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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Did You Know Series (26): Contributors to Indian Society on whom Commemorative Coins were never issued: Mrs. Draupadi Bai Gupta, the then Principal of Kashmiri Mohalla Girls Inter College, Lucknow - from 1929 to 1967:



Did You Know Series (26): Contributors to Indian Society on whom Commemorative Coins were never issued:

Mrs. Draupadi Bai Gupta, the then Principal of Kashmiri Mohalla Girls Inter College, Lucknow - from 1929 to 1967:

My Grandmother – As I remember her:

 At least three generations before Malala's time, my grandmother Mrs.O.P Gupta did a lot of work for Girl's education, and the old residents of Chowk, Lucknow, still remember her contribution with pride. She was a lady of redoubtable spirit far beyond her times.

My memories of her from over five decades ago (some random snippets):

-      She was a resident of Ferozepur in undivided India, and belonged to an influential/well to do family of Punjab. She was fluent in Punjabi and she had stood First in the Board High School Exams in the whole of the then undivided Punjab “beating the boys hollow” (in terms of the marks differential).
   My sister Raka has added: "The gramophone which she got from her father for standing first in high school is with me, along with some records of that era".

-      There was a College bus collecting and taking the girls to the School/College from all over Lucknow. I remember that a thin wiry driver was at the wheel called “Shaukat Ali” (I hope my memory has not failed me over the decades).

-      When the bus would be passing through the streets of Lucknow, some instances were reported of some boys passing on small chits to some girls riding on the bus (perhaps, the equivalent of present day’s “Valentine’s Day” in those days) through the iron grills on the bus windows. Promptly, she had the smallest of grills placed on the windows and there were whispers among the college students boarding the bus that not even a fly could pass through the grills now. The purpose being – no “scandals” in the College, only focus being on education.

-      I also remember that she was very strict with us as well & we felt that we were her "college students". It is said that she had a heavy wooden chair in the Principal's room and she used to go on her rounds of the class-rooms in the morning and the chair would make a loud grating sound as she got up & there used to be pin-drop silence as she went through her rounds. No one wanted to earn her displeasure!! (Neither did we, her grandchildren).

-      I remember that during summer holidays the whole “Gupta clan” used to gather at some hill station or the other and my grandmother would make all her grand-children sit in a row and we were made to drink a large “Punjabi-sized” glass of milk every morning – the condition being that we could get up to go out to play or get  into a Dusseri mango eating session only when we had finished the full glass of milk.  But she was never tough on us or hit anyone who was delaying drinking the milk. Her rules were– follow the conditions set and you can go out and play, otherwise I can wait for hours for you to finish your milk. (Later on in life, I realised that this was her way of inculcating a spirit of self-actualisation in all of us i.e. confronting all difficult situations  head-on).

-      She was also given to making us eat slices of bread with “malai” (cream) and sugar, something which I simply abhorred. But the rules were the same!! No wonder that I simply run away when somebody offers me a glass of milk today.
 I remember my mother telling me, that she was disposed kindly towards poor girl students. She was quite upset when the girl students from influential families would come dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes, but the girls from poor families would not be able to keep up in “making a fashion statement”. My grandmother introduced a college dress to remove this anomaly. Off the record, she would even pay for the school dresses of some poor meritorious girls from her own pocket, notwithstanding the fact that she herself was drawing a meagre salary.

-      I remember that the College was predominantly an Institution for the education of Kashmiri girl students, nevertheless there were numerous local Muslim, Hindu and Christian girls studying under her umbrella as well, because she believed in equal opportunity for any girl who wanted to educate herself. Later, in life, I have met several women who had studied in her College – some housewives, others career women who felt proud to have been educated during her tenure. It is said that she knew each and every girl student by name and could instantly recognise them even after several years had passed by. Such was her involvement in every girl’s education/career.

-      The teachers working with her were like a large extended family. I particularly remember Mrs. Chandra Chowfin, a senior school teacher who had a personal library of several classic books which she would give me for reading to build up my interest in the Classics. Then, there was Mrs.Chatterjee, an Arts teacher, who would come on Sundays and holidays to teach us painting, sketching & drawing. She taught us how to paint sceneries and abstract art on old Long Playing records (LPs) and finger-nail art on chalk. Also, there was Mrs. Caesar who would always send us a Christmas cake, even much after my grandmother had passed away, till at Christmas, one year, the cake did not come. Upon enquiry we found out that Mrs. Caesar had passed away. I have been remembering her every Christmas since then.

