An English Medium Residential Senior Secondary School for Boys at Nainital. Affiliated to CBSE. Member of IPSC. Estd. 1947

 

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BVM

The school which formally came into being in July 1947 is the dream child of Bharat Ratna Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant - the renowned statesman and patriot. At the wake of the independence he was keen to have a public school for the new generation of India, in which love for the motherland and its heritage would constitute bedrock of modern education imparted with the devotion and parental care of the Gurukuls of ancient India.

The vision of Pt. G. B. Pant ultimately got materialised by the timely and generous donation from Sri G D Birla - The renowned philanthropist and industrial doyen. The then deserted estate of Philander Smith, which during the war years had housed the Hallet War School thus became the seat of BVM.

 

BVM, THROUGH THE CORRIDOR OF TIME

by- Rajshekhar Pant

The year was 1889. Those were the halcyon days of Nainital. One Rev. FW Foote -who was then the Principal of a small school opened by Dr JW Waugh on the premises in close proximity to where now stands the GB Pant Hospital (Ramsay Hopital) -purchased from Mr Petman, a prominent layman of the Methodist Church, the Oak Opening Estate. Moving the school to this new location he rechristened it as Oak Opening High School. “Situated just below the summit of Sher-ka-danda, the most easterly of the peaks surrounding Nainital and just above St Asaph Road” writes Martin Booth, “it commanded a stunning panoramic view of the town, the tal and the drop to the plains of India.” The much expanded Birla Vidya Mandir stands in the hoary campus of the Oak Opening High School the vestiges of which still survive in the guise of much renovated Gandhi House and in all probability the Administrative Block and Library, described by Martin Booth (Carprt Sahib, pp 55-56) as “Jims original school surviving as a house close to the main building.”

Yes, Jim Corbett, the famous naturalist and story teller from Nainital had in Oak Openings his first school. Some of the Jim’s biographers speak of the school being operated and co-owned by a ruthless and cruel ex-Indian Army Officer who was known to his seventy pupils as ‘Dead Eye Dick’ “for his aim both with a rifle and a bamboo cane was exceedingly accurate. …….” It became a favourite memory of Jim’s, in his later years, to remark how Oak Openings was the site of the shooting of the last mountain quail ( Ophrysia supercilosa) in 1876, driving it into extinction. In the year 1905 the Philander Smith Institute of Mussoorie, founded by a Mrs. Smith, widow of Mr. Philander Smith of Illinois was moved to Nainital and “amalgamated” with the Oak Opening Boys’ High School and the result was the Philanders Smith College with Rev. FS Ditto as its first Principal. Describing the development and expansion of Philander Smith College JM Clay, the Deputy Commissioner of Nainital writes in his monograph entitled Nainital, A Historical and Descriptive Account ( pp27, 1927) “The extensive buildings which now exist have been built gradually since then, and a large dormitory block has recently been constructed. The site is over 7,500 feet above sea-level and is the highest school site in India, probably in the world.” Here the building being referred to is the imposing ‘Ashok Bhavan’ then called the ‘Hurricane House.’ Incidentally, Brigadier Orde Wingate of ‘Chindit Circus’ fame (Defeat into Victory, by Field Marshall William Slim, pp162) who was born on 26 Feb 1903 in a house called Montrose in Nainital had his early schooling in all probability at Philanders Smith College. It is further of interest to note that despite their birth place being common Jim never met the “sword and Bible” general, as Wingate was often called. However, as a Lieutenant Colonel and senior instructor in jungle Craft he trained some of Orde Wingate’s ‘Chindits’ (pp 225, MB) at Chhindwara in the then Central Province. An article by Rev AG Atkins -the pastor of the Union Church for two Summers at Nainital and better known for his translation of Ram Charit Manas- published in the Hindustan Times Sunday Magazine dated 14 Aug 1956 reveals that Jim along with his spinster sister Maggie happened to be the most awaited guests at the Philanders Smith College and its sister institution the Wellesley (now the DSB College of the Univ of Kumaon). Installing Maggie on the dais in the central hall of what now is known as Gandhi House he would lecture on his favourite subject -the Jungle Telegraph. “ A tiger is coming, he would announce, and then mimic a series of bird calls- the jungle babbler, drongo, peafowl…… (DC Kala, pp111). Interestingly, One evening after Corbett had screened his first tiger film and given his wildlife lecture at Philander Smith College, the pastor walked Corbett half way home to the lake from the college. After sometime the priest asked him what made a hunter a photographer, and the response of Jim as records Rev AG Atkins, was “. ….It required much more of my skill and gives me an even greater thrill to get good pictures of my animals than when I used to hunt just to kill.” ( HT Sunday Magazine 14 Aug 1956)
 

