A century in life of a school: How Delhi’s Harcourt Butler Senior Secondary migrated to Shimla in summers
Delhi schools didn’t always shut down for summer vacations — in fact, some of them shifted bag and baggage to the then summer capital Shimla during the summer months.
Harcourt Butler Senior Secondary School at Mandir Marg (earlier known as Reading Road) was one such institution. The school, that completes 100 years this month, used to shift to Shimla in April and returned after six months in October.
“We would migrate with all paraphernalia, teachers and other staff to Shimla. The matriculation exam was conducted by the University of Panjab, Lahore at that time. I admitted in the school in 1935 when I was 7 years-old,” said S Ramanathan (90), a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who studied at Harcourt Butler Senior Secondary School.
The practice of moving schools began after the capital shifted to New Delhi in 1911 from Kolkata. Several schools were set up in the vicinity of newly inaugurated capital at Raisina Hills to cater to the educational needs of children of government employees who had migrated here with the regime. Many of these schools migrated during the summer months. They operated mainly from Shimla and their buildings in Delhi were called branches.
The school, initially known as Bengali Boys School, was set up by a Bengali society on a rocky edge of the central ridge. Later, the British government took over its control and started funding its operations. The existing structure of Harcourt Butler School was set up by Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler in 1917. Butler was the member for education in the Viceroy’s Executive Council in India and played a pivotal role in setting up of schools in the city. He also served as governor of the United Provinces encompassing present Uttar Pradesh (UP).
The practice of migration was stopped at Harcourt Butler School after 1939 when the Second World War broke out and the British administration faced a fund crunch. Presently, Kendriya Vidyalaya is run from the premises of erstwhile Harcourt Butler School building at Jakhoo Hill (known for its Hanuman Temple) in Shimla.
Recalling old days, Ramanathan says the school had a bus service to ferry students in Delhi. In Shimla, however, students had to walk to the school on foot. “We lived in ground floor of a two storied building in Phagli, Shimla and climbed everyday more than 1000 feet to our school in Jakho Hill,” Ramanathan said.
Nestled on a hilly platform at Mandir Marg, the two storey building is built in the English style of architecture with high arched ceiling and colonnaded corridors. The front section holds senior classes and the extension, which was constructed in 1960s, is reserved for its junior wing. Both sections are connected by a bridge built over a nallah passing through the complex, which has dried out long ago.
Incumbent school principal Neera Rao said the school, known for its culture and disciplined educational environment, has produced eminent engineers, army officers, politicians, sports person, and actors. “Lal Bahadur Shastri admitted his elder son Harishankar Shastri here during his tenure as Prime Minister,” said Rao.
Harcourt Butler School’s distinguished alumna include former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, cricketer brothers Mohinder and Surinder Amaranth, former chief justice of Pakistan Nasir Aslam Zahid, Hockey Olympian Arvind Chhabra, and Bollywood actor-director Satish Kaushik.
Kaushik who was a student of science stream and passed out in 1972 has many fond memories of his school. “As it was located at the ridge, on occasions, I would walk through the woods to reach school from my residence in Naiwala, Karol Bagh. My first brush with acting also took place in the school when I performed mono acting at an annual function in my last year. Our NCC and Basket Ball teams used to be very strong,” he said.
Kaushik recalls that he would receive all of 5 paise as pocket money which he would spent on buying roasted corncobs on way to school. He, however, added that he never felt the lack of money as his friends helped him out. “I come from a humble background and majority of students belonged to rich or political families. And it was a historical institution so I always had a sense of pride,” the actor says.
The school is now preparing to hold its centenary celebration on December 16. Vineet Chaudhary (41), a former student who is looking after the preparations of the 100 years anniversary function, says Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal will be the chief guest on the occasion. “We invite all former students, also those who are settled abroad, to attend the event,” he said.