Fort High School – a shadow of its glorious past

“It’s a three-acre premises,” says a teacher at the 110-year-old Fort High School. “Yes, the school building occupies about an acre roughly, and the rest is the playground,” he says.

Flanked by Chamarajapete on one side and K.R. Market on the other, Fort High School in the heart of Bengaluru retains a semblance of its once regal beauty. The stunning heritage structure with thick pillars and teakwood staircases was the first school for boys, set up by the government of Mysore.

This first “Anglo-vernacular” school offered as many as eight languages when it started – Telugu, Tamil, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Hindi, English and Kannada. “Can you even imagine such a thing now? Eight first languages, 27 sections, with always about 2,000 students as strength,” says a teacher, who wishes to be anonymous.

Poor condition of building

In its 110 years of existence, there has not been a single upkeep of the school building. The roof tiles are broken and most class rooms have been rendered useless. The walls are damp, and the staircase is in poor condition.

When the school turned a hundred years old, the PWD department, completely indifferent to the school’s architecture and style, randomly pasted vitrified tiles on the walls, did some basic plastering and painting work.

“It is just not possible to use most of our classrooms. The building is in bad condition. We have been writing to the Zilla Panchayat year after year. They say they have no funds. The power of delegation is not clear. Government says it is not responsible for even the day-to-day management of the school,” said the teacher.

The school has to fend for itself when it comes to stocking up on items that most people take for granted such as chalk, duster, files, question paper, and even water and electricity bills.

Falling enrolment

Its student strength has taken a hit. “There was a time when children came from various parts of Bengaluru, and from different language groups. Since the city was of a cosmopolitan nature, and this school taught all languages, it attracted a large number of students. But over the last 10 years, the strength of this school has steadily dwindled,” explains Shashidhar Bharighat, who has been teaching at the school for several years.

It is only recently, that the school stopped being a boys school and threw its doors open to even girls. Yet, the strength of the school has not improved significantly. “We now have only seven sections and around 200 students. It is a difficult time not only in terms of student strength, but also the building.”

The school authorities have approached officials, corporators, MPs and submitted applications to the Department of Kannada and Culture when K. Ramakrishna was its commissioner. “Nobody is interested. We are not sure how long the school will survive. We are teachers. What all can we possibly do? Isn’t it a government’s responsibility to preserve this heritage building? Can it survive on the good will of its teachers? ” asks Shashidhar Bharighat.

When The Hindu spoke to Mr. P.C. Mohan, MP from Bangalore Central constituency, he said: “Around two months ago, someone told me about it. But there has not been any follow up since. I will make a visit to the school shortly and get firsthand information of the situation. The problem is that if the school has no strength, it is difficult to take up such projects. Anyway, let’s see what can be done.”

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Ramanavami to the rescue

Fort High School relies on the historic Ramanavami celebration that takes place on its grounds every year. Up until a decade ago, school earned a rent of Rs. 15,000 from Ramaseva Mandali for its 40-day music festival.

“That money has always been diverted to the school accounts for maintenance. But tell me, what can we possibly do with Rs. 15,000 for a whole year?” asked one teacher, who did not want to be named.

However, things changed for the better in 2006-7, when Vijaya Bhaskar was commissioner of Department of Education. He insisted the rent should be raised. “What became Rs. 1 lakh then, has been raised to Rs. 1.5 lakh in the last two-three years,” said Shashidhar Bharighat.

“The school got a big breather. We have tried to do small maintenance works with it, and pay our electricity and water bills.”

For now, the school has just one attendant who will retire in two months. “Everything from opening the gate to closing it in the evening is being done by teachers. It is really a very sad situation,” said another teacher.

Rs. 2.5 crore to restore structure

About three years ago INTACH had done a survey of the Fort High School. “With a team of structural engineers and architects we had done a preliminary survey,” explains MeeraIyer, Co-convenor, INTACH, Bengaluru.

The cost involved in reviving the building was put at Rs. 2.5 crore. “The report was submitted to the Department of Kannada and Culture, but there was no outcome. We have, just recently, submitted the report to the Department of Public Instruction as well.”

Meera Iyer says that if the government gives them permission, INTACH is willing to get funds independently.

“For instance, we worked on the Oriental Research Institute in Mysore with funding from the US consulate. Also, two-three companies have expressed interest in such projects as part of their CSR. The building can be saved, and it has to be done now.”

An illustrious past

The Bengaluru Fort area originally included Kote Venkataramana Temple, Victoria Hospital, Makkala Koota, the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute, Fort Church, Fort High School, Minto Ophthalmic Hospital, Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, and the present KIMS hospital and college. The school, built in 1905, abounds with stories of its glorious past. There are tales of how the Mysore king Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar studied in the school briefly. Also, former chief minister of Karnataka Kengal Hanumanthaiah, freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy, cricketer G.R. Vishwanath, statesman V.S. Krishna Iyer, actor Shakti Prasad and several others have been the school’s illustrious students.