In the demise of Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy (Mrs YGP) Chennai has lost one of its well-known colourful personalities. Over six decades she built a robust educational edifice, the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary Schools.
In 1958 The school started with a handful of students at the terrace of her modest house in Nungambakkam. Her husband Y G Parthasarathy who worked at the Joint Chief Controllers’ Office, was a theatre pioneer. His drama group, the United Amateur Artistes (UAA), earned the reputation for its numerous social plays and acted as a springboard for later day famous personalities including J Jayalalithaa, Cho Ramaswamy and K Balachandar.
Mrs. YGP foresaw the exploding demand for quality education from an emerging middle class. The reservation system vigorously implemented by the state government foretold a decline in the opportunities for the upper castes, notably Brahmins, in schools, predominantly run by the government and the municipal corporations and the missionaries. The astute business acumen of Mrs. YGP, her ability to grasp opportunities that came her way, and the right timing helped in the quick and spectacular growth of her venture.
Promoed by the NLRC
The Nungambakkam Ladies Recreation Club (NLRC) with well-connected socialites as members, promoted the Padma Seshadri schools. The well-known civil servant, R M Seshadri, ICS, donated Rs 50,000 in memory of his wife Padma and the school was named Padma Seshadri. In quick time NLRC managed to get land for the school in Nungambakkam Lake Area.
Mrs. YGP conceived of an ingenious method to ensure vital support by the government; she recruited as teachers, mothers of the student – children of IAS officers and other famous personalities and inducted them in management and in the parent-teachers association. eg. the school getting five acres of land in K K Nagar at modest prices (today valued over Rs 500 crore).
PSBB attracted quality talent as teachers; admissions on merit contributed to the school quickly earning the reputation for recording excellent results in terms of passes, toppers and for turning out musicians, dancers, actors, sports persons… The school opting for the Central Board system also insulated it from control and interference by the state.
Stress on religious, cultural values….
While this testifies to the business acumen of Mrs. YGP, one should also admire the stress she laid on the values inherent in the Hindu philosophy and Indian culture. She gave a lot of importance to music, dance, drama and other cultural activities. She founded the Bharat Kalachar, a cultural forum to create and promote culture and appreciation of fine arts among youth.
The theme she selected for the presentations by the students had deep cultural and traditional values like vasudhaiva kutumbakam, rich contributions of the alwars and saints and renowned poets like Subramania Bharati. The discipline and cultural values like greeting with Sri Gurubhyo Namaha and not a “Good Morning Miss” were refreshingly different!
Mrs. YGP acquired degrees in history, journalism and teaching. She was writing for The Hindu Sport & Pastime magazine and Kumudam in her early days. Her close involvement with the theatre won her friends with policymakers at the helm – M G Ramachandran as chief minister participated in her 60th birthday celebrations and handed a handsome cash-gift.
A reason for my shifting to K K Nagar was the proxi-mity of the school to my residence. Both my children had their schooling at PSBB. In the initial years Mrs Vasanthi Badrinath was the President of the PTA. I succeeded her. In those years K K Nagar and its environs were just evolving and it way a buyers’ market.
The school PTA took the initiative to support the efforts of the school. Since no hefty capitation or other donations were demanded, fees were modest at that time, the PTA persuaded the parents of the 3000 students, each to contribute Rs 200 voluntarily, raised around Rs 6 lakh and handed this as PTA’s contribution to the silver jubilee celebrations of the main school at Nungambakkam. The PTA also organised a fortnight of summer programme in swimming, public speaking, gymnastics, yoga… at just Rs 50 each. The PTA also took the initiative to level the sprawling ground at the K K Nagar and prepare it for holding annual sports.
When the business flourished and turned into a sellers’ market, the value of harnessing the expertise of PTA was missed.
Even as the Bharat Kalachar flourished at T Nagar with lot of religious and cultural activities, the opportunity for nurturing these at K K Nagar was not only missed but discouraged. For several years the sprawling facilities at K K Nagar were made available to Sri Rama Bhakta Jana Sabha for conducting discourses, musical programmes… These proved to be a boon to the residents of the extended habitat west of T Nagar. Mrs YGP steeply raised the charges for conducting these high and the Sabha had to move out. The huge population in this part that enjoyed a central place that was accessible were denied activities similar to Bharat Kalachar in T Nagar.
The thousands of alumni of the school spread across the world engaged in lucrative occupations are understandably grateful to their alma mater. Alumni meets with lavish spends are today common in different parts of the world.
Mrs. YGP was participating freely in social functions and was involved in several high-power committees on education. She contributed her expertise on matters relating to culture and education. The three schools of PSBB have 8000 students and around 350 teachers. The millennium schools promoted by her family also serve large numbers. These will remain her best bequeath to posterity.
A culture-vulture turns seventy – From IE January 1996 issue
Rajalakshmi Parthasarathy (Mrs. YGP), was felicitated for her contributions to the cause of education and culture. A cross-section of friends and admirers from the fields of education, art, films, literature and business referred to her multifaceted contributions.
Mrs. YGP and a team of devoted members of the Nungambakkam Ladies Recreation Club founded the Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan School some four decades ago, and through dedicated efforts, the Bala Bhavan Trust and allied institutions have expanded and today offer education to around 7000 students at three locations.
Profoundly religious and steeped in culture, inspired by her husband, Y G Parthasarathy, a well-known playwright and dramatist, Mrs. YGP has been laying a lot of emphasis on imparting rich cultural and educational training. This is evident from the continued dominance of students from her schools in artistic and literary activities. The cultural wing, Bharat Kalachar, has been providing the forum for giving expression to the flowering talents of hundreds of young artists and some of the finest talent in music, dance and acting have been thrown up from the school.
A good number of Padma Seshadri products could also be seen at the IITs, BITS-Pilani and other higher institutions of learning.
Mrs. YGP personifies some of the best achievements of women power. Her ability to tap the resources of a growing number of burgeoning, middle-class parents is best seen in the assets she has built for the Trust.
Yet, there is a phobia characteristic of strong-willed women leaders – a feeling of insecurity that blunts their democratic instincts and a fear of threat to unquestioned authority. Sadly, Mrs YGP has not learnt to harness the enormous potential of 7000 pairs of parents. She is afraid of involving these in cooperative endeavours to build up the institutions.
Likewise, she has eliminated ruthlessly her peers, who worked closely with her at different points of the evolution of the schools. Vanjulam Chari, Ganga Krishnamurthy and more recently, B Sundari and Indra Aravamuthan, are just a few who had slogged along with her to build the institutions and have been mercilessly thrown out. And even the qualified team of teachers does not have much of a say in management or growth. A certain fear complex pervades the corridors impacting on teachers and parents alike.
There is scope for the school getting involved more closely in social and civic issues. For instance, the considerable resources of the school in the form of teaching aids, transport vehicles, sports facilities and of course, teaching, could be extended to the improvement of standards in some of the schools in the neighborhood. Surely YGP has the stature and the experience to look at much broader issues. Good luck to her.
Likewise, the management can also set apart at least 10 per cent of the strength at the lower classes FREE to children from the economically weaker sections. The Parent Teachers Association can be persuaded to find the resources to provide for food, clothing, and books for these children. Such a concerted attempt of catching children young and providing them with equal opportunities can lead, in course to time, to the elimination of the system of reservations and the consequent onslaught against merit.