Total recall: Celebrating a century of memories of Hyderabad Public School

ByRama Ramanan

Published Dec 28, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedDec 28, 2023 | 9:17 AM

Hyderabad Public School is celebrating a glorious 100 years of educational excellence and producing generations of students who have made meaningful contributions to the world. (Supplied)

Sparks of nostalgia, reunion of shared emotions, and a sense of gratitude have been the principal energies on the campus of Hyderabad Public School (HPS) for the last four days.

The illustrious school, which was established in 1923, is celebrating a glorious 100 years of educational excellence and producing generations of students who have made meaningful contributions to the world.

The four-day grand finale kickstarted on 24 December with a fundraising initiative to raise ₹17.5 crore for a state-of-the-art green field multi-utility sports centre. In the next three days, over 15,000 alumni assembled in the HPS universe to mark this milestone, exchange ideas, share knowledge, and fortify the HPS family.

The school was founded by HEH Mir Osman Ali Khan, the Seventh Nizam of Hyderabad. It is reported that the Nizam was inspired by the Eton College in Britain. It started with five students and six teachers under the first founder-principal H W Shawcross. The first batch appeared for Senior Cambridge ‘O’ levels in 1929. The Hyderabad Public School is older than the Indian Republic. Before the Zamindari system was abolished in 1950, the school was exclusively attended by the sons of aristocrats & elites.

HPS was established as Jagirdar’s College by the Seventh Nizam of Hyderabad – H.E.H. Mir Osman Ali Khan – in 1923, in Begumpet, Hyderabad. (HPS website)

Over the years, the school has produced an enviable list of achievers — Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft; Shantanu Narayen, President and CEO of Adobe Systems; Ajay Pal Banga, World Bank President; Harsha Bhogle, Cricket Commentator; Karan Bilimoria, British Indian Businessman, Life Peer in the UK House of Lords & Chancellor of the University of Birmingham; Prem Watsa – CEO of Fairfax; Talat Aziz, Ghazal Singer; Nagarjuna Akkineni, Actor and Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Chief Minister of AP, to name a few.

More recently, the school is said to be the only one in India to invest ₹25 crore for an Olympic-level sports infrastructure. In its modern avatar, its 122-acres campus houses multiple separate sporting fields, 3 cricket pitches, 9 football fields, 5 tennis courts, a shooting range with 11 firing points, 9 horses with a full-fledged stable, a 3-kilometer cross-country track and 6 basketball courts.

In the backdrop of this history and this historic occasion, a few members of the alumni community share an intense and fond account of the splendour of their HPS days.

Also Read: Chennai historian & Hyderabad textile specialist partner to bring back this dying art form on a modern, wearable canvas

Early memories

“I am from the golden batch of HPS, the batch of 1973. This is also our Golden Jubilee reunion,” says Raghuveer Mendu, who now runs large corporate businesses and is also known to be the pioneer in setting up one the first software product companies in India, in the 1980s.

Mendu’s earliest memories go back to his reverence for his head mistress Mrs Rosario, and his teacher Mrs Shanthi Daniel Sam, who, he says, “were instrumental in forming young men.”

But beyond academics, it was the focus on building well-rounded individuals that appealed to him.

Mrs Raja Rao, fifth class teacher (Supplied)

Mrs Raja Rao, fifth class teacher (Supplied)

“I agree,” pitches in Dr Ajoy Kumar, ex-IPS, and current member of the Congress Working Committee and founder of JSS Medical Research, a drug discovery and research company.

“A lot of emphasis was on overall development. Sports were important. Also, teachers excited us to think. And our two-storey library had access to Time magazine and Newsweek back in the 70s and 80s,” shares Kumar, who belonged to the 1980 batch.

It is this culture of reading that Kumar recognises as significant for any school to nurture the intellectual, physical and emotional growth of students.

In the case of serial entrepreneur Srikant Sundararajan, admission into HPS was never his family’s priority. His father, an IAS officer, thought it was a waste of time. Yet, destiny found its way to Sundararajan, who ranked in the top two of the AP Merit Scholarship exams. His tuition was offset, and off he went to HPS, paying only for boarding and lodging.

“I got admitted in 1974 and was out in 1979,” says Sundararajan, currently General Partner at Ventureast Advisors Pvt Ltd..

That most students at HPS belonged to political, or business, or aristocratic families, didn’t disrupt Sundararajan’s experience. The teachers, he says, were passionate about teaching, and that was sufficient reason for him to find his way in the inner circle of the upper echelons of his batchmates.

