Some Memories and Reflections of My Life at Jaffna Hindu
I feel very happy and privileged to write this article on the occasion of the first international meeting of the Jaffna Hindu College O.B.A.s from different parts of the world gathered together in London.
In fact, I am at a loss as to where I should begin and where I should end, what I should write and what I should leave, as I have been a student, right from my kindergarten days to the university level, and then, a teacher. I also happen to be the son of a highly respected and loved veteran English teacher and disciplinarian, Mr. K. V. Mylvaganam, who was one of the live wires of that great institution for nearly four decades.
Memories come flooding in my mind, as I reflect on my life at J. H .C. I joined the Hindu Primary School, then known as the Hindu Tamil School, in the early 1940’s. Then, I went on to J.H.C. in 1945, and studied there till 1956. Later, I passed out as a specialist English Trained Teacher (1st class) in 1977 and ended up in J.H.C. as an English specialist teacher in 1977. I was forced to leave it in 1984, when I had to the perilous situation prevailing there.
The story of my joining J.H.C. as a teacher is at once both interesting and intriguing. It also reflects the continuous vein of affection and close relationship that runs between the teacher and the student which is the hallmark of the Jaffna Hindu Collage tradition.
In July , 1977, I was still a teacher at the Urumpirai Saiva Tamil Vidyalayam, a calling distance from my home. At this time, Mr. P.S. Cumarasamy, a man dedicated to his old College with almost a religious fervour, had only recently assumed the principal ship of J.H.C. He was a student of my father, and then a colleague of his, and held him in great respect and love. He was, as I came to know later, quite eager and anxious to rope me into the College staff. He had even sent some feelers to me, but I was not in a position to acquiesce because of financial constraints at home.
One fine morning in July, 1977, as I was seated in my front verandah, I was surprised to see who but ‘P.S’. (that is how he was called affectionately) striding through the front gate! I rose immediately and welcomed him. He made some preliminary inquiries as to the health and general well being of mine and my family. Then, he asked me why I, a son of a loyal and veteran teacher at J.H.C, should allow myself to be constrained within the walls of a village School, and why I should not take the place of my father in a great institution like J.H.C, I explained to him the difficulties I was faced with. But he swept them aside, and argued with me for some time, trying to convince me of the urgency and necessity of coming over to J.H.C. When my wife came to offer him a cup of tea, he even asked her to instill some good sense into my head.
Finally , I felt I shouldn’t and couldn’t ignore the request of an old teacher, and, more than that of a principal of J.H.C. so, I told him I would come. He was quite pleased, and ,now comes the crucial part of the story. Just as he was about to leave, he tapped his cost pocket, and told me with a smirk in his eyes, Manoharan, I was your teacher. So I you know and what type of fellow you are. That is why wanted to get your consent, So that there would be no hiccups later on. Do you know what I have in my pocket? It is your transfer order to J.H.C.” I just stood there stunned and speechless, watching him go away, and in that moment realised how fortunate and blessed I was to have been a part of the lofty tradition and history that Jaffna Hindu College is.
Now, coming over to my student days, the period in which I was a student at J.H.C is often referred to as the “Golden Era” in the history of the College. I was fortunate enough to have been there at that time.
The man at the helm, the Principal Mr. A. Cumaraswamy, was a highly qualified person who maintained an enviable standard in the day-to-day life of the College. He was lucky to have had three leading personalities – the Triumvirate of the college, as you might call them – Mr.K. V.Mylvaganam. a veter English teacher in change of general discipline and the overall welfare of the college, Mr. K.S. Subramaniam, an exemplary Hostel warden who strode the dormitories like a colossus, and Mr.P.Thiagarajah, the doyen of Sports master in the north in that period, to assist him in the administration of the college. He had also a staff, studded with teachers, of high academic qualifications, of great calibre and character, motivated with a since of duty and selfless service in their chosen profession, which could really and truly be called “the noble profession, because of such teachers.
I would like to mention a fact hear, with reference to my personal life at J.H.C, in order to bring out the conscious awareness of an all – pervading conscience that was one of the hallmarks of that majestic institution.
Along with me, my elder brother, Pathmanathan, who excelled both in studies and sports, and my cousin -brother , Nagarajah, later a mayor, of Jaffna ,also studied at J.H.C. My father, in a private and confident undertaking and arrangement with the principal, saw to it that none of us three was ever in any of his classes. This is just one example to illustrate the meticulous care and attention taken to adhere to strict codes of conduct and morality.
