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‘Stories from the puranas were my best education’

A few snapshots of the life and times of the legendary Indian nuclear physicist Raja Ramanna (1925-2004)

education Updated: Oct 06, 2010 09:33 IST

Early education
Although I managed to do well in school as far as studies were concerned, I still felt somehow a misfit as I couldn’t conform to a major activity in the curriculum set up by the British — sports. However, that did not pose a great problem because I’d another support system — music. Classical music during my school days, as is evident today, was not particularly liked by many, but that did not kill my enthusiasm for it because the then warden of my school, Canon Elphick, was a music lover and I struck up a friendship with him…

Piano lessons
Yet another teacher whom I remember fondly at school was Maurice Lanyon. A missionary, he had come to India at a very young age, charged with the spirit of self-sacrifice. Lanyon was an excellent musician, a good pianist and a baritone with a fine voice and I used to wonder why, with his talent, he had come to India and buried himself in missionary service. I was drawn to him and recall several hours of playing the piano together and listening to lectures on musicology…The Bishop Cotton School (Bangalore) was known for its discipline and I benefited a lot from this. Despite facing problems of transition, my school kept up standards and remained a good institution within the definition of “good” of that period.” (From Bishop Cotton School, Ramanna went to St Joseph’s School, Bangalore, for his intermediate studies and later Madras Christian College, Tambaram, for a BSc (Honours) degree in physics.)

…My close association with Western music started with my changing schools when I was six years old. The old school, called the Dalvoy School, was an overcrowded cattle-shed and my parents realised that it would not suit me. I was shifted to the Good Shepherd Convent which was located on the outskirts of Bangalore. The nuns of this convent had taught the members of the royal family and enjoyed a good reputation. Apart from that, the main advantage at this school was that they also taught European music. At home, there was now the general feeling that because there was enough appreciation of Carnatic music, somebody should also study European music. It was decided eventually that I make the effort and so began my piano lessons at the new school at the ripe age of six. I guess the nuns at the convent must have been conscientious but I was not particularly attracted to any of them except for one outstanding lady, an Irish nun called Mother Maurice. She had been the music teacher to the Yuvaraja’s son, Jaya Chamaraja... Mother Maurice was a sensitive teacher and was particularly good with young children. It was she who made music an indispensable part of life.

Influence of my aunt
(A) member of the family who was quite a influence on my life was my mother’s sister, Rajamma. Widowed at a young age, Rajamma was considered a beauty as a young woman. After she lost her husband, my grandparents, who were progressive, had her trained to become a schoolteacher. Rajamma finally rose to become the headmistress of a government middle school on a salary of fifty rupees a month… A fantastic story-teller, Rajamma would often tell me stories from the puranas and the great epics. In retrospect that was the best education I ever received. I’m proud of the fact that Raja, the name by which I am referred to by all my friends, is taken from my aunt’s name — Rajamma.

Source: Dream 2047, the newsletter of Vigyan Prasar, an autonomous organisation under India’s Department of Science and Technology