Brig Orde Wingate


The Philander Smith College disappears from the scene in early forties, probably at the wake of the 39-45 war. The deserted campus of the college was now to be occupied by the short lived Hallet War School of early forties named after the last Governor of the then United Province. Till recently no record of this “once most prestigious and more British than British in Britain School, opened for the sons and daughters of the predominantly British and fairly high army and civil service personnel who were in India because of the second great war” was traceable save the fact that one Ethel Fowle, aunt of John Fowle, was headmistress here in 1941-42. Even our school, the Birla Vidyamandir functional in the same campus since July 1947 did ever hear or have any thing of Hallet War School since it was disbanded in Dec 1944 following the retreat of most of its students to their respective Public Schools in England. “We did not have a single photograph, a monogram, or any document for that matter of that prestigious school though we inherited the same campus after an interlude of three years” says one of our senior faculty member. The reason of this otherwise well known campus falling into sudden oblivion is generally attributed to, “the hasty and ill thought of decision of the then distt officials to use it for lodging the subordinate staff of the government secretariat Lucknow, which in pursuance of an old practice was shifted to Nainital in summers.”

The unpublished memoirs of Nigel Heath, from West End, Surrey, UK however, have suddenly filled the dark interlude of this heritage campus. This gentleman, an old Hallatian as he was, happened to have a chance landing on our website while searching for something related to Nainital. Besides sending the relevant sections from his yet unpublished memoirs, “which deal in details with Hallet War,” Nigel Heath has also made available quite a few interesting pictures of colonial Nainital. “It is really exciting for us to know that until fairly recently Hallet Reunions were frequent in UK and Rev. Llewellyn, the nonagenarian headmaster of the school attended the last one,” says the head of the institution.

Following is the edited version of the memoirs of Mr Nigel Heath.

NAINI TAL AND THE HALLETT WAR SCHOOL, MARCH1941-DECEMBER1944

It was in March 1941 that I found myself as a boarder in the Hallett War School. Certainly the school had a special prestige, for unlike all the other schools, the Hallett’s students were without exception predominantly British,. Among these were the son and daughter of the Governor of Bengal, the Right Honourable Casey, who later became the Governor General of Australia. We learnt to sing Jerusalem, vow to thee my country, land of hope and glory, and all the patriotic songs of the time. Given the background of the vast majority of the pupils, a very cultured English accent was prevalent.

It gave me the opportunity to identify with my British roots, which may never have been the case otherwise. The school was co-educational which had a negative effect on the behaviour of some of us boys. I believe I had a wrong impression of what boarding school was all about, and Bobby and myself shared the two bottom places in the class, although I can’t remember who was actually at the bottom.

 

Hallett War from Beetle Hill

Nigel Heath with his parents, shortly after entering Hallett

I will never forget my first school report, and more important my father’s reaction to it. He was very successful in making me ashamed of my obviously irresponsible attitude to learning, an attitude I in particular could not afford to have, because of the many disruptions suffered to my education thus far. I was resolved to return to school and reverse the record.

It was quite common to find a bloodsucking leech attached to your leg, and it was wise to carry a small packet of salt to sprinkle on the creatures, which was the most effective way to dislodge them. Wild Langoor monkeys with their grey bodies and black faces were often seen in the trees in the woods around the school

There were four other boarding schools in Naini Tal. They were Sherwood College (boys, Protestant), St Joseph’s (boys, Catholic). Wellesley (girls, Protestant) and the convent (girls catholic}. So it was common in weekends to come across hoards of these children, the vast majority of whom were Anglo-Indians. Unfortunately, but understandably, the Hallett with its upper crust British content had the reputation of being the “snob school”.