There is a saying in Tamil “Yaanai Varum Pinnea mani oosai varum Munea” – which means, ‘the elephant comes behind ,the tinkling of the bell comes before’ . This was so true of our principal, Mr.A.Cumaraswamy. Every day, he sets out on his regular rounds along the corridors of the college. He walks usually with his hands behind, and in one of his hands there is always the inevitable bunch of keys, which he invariably twists with his fingers, making a very audible tinkling, to which the ears of the students are ever alert and attuned. No wonder then that when Mr. Cum is on his way, he never meets any student strolling in the corridors, and there is always pin-drop silence in the classrooms!
There is one incident involving our principal which I Just cannot but relate here.
The principals room, then, was at the K.K.S. road end. Students who were late to College usually entered through the small entrance at that end, which also faced the principal ‘s room, as the main gates would have been closed at the opening time, 8.3OAM. Usually, the Principal is seated in his room in the mornings, eternally on the look-out for any late comers. His room had swinging doors, and he could spot out the late comers from his seat, by looking at the legs of those students who tried to make a get- away by scunying past his room. He usually calls them out in a loud voice, and cans them once they are in the room, and unable to come out with a plausible excuse. But, when he is in a particularly bad mood, he sometimes rushes out, and slaps or canes them.
It so happened that one fine morning, a young postman, wearing his khaki shorts as usual, entered the college premises. Mr.Cum, in one his belling event moods, jumped out of his seat and out of his room, and slapped the poor postman right and left! The postman saw starts, and just stood there dumb found. It was only a few seconds later than Mr. Cum realised his mistake. Later, how the office staff and the academic staff were able to console and pleased the postman and averted any serious repercussions, is another story.
Almost all the teachers who taught me were loveable characters who were endowed with a keen sense of duty, and though strict and unrelenting in maintaining order and discipline in the classroom, were yet quite fond of their charges.
In particular, I must refer to Vidwan K. Karthigesu from Karaveddy, who was my class teacher when I was in the J.S.C. (std .8) He took English and tamil for us. He used to read out my essays in the class as an example to others. I was quite good in all the subjects except Arithmetic, as it was known then, but which included Algebra and Geometry as well. In my J.S.C promotion test, I scored highly in all my subjects, but just failed to get pass marks for Arithmetic. And, Arithmetic was one of the three compulsory subjects, along with English and Tamil.
When I came to college the next term, I found that I had been given a double promotion to the S.S.C. skipping the prep S.S.C.! I was so surprised and happy. It was only later I came to know that my class teacher, Vidwan Karthigesu, had been calling at the principals house during the holidays, and convincing him that, in spite of the fact that I failed to pass Arithmetic, a bright and intelligent student should not be deprived of a double promotion, which, in his view, he deserved fully. And, in the end, because of Vidwan’s persuasion and persistence, the principal had given in.
It is a matter of justifiable pride for me that I did not let down my class teacher nor the confidence he had reposed in my talent and ability. Though he has passed away, he still remains quite alive in my thoughts.
Yet another teacher whom I cannot forget is Mr. Ehrambamoorthy, my tamil teacher in the S.S.C when, though getting distinctions in three subjects, and credits in two subjects, I got referred in Arithmetic, he who was good in his maths took upon himself the task of giving me free tuition in Arithmetic during his free periods. He was fond of me because of my prowess in Tamil. Thanks to him, I managed to pass My Arithmetic at the second attempt
In those days, J.H.C was not only leading in the academic field, but also was on top in the field of sports. It turned out hundreds of doctors, engineers, lawyers, judges, high commissioners, Senators, teachers, and professors who all enhanced the reputation of their alma mater in the execution of their duties in there respective fields.
In sports. though they did well in athletics and cricket, it was in football that J.H.C. was supreme. They were the invincible champions in football, both in the first and second Eleven, having conquered the championship in both eleven consecutively for several years.
Cadeting and scouting were also introduced during this period, and grew from strength to strength in the coming years. Some of the present generation would be surprised to know that there was boxing and wrestling too at J.H.C in those memorable days!
If I were asked to mention what in my opinion was the most striking feature in the life and history of this great institution of learning, I would, without hesitation, proudly and happily state that it is that intrinsic and incomparable rapport- the mutually close and affectionate relationship between the teacher and the taught which stands out prominently, and which has greatly contributed to the success of J.H.C, and to the love and respect with which it is held in the hearts of thousands and thousands of its old students all over the world.
Ever today, my heart years longingly towards the sates, premises, corridors and halls, the playground, the hostel and the kitchen, the lane roads around the college, and lingers lovingly and nostalgically, hovering eternally about it.
Student 1945-1956 Teacher 1979 – 1984