Also Read: Where did Hyderabad’s trailblazing women Station House Officers go?

Teachers who made all the difference

MM Pallam Raju, former Cabinet Minister for Human Resources Development and Minister of State for Defence, shares a similar sentiment.

“It was an era when students looked up to their teachers. We had our share of pranks but we had respect for our teachers,” he shares, adding, “Mrs Menon, our housemaster was lovely. Our sports teacher, Mr Devdutta was a strict man, but in hindsight, he brought discipline in our lives.”

Mendu and Kumar are nostalgic about the role of the library teachers at HPS. “School encouraged reading. If we topped in our exams, the school had the culture of giving books. It was always a book, never a cup or trophy,” they reminisce.

The quartet also recalled the senior school’s daily routine. Every morning, different classes took turns to read the world news, national and sports news. And one student had to address the assembly on one topic.

Learning and following etiquettes was non-negotiable, says Raju, who was the deputy head boy (1978-79), and was also on the athletics and football team.

“We were taught how to hold the fork and knife, and how not to waste food. Teachers like Mrs Sardar, who was our housemaster during senior school, taught us these etiquettes. Our interaction with the housemaster was more regular than with the teachers,” he recalls. The other frequent interaction was with the sports teacher, he adds.

Raju also has fond memories of his primary school teacher Mrs PLN Murthy, who taught the Telugu language. And despite his not-so-appealing grades in Physics, Raju enjoyed the subject owing to the teaching technique of his teachers Mr Daniel Sam and Mr Rao.

As former NCC cadets at HPS, Raju and Kumar recall their NCC teacher Mr PLN Murthy’s rigorous training.

Caste, they say, never intervened in teaching or learning. “Our Telugu teacher, Mr Narsimhachari, wore a traditional look with namam and dhoti, but he knew how to connect with the boys. The way he taught Telugu appealed to the young boys,” notes Raju.

Kumar too doesn’t remember a time when caste or religion interfered in bonding with his batchmates.

“The school made us agnostic about caste, creed and religion. In fact, during the month of Ramzan, even the non-Muslims observed a fast because the food was so delicious,” he affectionately recalls. His first shock about religion occurred when he joined the IPS, says Kumar. “In school, we couldn’t wear any symbols that gave away our economic status or religion,” he adds.

Also Read: Here are the 5 best restaurants for biryani in Hyderabad

Of pranks and punishment

Caning was the order of the day, during their time at HPS.

“I have got punished multiple times,” reveals Mendu.

While dinner was always served at 7 pm, the boys would be hungry again by 9 pm. They were not permitted to leave the premises at that hour. But, Mendu and his batchmates were not the ones to follow all the rules. On one occasion, after dinner time, Mendu walked to Starlite cafe with three other friends for some dosas and samosas.

“As we were walking, a car pulled up behind us. It was the principal, Mr MC Watsa. He asked us to meet him the following morning. Since we were in trouble, instead of going back to school, we had our last supper, metaphorically speaking. We got grounded, and had to do extra PT,” he laughs.

Raju and Sundararajan pitch in to share similar experiences.

“I’m sure every student will remember frog jumps as punishment. In our junior classes, if we didn’t arrive on time in the dining room, we had to kneel down. We even got slapped by a few teachers,” shares Raju.

Kumar too remembers being reprimanded which included frog jumps across the football field twice. “After this, we had to do 100-200 squats. It was impossible to walk down the staircase for the next couple of days without your muscles giving you some sweet pain,” he adds.

Bursting crackers, frightening the younger kids in the middle of the night in the hostel, bunking school and going for a movie, are part of Sundararajan’s mischief archives.

“Even though I was probably really good at both academics and sports, I was denied my prefecture for one year because they said I had to learn to be more mature and responsible,” he shares. But it was a learning experience, he offers.

Bunking school to watch a movie was a common practice, it seems, as Raju too recounts an incident. “We didn’t realise until later that one of our housemasters was at the movies too, and coincidentally sitting behind us listening to our conversation.”

In another episode, after dropping off his friend’s sister to the station, Raju and his friend had decided to bunk and watch a movie. “But we came back, only to see that the entire batch had bunked for a movie, including the head boy. We were the only two angels,” he jokes.

