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BD High School, Ambala Cantt, established in 1904, maintains its excellence even today

British-era testament: Hands-on training and emphasis on discipline makes the school, set up as a philanthropic venture in 1904, maintain its aura even today

india Updated: Jul 02, 2018 16:15 IST
Rajesh Moudgil
Rajesh Moudgil
Hindustan Times, Ambala
BD High School,Ambala Cantt,British-era schools
The facade of the Benarsi Dass High School in Ambala Cantonement. The institution has a strength of 550 students today.(HT Photo)

Ambala If walls could recount tales, this 114-year-old British-era school in Ambala Cantonment will have a lot to say. As we profile Benarsi Dass High School here, its missionary zeal for education still speaks out, loud and clear. Started as a philanthropic venture in 1904 by Rai Bahadur Benarsi Dass, an industrialist and philanthropist of his times, the institution admits 550 students today.

The Dass family was wealthy; it owned an ice factory and a flour mill, the only one of its kind in the region then. The British title of Rai Bahadur was awarded to distinguished citizens.

The Ambala Cantonment itself had been set up in 1843. Before this school was established, there was no good school or charitable hospital in the region, old timers recall.

The roll call of the alumni remains a source of pride.

The driving force

“The only driving force behind the smooth functioning of the school is the noble intention of its founder. We still do not accept any donations from the public,” says principal Anand Kansal, a student here in the 1970s. He started teaching at the 1.5-acre, 20-room school in the 1990s.

Raj Bahadur Benarsi Dass, an industrialist and philanthropist, established the school.

An all-boy high school, the institution later started senior secondary classes. It turned co-educational over a decade ago. “Our reputation in academic, sports and hostel facilities attracted students from far-off places like Lahore during pre-Independence times,” Kansal adds.

Teachers on their toes

“Dass also set up a charitable hospital for women, besides several dharamshalas,” says Subhash Bansal, 72, an alumnus. Now, part of the school managing committee and a businessman, Bansal has also taught at the school. “The division of sections from A to C based on merit had us teachers on our toes. We had to make sure no C-section student failed and all section-A students excelled,” he recalls.

Bansal’s brother is also a famous alumnus, NRI Ravinder Bansal, who flew solo in a Cessna 400 aircraft from the US to Ambala in 2017. The aim of the trip was to donate ₹1.5 crore to the Rotary Cancer and General Hospital.

Minister recalls bonding, discipline

Haryana health minister Anil Vij, who matriculated from the school in 1968, recalls the discipline inculcated in academics and sports alike by all teachers, including headmaster Daulat Ram, and senior teacher Chander Shekhar.

“They followed a holistic approach to ensure the overall growth of a child. All teachers seemed to know each other and each child. Such was the bonding,” he says. He also vividly recalls how Chander Shekhar, who taught mathematics, used a cane to punish students. “In my times, the stubborn and the lazy were dealt with the cane (‘Hamare zamane mein to ziddi ya aalasi vidyarthiyon ko to khoob maar padti thi’),” he reminiscences.

Harmony in hostel life

Ambala-based nonagenarian alumnus, Jai Dev, a 1941 matriculate from here, says, “It was the most reputed school of the region before Independence. At the hostel, considering the times we lived in, the harmony among all religions was wonderful.”

The Honours board at the school.

Dev has been instrumental in establishing the Rotary Cancer and General Hospital in Ambala Cantt and has donated over ₹30 crore to it. He has also been a member of the Rotary International for over 60 years.

Sports, leading by example

Former sports officer from the erstwhile Haryana State Electricity Board, Somesh Bagga, 68, a student of the school for five years till 1965, credits it for his success as a footballer. “Though I played football in SD College and Gandhi Memorial National College (both in Ambala Cantt), it was our physical training teacher Mahender Sharma at the BD High School who encouraged me to play football in my formative years.” He recalls the method of teaching sports and still hears the whistle-to-attention of a bygone era.

“The teacher would call the students by sounding the whistle and played with us. This was something that led to a lot of fun and much better learning,” he says.

Other alumni are former Union minister Ved Prakash Goyal, father of current Union finance minister Piyush Goyal, heart surgeon Vijay Trehan of Medanta (New Delhi), and a number of industrialists like late Nand Lal, founder of Oriental Scientific Apparatus Workshop, and late Sitaram Garg, founder of Sewa Samiti Charitable Educational Institutions.

For now, the school is refurbishing its building and upgrading its labs.

Alumni speak

“It was the most reputed school of the region before Independence and students from Lahore, Peshawar and other far-off places used to come here for education. The school’s hostel was known for the peace and harmony among students.”

Jai Dev, industrialist

“We laboured hard under the guidance of iconic teachers, especially headmaster Daulat Ram. The school was very particular on teaching spelling, grammar and handwriting. Even the principal respected the maths teacher, Chander Shekhar.”

Subhash Bansal, member, school management committee

“The school had a holistic approach to education even in those times, with academics and sports getting equal importance. Teachers knew each and every child of the school. The bonding of those times was amazing.”

Anil Vij, health minister, Haryana

(With inputs from Dev Sarup Mathur)

(This article is a part of HT’s Special series on ‘Region’s Oldest Schools of Learning’)

First Published: Jul 02, 2018 16:15 IST