-       Both “Nanaji” (my grandfather) and “Naniji” (my grandmother), whenever they addressed each other would begin the sentence with “I say…” I was always inquisitive and asked my grandfather why they were calling each other with this appellation. My grandmother was so involved in her College work that even at home she would continue to do College work, so much so, that she would get terribly late for any evening social functions that the two of them were invited to. My grandfather would start pacing up and down after getting dressed up and go on saying “I say, when are we going to start, the function must be half-way through by now” to which she would reply “ I say, give me another half an hour & I will be ready”. So much for thinking/doing only College work with a single minded focus. Social functions meant nothing to her over and above the interests of her College.

-      Yet, I remember, that once I accompanied the two of them for a programme where we arrived over an hour and a half late, but we realised that the party had not even started and everyone was waiting anxiously for my grandparents. The party only came to life when we reached the venue. Such was her personal popularity that her mere presence in a function was enough!!

-      Till about a decade or so ago, whenever I used to go to Chowk, Lucknow and mentioned my grandmother, even now, there would be some or the other lady who had studied during my grandmother’s tenure in the school and I simply could’nt come back without being served a hearty meal/snacks and hearing tales about how she had moulded the young girl students to face the challenges of the World!!


-      No work was “out of bounds” for her, be it a menial job or a white collared one. She always maintained that we all have come for a very short while on planet Earth. It is for us to use our hands and minds for doing whatever good work we can in our lives.

History of the College:

a)  Before my grandmother became the Principal of the College:

There was no system of formal education for women because of the strict “purdah” (veiled) system being followed by the Society then. Girls were given lessons in Hindi and Elementary Arithmetic at home before their marriage.

In 1904, Municipal Girl’s Inter College, Kashmiri Mohalla, Lucknow began functioning as a Primary Vernacular School. It was started by Pandit Suraj Narain Bahadur, judge and a few other Kashmiris, on the advice of Dr. Annie Besant for educating their daughters and other Kashmiri girls of the neighbourhood.

At the time of commencement of the School, there were only 15 girls enrolled on the College rolls. Pandit Suraj Narain faced severe opposition from all communities residing in the area, primarily because it was felt that going out to school for education would mar the girl’s marriage prospects.

In 1905, Miss Birkett was engaged on a salary of Rs.25/- p.m. to teach English.

By October 1905, the number of students rose from 29 to 39 and a middle section was started with Miss Rae appointed as in charge.

In 1908, the school having grown beyond expectations was handed over by its founders to the Municipality of Lucknow.

In 1910, the Education Committee of the Municipal Board passed a Resolution as under:

“That the Kashmiri Mohalla Vernacular Middle Girl’s School shall be improved to an Anglo Vernacular middle girl’s school by granting better salaries and a larger staff”.

“That a plot of land to build a school on, be secured, for the purchase of which a grant be asked from the Director of Public Instruction”.

On 23.12.1911, the main school building consisting of eight large rooms, surrounded by verandahs and large plots of lands, was opened by Lady Porter. The cost of the building was Rs.15,829/-. The number of students increased to 90 and the staff now comprised a Head Mistress and six teachers. Around this time the school was duly recignised by the Education Department as a Middle school.

During this period Mrs. Kamla Nehru also studied here.

In February 1915, Miss Neff, an America trained Principal was appointed for the school and a grant of Rs. 5000/- was awarded by the Government.

Indoor and outdoor activities were organised for the girls.

In 1923, the Girl Guide Movement was started in the school, and the school girls took part in the “Purdah Day competition” organised at the Municipal Educational Exhibition and they won 16 merit prizes.

In 1924, Miss Rosline Engles joined the Institution as its Principal.

In 1925, Class IX was started & closed in 1927.

b)  During my Grandmother’s tenure:
 Some British & Indian Civil Servants met my grandmother at a social function which she was attending and learning about her educational qualifications from the host, invited her to join the Institution and to devote herself towards girl's education, as the present Principal Miss Engles had expressed a desire to leave the Institution.  

