A true story from India’s heartland

September 5, 2014

In 1930 my great grand mother who had not even received elementary education used her savings to found a school in her village, in South India. She wanted to make primary education free and accessible to children, especially for the economically backward groups. Back then there were no primary schools in the radius of 50 kms around where she lived. This was the reason she was never formally schooled although she came from a wealthy family. So, in a small room, big enough to seat ten children, she opened doors to inculcate a sense of learning and alphabet literacy in her hometown….and left us a story that we could show and tell our children.

In the beginning, my great grandmother’s initiative was more of a homeschool, but over the next decades it grew into a more organized centre for primary education through her nurture and vision. This little school was the only big possibility for education in that rural part of India – a place where besides the few well known wealthy families, most others were from a agriculture, farming or handicrafts background. Post India’s independence, many of the wealthy families moved from the villages to big cities, like Chennai for a better life. This exodus shifted the profile of the students who subscribed to the school and left it at what it is today: a Tamil medium, primary school (upto class 8) offering free education to those who cannot afford to pay.

In the first two decades, the school was supported entirely by my great grandmother’s largesse. Later, liberal donations from the next generations and extended family carried it through. In the 1980s the state government recognized that the school had contributed significantly to the rising literacy rates in that region and since then, has agreed to bear a large part of its running costs.

Although the school has been through many ups and downs it has sustained and remained true to its original purpose – to provide children in that region a better chance in life through literacy.

I believe my great grandmother’s lack of education was her motivation to start the school. She is said to have regarded primary education as the first step to a better future. Our generation knows this, but for an uneducated woman in rural india to have had that foresight and spirit of social entrepreneurship in the 1930s – a time when women in India were mostly relegated to domestic chores and child rearing – is awe inspiring and praise worthy, even after eighty four years!

Here are some impressions of the school.


The story of my great grandmother’s school is one of the many true and inspiring stories from India’s heartland, especially of women who have made a difference by uplifting a society/community. Most international news correspondents reporting on India seem to mostly discover stories of sexual abuse, bride trafficking, inequality and many more that further portray India and its women as an uninspiring lot. Many of the news reports could be true  – I am not denying them at all. There’s a lot to be bettered in India, for sure. But the fact that the international media rarely features real life heroines, hidden champions or inspiring accounts of everday Indians, makes me believe that they are all paid to paint a certain perception or perhaps, they are limited by their own narrow vision of a diverse country.

Maybe this blogpost will push the boundaries of a mind or two. Maybe it will bring a more balanced perception of a country and its people. After all, your perception is your reality.

Thank you and best wishes, Uma

Comments (13)

Vasantha Muthuraman

September 5, 2014 by Vasantha Muthuraman

Wonderful composition. Bringing out the 84 year old history of the school by the fourth generation grand daughter is amazing! Well done.!


September 5, 2014 by CT.MUTHURAAMAN

Excellent presentation of the positive side of India.There have been many visionary Indian Women,who were not educated,to think of the benefits of primary education to the poorest of poor in villages as early in 1930s.
Well thought about blog and very timely after the visit to this school with a very good presentation .Wish you the best in future “blogs’.God bless.


September 5, 2014 by Ritendra

We Live. Therefore, We Are.
Inspiration. Aspiration. Perspiration.
Blessed to experience this. Cheers!!


    September 7, 2014 by Uma

Rajiv Aggarwal

September 5, 2014 by Rajiv Aggarwal

Thanks for the blog. Yes, your thoughts are really thought provoking. We, in the current era should build on the foundation laid by our elders so that more people benefit from such endeavours.

Unfortunately, negativity is in the air. Sometimes one wonders – what makes a ‘news’? Is it only when Iraq is attacked or so many killed or suicides …. One puts on the TV in the morning or open the newspaper, one is bombarded with negativity. Negativity is raining incessantly. In such a gloomy environment, it is GREAT to be able to read about such positive endeavours which generates excellent fragrance…

Thanks Uma for this.


Sushmita Clays

September 5, 2014 by Sushmita Clays

I’m ever the Guardian-burning, India advocating champion of a happy story! Well said, Uma…
India never features in an uplifting story unless it’s in the travel pages that the newspapers hope will push sales. Otherwise, the nation, it’s heart, it’s soul, it’s victories and passions are just used as fodder to further each publication’s own brief of how it would like its opinion to be perceived. I love your grandmother’s sweet tale of passion and nurturing and glad you’re giving it the voice it’s denied… 🙂


September 5, 2014 by Uma

Yep. It is more significant that this year the state government has conferred the schools director the best teacher award for significant contribution in education. Eighty Four years after it was founded…


September 5, 2014 by Ravi

Great presentation UMA. I love our Grand Parents. All I can say is that I am blessed to be a part of this Wonderful Family.


September 6, 2014 by Vidhya

Hey Uma, thanks for writing about your visit to the school. It’s wonderful that it continues to offer children and families an opportunity to aspire. Education has the greatest multiplier effect. And it’s quite visionary that this was recognized and made possible by someone who didn’t have the same opportunity, at least in a formal way. Hope graduates see this school as a place that levels the playing field and bridges socio-economic differences between them and others.
The building is in tip-top shape. Hope the school is investing equally in its teachers.


September 6, 2014 by Solai

Great composition Uma. Blessed to be part of a philanthropic family.

Sharad Gandhi

September 9, 2014 by Sharad Gandhi

Thanks. Very inspiring. I am sure there are many such stories in a country of 1.25 billion people. I agree that most are never told – even by mainstream Indian media. Unfortunately, media plays to the popular stereotype interests and perceptions of the mainstream population. Stories like this one is reported more as “curiosity” rather than representative of India. Stories of scandals, violence, abuse and celebrities are more readily consumed by the mainstream – in most counties. Unfortunately, the same is true across the world. US or Indian press hardly reports human goodness stories from Germany – most reports are on German products, WWII impressions, remnant Nazi influences or football. This perpetuates the popular biases. Bottom line: I do not think the media is paid by a lobby to be very selective, it is the mainstream population that biases the selection by paying for what they want.

Seethalakshmi Natesan

September 13, 2014 by Seethalakshmi Natesan

Uma beautifully written!
It is amazing how your great grandmother who didn’t get a formal education started a school for those less fortunate than her all those years ago. Education is the greatest gift of all. The grand lady’s passion to provide an education would have changed many lives and helped countless families. Her story is truly inspiring!
In recent times the media has focused only on the plight of the women in India. This is like a breath of fresh air! The kind of story I want my girls to grow up reading.
Looking forward to more such stories.

Solai Chidambaram

September 14, 2014 by Solai Chidambaram

Thanks Uma for bringing out the inspiring story from the interiors of India. I am doubly happy that it is from my ancestral home town. A great example of someone bold enough to think decades ahead of her time.

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