Before mounting the long trek back up the 1000 feet to the school, I remember a favourite thing we enjoyed doing, was to stop by at a small lemonade shop, and drink freshly made lemonade made from a single hand operated machine. We use to harass the young Indian minder, to double up on the lemonade syrup before gassing the bottle.

Our headmaster was missionaries priest the Reverend LLewelyn, who we nicknamed “chief”. And when assigning punishment he would say. “ Well this is a serious offence, and I am afraid I am going to have to beat you”. When after having been beaten, it was the accepted tradition and gentlemanly thing to say “thank you sir”. The Hallett was coeducational, and because of our isolation, I believe this was an advantage. For we learnt to accept the opposite sex on equal terms, and by the time we were 14 or 15 years old some of us experienced our childish or adolescent love affairs. Doreen Grant or “dreepy Doreen” as she was nicknamed was one such sweetheart of mine I can remember.

THE END FOR THE HALLETT.

It looked very much like the Germans were being beaten in Europe and December 1944 saw the last term for the Hallett, because many of the students began drifting back to England to their old public Schools. It wasn’t viable any longer to continue with the school that had been founded to cope with one of the war’s problems. I had spent three memorable years in the Hallett, and came away from the experience very much the better for it.

The estate of Philander Smith was abandoned once again following the disbanding of the Hallet War School. Footsteps of the approaching independence from the British rule had become loud enough to be noticed by any one then and the time was ripe for the American Mission authorities to offer the whole of the Philander Smith Estate for sale. Pt Govind Ballabh Pant, the great statesman and visionary, had for long been toying with the idea of a public school imbued with the cultural traditions of India for imparting education to Indian children with the zeal and dedication of Christian missionaries working in institution cast in European moulds. The infrastructure was ready, the entire paraphernalia was in shape and the Vidyamandir, his brain child was struggling hard to be born. He had the negotiations with American Mission authorities and a deal was finalized for the transfer of title and rights of the Philander Smith School.

To recall the words of Lt Com. SD Pande whom Mr FG Pearce called the nurse of infant Vidyamandir and who was the first Chairperson of the Executive Committee for the management of the school, “-when the Philander Smith College was put up for sale, Shri GD Birla taking keen interest in the project and placed sufficient funds at the disposal of the Board of Governors constituted by Premier Pant to buy the estate and to repair extend and equip the college.” If Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant was the spirit behind the inception of Birla Vidya Mandir, Shri Ghanshyam Das Birla was all body, mind and the intellect of the school.The Estate comprising 44.33 acres of land then, including Valehead, Oak Opening Estate, St. Asif Estate, Silver Oak and Mackail’s site along with the Philander Smith College and the boarding house constructions, was bought off for Rs 2.5 lacs. The possession of the estate was obtained in April 1947 and the Birla Vidyamandir had a formal opening on July 17, 1947. And what followed is a history with several unforgettable names like Pt Daya Krishna Pant, Mr HR Kewalramani, Pt Amba Dutt Joshi, Shri Sukh Dev Pant, his wife Shivani, the celebrated novelist and short story writer and her foster sister Munna (Diddi- My mother’s voice, Ira Pande, Penguin, pp 70-71) along with several others who rocked the cradle of the infant BVM. Continuing the glorious tradition of the family, Shri BK Birla and his daughter Mrs Jayshree Mohta, our Chairperson, have been taking keen interest in the growth and development of the school. Of late the affairs of the school are being looked after by Shri UN Vajpeye, Shri RN Jaju and Shri Ram Prasad. For its current growth and achievements the school owes quite a lot to their learned guidance and planning.

Much of ice has melted in the sensuous Nandadevi and the stately Trishul peaks since the BVM saw the light of the day. The voluptuous Rhododendrons spotting the campus like sporadic laughter of the young ones have seen a hundred blossoms and the small Cypresses planted jointly by Lady Mountbatten and Pt Nehru have grown into imposing clumps. Enough of time indeed has rolled by for the Oak Opening of the erstwhile to get itself transformed into a lush green cover that surrounds the campus now. Over three generations of students have passed through the meandering roofed-ways and hoary German arches of the Birla Vidyamandir in the past sixty years and the journey still continues on wards and ever onwards…..
 


And out again I curve and flow,
To join the brimming river.
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.





 

 
 
Birla Vidyamandir, Nainital (Uttarakhand) INDIA
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