On 30.11.1929, my grandmother Mrs. Draupadi Bai Gupta (also known as Mrs. O.P. Gupta – after my Grandfather Dr. O.P. Gupta, who was a great Educationist in his own right), joined the school as Maths teacher.

On 08.07.1930, Miss Engles left the Institution and Mrs.Gupta took over charge as Principal of the Institution. The school had only 149 students on its rolls during this time. Mrs. Gupta was a very dynamic lady and became the first Indian Principal of this school.

She was a very strict lady who worked with great zeal and dedication in a missionary spirit to take the Institution to great heights. She maintained a very strict discipline and “purdah” system within the College Premises.

During Mrs. Gupta’s tenure, the school progressed beyond expectations in all fields of education under her able supervision.

Till 1931, the school girls were transported/coming to school on “thelas” (carts) managed by women servants, but Mrs. Gupta prevailed upon the Municipal Board to hire two school buses at an expense of Rs. 475/- p.m. to transport the students to school and back. (An interesting innovation during her tenure was that Mrs. Gupta introduced specially designed hand driven “thelas” (carts) which were covered from all sides to bring the girls from far off places to the Institution).

On 11.03.1932, the school purchased its own bus and during the same year several indoor and outdoor games were started like volleyball, badminton etc. to inculcate a culture of sports among the students.

The students excelled in Girl Guide initiatives and Mrs. Moti Lal Nehru herself a Kashmiri, visited the Institution based on its upcoming popularity on 14.12.1932 and spent a full day interacting with the students.

In 1933, the Lady Hailey Challenge shield was won by the Girl Guides of the School.

In 1935, one student of the school figured in the merit list in the Anglo-Vernacular Middle examination.

In 1936, music classes were started.

In 1937, some girls took part in U.P. Industrial Exhibition and four of them were awarded silver medals. Also, in this year Class IX was restarted.

In 1938, the first batch of 6 girls appeared for the High School examination with 100% results.

In 1940, based on the Education standards of the Institution & the performance of the girls the U.P Board granted recognition for High School for the school.

The School results around this time were extremely encouraging, with the girl students and teachers striving towards continuous improvement in raising the education standards of the Institution.

In 1947, Intermediate classes were started and the number of students on the rolls increased to 406. A Governmental grant of Rs.9150/- only was received towards setting up these classes and the College was henceforth called Kashmiri Mohalla “Municipal Girls Inter College”. The remaining amount came through internal resources.

In 1950, two of the Intermediate students secured the highest number of marks in Urdu in the whole of U.P.

In 1952, the College won the first prize in three-legged race and second prize in Relay race in Inter School sports. The College also won the third prize in essay competition.

In 1953, the college became one of the centres for conducting High School examinations.

In 1956, science was introduced in High School classes and in 1958 in Intermediate classes for students opting for the medical group. A Science laboratory was also set up during this year.

In 1959, a college uniform, prayer and mass P.T. was introduced in the college.

The College progressed in various fields of extra-curricular activities like games, races, various literary & cultural and Art competitions, as well as St. John Ambulance activities and College Results.
 Mrs. O.P Gupta (second from left) with teachers and students with a Cup won by the Girls in an Inter-Collegiate activity.

In 1966, the College won the All India Raj Kumari Amrit Kumari Trophy in the All India Competition held at Hyderabad.

On 01.03.1967, Mrs. O.P. Gupta retired from service. At this time the College had on its rolls 1133 students and was receiving a college maintenance grant of Rs.33,636/- together with a grant of Rs.15000/- for augmenting the  High School Science laboratory. Our whole family, whoever could come attended this function. It was one of the most moving Farewell functions that we have seen.

At the time of her retirement, after serving the Institution for 37 years and 3 months, Mrs. Gupta left the College as a premier girl’s institution of Lucknow. She brought great laurels to this Institution during her tenure.

From a “purdah” system school of two three subjects at the start of her tenure as a Principal to a modern Educational Institute with students turned out in smart school uniforms – studying different subjects in Arts and science disciplines under the supervision of well qualified lady teachers and winning various shields and medals in several competitions both at the state and national levels, she had stood as the driving force behind it all!!

No wonder then, that the unerring course that she had steered the Institution upon got the College in 1968 to receive an efficiency grant of Rs.1000/- for producing good results and in 1969, the College received Rs.12000/- for producing the best results in Science in the Lucknow region & set many more landmarks in later years.