Kumar appears to be an exception to this practice though. He discloses that he never bunked school. “In fact, till I became the head boy, I never stepped out of school. It was in 11th or 12th grade when I first went to the Irani café across our school when I was a prefect. I had some extra money, so I went to eat some kheema samosa and cake,” he details.

The school was self-sufficient and the only time Kumar stepped out of the premises was to visit his parents or for a school excursion.

Also Read: Hyderabad-based chocolatier-pastry chef-turned restaurateur Nikitha Umesh joins Masterchef India Telugu’s jury panel

All-round development

There was no dearth of space in classrooms or bedders in the boarding facility, says Raju. Each batch had approximately 30 students, each batch had four sections, which eventually whittled down to two sections in 12th grade.

Sundararajan recalls his time representing the school in cricket.

“In my 11th grade, we played Wesley Junior College, which was very good at cricket. This was the final for the Mono Trophy and we had never won it for a long time. They scored 135 runs and we were at 95. I had to go in to bat,” he shares.

He was nudged by a fellow batchmate to appeal for bad light since the shadow of a crooked tree shadow was falling in the middle of the pitch.

He asked the umpire, who did agree.

The game was suspended and resumed the following weekend. “Former Ranji cricketer Ananth Vatsalya and I overhauled their score and put up a 100-run lead. Wesley students were demoralised that they couldn’t even actually score that 100-run lead and we won by an innings,” narrates Sundararajan.

Mendu and Kumar too assert that the school was comprehensive in academics, sports, extra-curricular activities, interactions and school outings.

Also Read: The Autumn Leaf Cafe in Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad recognised as ‘The Best Continental Restaurant’

Delicious nostalgia

Mendu’s sumptuous memories include the delicious spread of food at HPS. A delightful, noble and dignified gentleman called Mr Sardar was in charge of all the food arrangements, recalls Mendu.

The school had its own bakery. After the morning PT, the boys would line up in the dining room to the aroma of freshly baked breads, pastries and tarts. Breakfast also included milk and fruit. This was always preceded by a secular prayer.

 Sprinters PT Usha and Geeta Zutshi as Sports Day chief guests, at Principal HL Dutt’s residence. (Supplied)

Sprinters PT Usha and Geeta Zutshi as Sports Day chief guests, at Principal HL Dutt’s residence. (Supplied)

Kumar has vivid memories of milk consumption. “You could not take it more than once. So, the boys would bring bathroom tumblers for filling milk in it,” he warmly recalls.

Eggs, corn flakes, puri and potato, chicken cutlets, soup and salad on Sundays, unlimited bread and coffee, biryanis, food was always a talking point, says Mendu.

That’s not all. Mendu remembers the days when his friends would secretly shoot the pigeons on the dorm roof, take it to the kitchen, get it cooked and share the meal with the kitchen staff.

Beyond such discreet doings, they also harvested rice that was grown on the rice paddy field in the school. It is now replaced by a parking lot, says Mendu.

Also Read: How and why ‘Avakaya’ is sacred in Telugu households

Life lessons

Over the years, HPS has witnessed significant growth. Infrastructure, facilities, programs and activities now embrace modern tech advancements. And yet, the core values of the yore are what remain special for the alumni.

“School taught us how to live with others. We learned to value relationships with our friends. There are ups and downs, we fight and patch up. But, we learn to adjust, and give and take,” elaborates Raju.

For Kumar, team building and working collaboratively was a life lesson that he practices in his professional space.

“It gave us the opportunity to explore. It ensured we understood the concepts. I didn’t do well in Maths, initially. I was asked to start working on my concepts from 4th standard during my summer break. Once I got my concepts clear, I was able to do reasonably well,” details Kumar, expanding on the school’s commitment towards pursuing excellence.

Discipline was another takeaway. Waking up at 5 am, making their own beds, ensuring uniforms and belts were clean and worn appropriately are habits that Kumar continues to practice and cherish.

Sundararajan, who is also a professor, emulates the lessons he inherited in HPS. “Confidence, being truthful and respectful, working in teams, be inclusive, and manage yourself within so you can manage yourself outside. That’s how you become a leader,” he notes.

Mendu agrees with all of them. “They taught us that you can learn if you put your mind to it. And, they taught us how to learn.

But what tops the list of lessons for everyone is respect for teachers.

As curtains close on the celebrations of 100 years of Hyderabad Public School, the air on its campus is filled with a sense of pride, of belonging, of bonds that beat achievements, and of an institution that is immersed in unwavering vision and mission.