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Those uneasy school days

Trace the tumultuous history of Old Delhi's Anglo-Sanskrit Victoria Jubilee High School with R.V. SMITH

In the aftermath of the 1857 Mutiny, Delhi was a devastated city. Most of its institutions were destroyed and the Moghul legacy laid waste. The medieval schools were gone and students had nowhere to turn to. In this scenario an enterprising group of men decided to take the responsibility of starting a school for boys in the heart of the Capital. Thus through the efforts of Lala Rommi Mal, Rai Sahib Lala Chunna Mal, Lala Ram, Krishna Das, Rai Bahadur Amba Prasad, Rai Sahib Ishwari Prasad, Lala Sheo Prasad, Rai Bahadur, Dharam Sudhakar and Lala Wazir Singh the Sanskrit Vidyalaya came into being on Basant Panchami day in 1869.

The school, the first of its kind, was housed in a building belonging to Lala Chunna Mal at Bagh Diwar near Katra Neel in Chandni Chowk. It had 62 students and three teachers, with Lala Ramjas Rai as head master. According to Narain Prasad, scion of one of the oldest families of Delhi, the aim of the school was to provide education in Sanskrit and English.

"The first batch of pupils appeared at the Middle School Examination in 1877, out of whom Suraj Narain stood first in Punjab province in the overall aggregate and also in English, while Shiv Narain topped in Sanskrit. Suraj Narain later became a well-known Urdu poet and author with the pseudonym of Mehr."

Dharamshala address

In 1884 the school began to function in a dharamshala in Ballimaran opened by Pandit Shri Ram Sharma. Next year, 14 students appeared for the Middle School Examination, of whom one stood first in Delhi province and four won Government scholarships, as per the school records.

In 1887 the institution became a High school. Since it was the jubilee year of Queen Victoria, it was renamed Anglo-Sanskrit Victoria Jubilee High School. Two years later, 18 of its students appeared at the entrance examination, making the then Director of Public Instruction remark that the institution had lived up to its name of being "One of the earliest examples of public-scripted enterprise."

In 1894 the school was divided into senior and primary sections but it took 83 long years for it to become a senior secondary school.

During the freedom struggle Head Master Lala Amir Chand, Mathematics teacher Awadh Bihari Lal took part in the bomb attack on the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, in front of Town Hall on December 23, 1912. They were arrested and hanged on May 8, 1915, near the Khooni Darwaza, on the site now occupied by Maulana Azad Medical College, where the District Jail was then located. Lala Azmat Singh became Head Master and the new school building was constructed in Darya Ganj between 1916 and 1920, thanks to the munificence of Lala Amba Prasad, who donated Rs.80,000 for the purpose.

In 1928, the number of students rose to 720. A boarding house for 105 boys was built by Lala Hira Lal at 24, Darya Ganj at a total cost of Rs.25,000. In 1940, Lala Sri Ram came to the rescue of his alma mater, which was passing through hard times.

In 1998 the school again faced a difficult situation after the Sri Ram Education Foundation lost interest in it. But the Dharampal Satyapal Charitable Trust took over the management thanks to the initiative by school secretary Narain Prasad and industrialist R.N. Goel and Ravindra Kumar.

The school built in neo-classical style, with semi-circular Victorian arches, can count among its alumini Lala Sri Ram, Rai Jugal Kishore, one of the founders of Indraprastha Girls School, poet Afzal Peshawari, Dr. A.K. Walia, Delhi Minister of Finance, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Health Minister, J.P. Aggarwal, Former M.P., K.B.N. Lal, Defence Secretary and cardiologist Dr. K. K. Aggarwal.

Principal S. P. Singh sits in a room next to the school hall, where the portraits of eminent Chandni Chowk lalas in medieval costumes hang as testimony to their contribution to an institution that has witnessed a lot of Delhi's history during its 136-year existence.

No wonder, it has been declared a Heritage building.

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