 My grandmother Mrs. O.P. Gupta, as she looked at the time of her Farewell function.
 An image of the Farewell address presented to her at the time of her retirement.

The Farewell Address presented to her by the Staff of the College (verbatim):

“Dear Mrs. Gupta.

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heavens. There is a time to laugh and a time to weep. There is a time to gain and a time to lose and the ancient swift-flowing current of time moves ever on. It has brought us to the cross-roads, where it is our turn to lose and part from you, bidding you a sad farewell. We bow to the inevitable with sincerest good wishes for a happy peaceful life, although far away from us.

We look back to those many years we have been together. We differed, we quarrelled, we wept and shared many burdens and responsibilities, yet we also made up, forgot and forgave, for we could share many a triumph with you and smile together.

We shall long remember with pride that as our principal you were always devoted to duty. To the cause of education and this institution you gave thirty-eight years of devoted service – never seeking escape or rest, never feeling tired – to the last hour. You built this institution in the real sense, raising its number on rolls from 15 to 1133. It grew from a set of hutments into an imposing, well-furnished school building. From its middle school beginnings it rose to be an Intermediate College both in Arts and Sciences, which is no mean achievement.

Under the shadow of your protecting arm we never felt afraid of being hit by the hail of communal distinction. You set the seal of your grand spirit on the whole atmosphere of the college. We lived together as Indians with dignity, equality and freedom, irrespective of our faith and beliefs. We shall try our best to keep up the tradition to cherish your memory for ever.

You laid the foundation of this college on the solid rock of honesty and dutifulness whose super-structure our inexperience and inefficiency shall not be able to shake for many years to come.

Your instinctive sense of judging people in the right perspective often made us marvel how issues come to a natural solution as soon as they are laid before you.

You possessed that self-control and dignity which graced the position of the head of this institution – that patience with people and situations of all kinds which reflected a high degree of culture and education. We never saw you swayed by emotion or prejudice. We shall always admire you for never expecting from anyone of us any kind of bribe or personal service which, taking advantage of your position, you could have got for the asking.

Sometimes we felt insulted, wept and bickered with you but the sympathy from a heart that bore no malice was never slack to reach us in our gloomiest moods.

Your scolding the girls, the gardener, the peons and the maid-servant to keep the college spotlessly clean is an image which cannot fade away from our memory. It shall remind us of you and only you who are clean in mind, in spirit and in person.

With our hearts too full there are no words too few to express the grief and loneliness you are leaving behind.

When the roses you planted in our college, arbours droop in the noon-day heat, they will whisper to us “You are gone”, but little they know you shall always be there in our hearts.

01 March 1967.”

A newspaper report in The Pioneer, Lucknow dated March 3 (1967), (misprinted as 03 Feb. owing to a printer’s devil). To top it all, I seem to have lost this newspaper cutting somewhere):

Girl’s College Principal Retires:

(datelined) Lucknow – The staff and students of Municipal Intermediate Girl’s college, Kashmiri Mohalla, lucknow, assembled here on March 01 at a farewell function which was organised to honour their retiring Principal, Mrs. O.P. Gupta.

Mrs. Gupta had held the post of Principal for 37 years during which time the institution had risen from a low-grade middle-school to become an important Intermediate college. She had contributed immensely toward the betterment of the college and her intiring vigilance and dedicated interest had earned many laurels for the institution. The college had distinguished itself by winning prizes in multiple extra-curricular activities at the State ans All-India levels which Mrs. Gupta had taken a personal interest in and by maintaining a high standard of education she had contributed toward some of the most encouraging results in many examinations.

The staff and students expressed their sorrow at her departure from office and amidst garlands and regrets they thanked her for the achievements which she had initiated for the college.”
A staunch Arya Samaji she believed in doing "karm" (work/labour) all her life and refused to have a bust/statue installed at the College in her memory.
Nevertheless, my uncle (Late) Col. V.K. Gupta, set up two scholarships in her name after she had passed away - one for the best student of the Year and the other for a poor meritorious student.
The College Building as it looked at the time of Mrs. O.P. Gupta's retirement.



 (My grandmother, Mrs.O.P.Gupta passed away at Meerut on 17.05.1979, in her sleep. It was as if she had chosen to slip away quietly in the knowledge that her work on planet Earth was complete).