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Vol. XXXI No. 15, November 16-30, 2021

Delhi’s ‘Madrasi’ school set to ­complete 100 years – II

by M.R. Narayan Swamy

(Continued from last fortnight)

Recalls A.R. Ramanathan, who passed out in 1975 and is a successful architect: “When one joined school, it was almost an extension of one’s home since the environment, students and even teachers were all from similar background.” DTEA school, he says, “invariably instilled a good value system that included simplicity and a down-to-earth approach to life, a clear sense of the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, the importance of academic excellence underpinning a good future in life.”

The Cup the DTEA marching contingent won from the Government at the 2021 Republic Day parade in New Delhi.

Adds Anuradha Ravi, now a Bengaluru resident who studied in DTEA from 1959 to 1970 and retired from DRDO: “All our parents had the concept of simple living and high thinking ingrained in them and passed it on to their progeny. It was dinned into our ears that education alone would help us in life. The teachers never discriminated, whether one was a Joint Secretary’s son getting dropped by car or an ordinary family’s son walking to school in slippers.”

The miracle – it was nothing short of a miracle – eventually happened. In the 1950s and 60s and even in the early part of the 1970s, DTEA schools glowed like probably none of the 600 odd higher secondary schools in Delhi. This was the period when newspapers not only published the school-leaving Class 11 results but also the names of the 10 toppers (Merit List) for entire Delhi in all three streams – Science, Commerce and Arts (Humanities). Believe it or not, there was not a single year when DTEA was absent from the Merit List. Often DTEA students accounted for a third (at times more) of the total 30 in the Merit List. In 1962, a whopping 22 students made it to IIT just from Lodi Road! DTEA schools became the talk of the town. People wondered how could a school which did not charge donations produce such excellent results year after year. Some branches did not have a single failure in the final exam conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

The Tamil community was overjoyed.

Although there was a relationship of mutual respect between the staff and parents, there were hiccups. The Principals normally protected teachers from unreasonable criticism from parents. At the same time, legitimate complaints aired by parents was listened to and resolved. The early 1970s saw a major agitation by teachers against the DTEA Secretary who was accused of acting against the staff unfairly. Things came to a head in January 1974 when all 350 odd teachers squatted on the pavement outside the Moti Bagh School during a DTEA General Body meeting, forcing the unpopular Secretary to quit. The same year, there was violence blamed on senior students during a school event at Lakshmi Bai Nagar, leading to police intervention.

DTEA students marching in 2021 Republic Day parade in New Delhi.

While DTEA schools gave the highest importance to good academic performance, sports and other extra-curricular activities were relegated to the background. Talent outside of studies existed but it wasn’t encouraged, recalled architect Ramanathan. Also, poor infrastructure dogged DTEA in spite of having school buildings. Even with close to 1,000 students and staff, toilet facilities were bare minimal. Students would use their cupped palms to drink water straight from the tap but no one complained then about the lack of glasses!

It is impossible to fix one particular year but sometime in the 1980s the DTEA’s academic achievements began to flounder. Once the fall began, it could not be arrested. The schools also began – for more than one reason – to admit non-Tamils in large numbers. The Tamil majority was lost in the teaching arena. Barring exceptions, ex-students admit they are no more eager to send their own children to the DTEA. The ex-students – now parents and many grandparents – still love the school and do what they can for the alma mater but this stops with material help. According to former student D. Ranganathan, one important takeaway from DTEA is the deep and genuine bonds of friendship with many fellow students that has stood the test of time despite decades of zero contact.

Srinivasan, at whose house the Janakpuri school started, is one of the many who did not send his children to DTEA. He reasons: “Unfortunately, in later years, everything became commercialized. People in the management committee expected returns for services rendered. The standard of education was impacted along with moral principles.”A Tamil woman teacher still in service said on the condition of anonymity: “The changing profile of the students and teachers and a very different management is largely to blame for the poor academic results now.”

Can DTEA regain its lost glory? Will DTEA become a wholly Tamil school again? Does it have to? These are some of the questions DTEA grapples with,almost a century after it was formed and just when it has opened its eighth branch in Mayur Vihar in east Delhi.


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  1. Pingback: A papier‑maché human anatomical model in the Madras Medical Establishment in the 1830s « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai

  2. Pingback: Delhi’s ‘Madrasi’ school set to complete 100 years « Madras Musings | We Care for Madras that is Chennai

  3. Venkat Narayanan says:

    Wonderful piece of writing. Brought forth the trials and tribulations happiness and sadness of the DTEA schools. The glory of the past to be regained yeomen efforts need to be put in. Jai ho

  4. LN Balaji says:

    The two part article makes an interesting reading. In the 80’s and beyond two major issues got into the ‘DNA’ of DTEAs.
    The first a good thing, even if some may register this as a not so welcome change: The school had a lot of first generation learners or students from the daily wagers and working class who themselves did not have a good education. While in terms of the students composition and the scholastic achievements the averages may have taken a downward turn, DTEAs as a whole did a great service to raise the levels of the families of these students and several of them got into very good professions and could manage to enter the middle class and earn good livings.
    The second, however was not a good thing for the DTEAs or for that matter for the educational institutions themselves; the school management board elections became political and the usual tactics of getting electorate from poor segments of population without adequate information on what they were voting for, getting recruited through bus rides to the schools on the election day with promise of meals promised and the sponsors getting elected for getting them a good ride to school for a decent lunch.
    Some of those elected were themselves suspended or under investigation in the schools (not DTEA) where they were employed.
    It would be a mistake not to note that such ‘office-bearers’ ill-treated several of the highly respected teachers leading to poor motivation among not only the teachers but also the taught.
    As we enter the second century, all those who have been associated with DTEAs have an opportunity to further support the schools to excel and have great management structures that are accountable and empowering of the school staff and children studying there.

  5. Deepa says:

    My mother was a student in Madrasi school in Delhi, in the 1950s, for 3 years. We really enjoyed the 2 articles on the school (now DTEA). Her Tamil teacher there was the (later) great writer, (Padmashree) Indira Parthasarathy.

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