A slice of Pune’s rich socio-cultural heritage has made its way to the ever-burgeoning vaults of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) which acquired rare footage of the inauguration of the new building of an iconic, 140-year-old city school co-founded by ‘Lokmanya’ Bal Gangadhar Tilak and other renowned educationists and intellectuals.
A priceless 16 mm reel, detailing the inauguration of the new building of Pune’s New English School in 1954 at the hands of eminent philosopher, educationist and then Vice-President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, is now part of the NFAI collection.
The 10-minute reel was acquired from the city-based Deccan Education Society (DES), which runs the New English School, said NFAI Director Prakash Magdum.
“The footage contains the inauguration ceremony of the new building of New English School, the function for which was held on January 10, 1954 in Pune city. The great Dr. Radhakrishnan was Chief Guest at the event. This invaluable reel shows the then Vice-President visiting the New English School campus and later addressed a public meeting in its premises,” Mr. Magdum said.
Radhakrishnan, who would be India’s second President in 1962, is also seen visiting the planetarium situated at the top of the building.
Several dignitaries, who are now household names in Maharashtra, are seen at the function, including Maharshi D.K. Karve and ‘Wrangler’ R.P. Paranjpye.
Then principal of the New English School P. N. Virkar is seen escorting Radhakrishnan during the event.
There are a series of various shots of the new building apart from the footage of the school band, the students and general public present on the occasion.
“The footage was handed over to us by D.A. Kulkarni, Secretary, DES. We are naturally delighted to receive this film which further illumines Pune’s hallowed educational past. While the better part of the film is in black & white, a few scenes are in colour, a rare thing for the 1950s. The footage also contains a few shots from a different function supposedly held on the same day at the nearby S.P. College. This event, too, was attended by Dr. Radhakrishnan,” said Mr. Magdum.
The New English School was founded in 1880 by the troika of Marathi educationists and revolutionary intellectuals from the Chitpavan Brahmin community — Vishnu Krushna Chiplunkar, Bal Gangadhar ‘Lokmanya’ Tilak and Gopal Ganesh Agarkar. Since its inception, it has had a notable history in fostering progressive education in Western India, catering to the pedagogical needs of both girls and boys.
It was Chiplunkar, who was known as the poet of Maharashtra’s nationalist revival owing to his ornate literary style, who had jettisoned government service in 1879 while issuing a clarion call for the founding of a private school.
This was eagerly answered by Tilak and yet another fellow Chitpavan, Mahadev Ballal Namjoshi, who had volunteered as charter members of the school’s faculty, leading to the founding of the school on January 2, 1880 with a mere 19 students.
In the fertile cultural ferment of a rapidly transforming Poona (as the city was then known), the establishment of the New English School marked a watershed moment in the attempt to overthrow British hegemony in education by using the English language to imbue nationalist thought.
Since its founding, the school has shifted its premises a number of times before the inauguration of the new building in 1954, which itself is emblematic of the city’s educational heritage.