of girls in saris or the langa-angi-davani, which is seldom seen now. A small knot of girls wear the Kodava style sari.

As a private matriculate I felt a bit alone without the bond of a common school that the others shared. My dress also set me apart, clad as I was in a salwar-kameez: (“The most sensible dress,” said my mother firmly. “You’ll be uncomfortable in a sari all day long.”)

A group of Muslim girls led by Najeeba Begum, befriended me. Luckily, I lost the election to be Class Monitor, for which they had proposed my name. Najeeba had a sweet voice and sang Hindi film hits beautifully. If there was spare time in the class, the teachers would persuade her to render a song. A favourite was Yeh zindagi usiki hai from Anarkali, the rage at that time.

In those days Maharani’s College was a self-contained cream coloured building with wide verandas running around the ground floor and upper floor. Tall, arched pillars bordered the verandas. Great rain trees dotted the grounds with their deep shade. We would eat our packed lunch under the trees.

I remember being scolded by a classmate, Husna Bano, for making myself comfortable on a couple of notebooks: “How can you be so disrespectful to learning?” The Kodava girls were sociable and lively Cauveriamma was generous with delicious food from her home.

Our lecturers each had a fan following among the girls. My favourite was Smt Gangamma who taught us history. She was thin and spare and always well turned out. She described the Indus Valley with great enthusiasm: “Those people had achieved baths, they experienced baths.” She guided us through the intricacies of the Peloponnesian wars in Greek history.

H.T. Shanta lectured on Logic, discoursing on Fallacies. It brought to mind a Kannada rhyme:

“Dictum omniet de nullo,

Logic thakkondu kettanallo!”

One incident that affected my immature mind deeply at the time was the ‘Superstition Quiz’ held in the Logic class. I had been telling my friends a poem about crows:

“One for sorrow, two for joy,

Three for a letter,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver, six for gold,

Seven for a secret never told.”

When we were asked to list superstitions in H.T. Shanta’s class, I felt brevity was necessary and simply said, “It is thought unlucky to walk under a ladder.” A friend, with an apologetic smile to me, stood up and recited my crow poem. Whereupon our lecturer said, “That is the most original and unusual and yours is the best in the class.”

The only male lecturer was Deve Gowda who had studied Hindi in Banares and who spoke ‘Suddh Hindi’. We all feared Saraswati Miss, our English lecturer, who was good but strict. Presiding over all this was the imposing figure of Principal Jayalakhammani.

Students who had to do science subjects and laboratory work had to walk across to the co-ed college nearby, which had the facilities we lacked. This occasioned the paradoxical story of the “Gosha Gaadis”.

Girls from the conservative areas of the City who were expected to observe purdah would arrive in curtained tongas. A few were science students. They would finish their lab work and be driven home in veiled propriety.

The faces and names come back with such clarity: Shanti, Tara, Nagaratna, Dechamma, Bollamma, Cauvery, Narmada, Rahat Jan, Jyotsna and the beauteous Shakila, to me Mumtaz Mahal incarnate.

These fifty-three years notwithstanding, they live in my memory as bright, young, hopeful people.