Mr M.Ramabrahma, Headmaster, Sardar High School, Belgaum, was an awe-inspiring figure. Not too generous with his smiles, may be a little taciturn, even. An anglophile, he expressed his fondness for the “English life” very sartorially. Always sporting a fine suit, a neat tie, a nd even a hat and walking stick if he thought the occasion demanded these accesories. Hardly surprising he was known as the best-dressed Headmaster for miles around.
A man of habit and many foibles which he considered necessary to enforcing discipline and order at work and in the home, he lived by the clock. The clock struck eight , and so breakfast must be had. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the coffee must be at his elbow just as the clock chimed the second time.
A passionate tennis player, he was district champion, and often volleyed with colleagues and friends, and royalty even. He played every morning, a familiar figure in tennis gear making his way to courts just a little way away from home. Folks probably set their clocks by his tread each morning !
The Headmaster was a man of few words, not just a man of few smiles, and speaking for/by the clock was his way of announcing his arrival and reason thereof. The unflappable Mrs Venkamma Ramabrahma, with a sense of humor minted in Tirupattur (the ten-village town) of great antiquity in Vellore, Tamilnadu, who managed her brood that ranged many age-groups adroitly enough to leave him thinking that it was all his doing, often took recourse to droll little utterances that ridiculed his devotion to punctuality. But it was many, many years , when they retired to life in Bangalore, before his wife thought to rib him by asking, “who is hungry, you or the clock?” Mr Ramabrahma ‘s response, one imagines, was a Narasimha Rao-like- inscrutable silence.
Back in Belgaum, the Headmaster’s days ticked and tocked with great punctuality. His children (Vimala and Pramila followed S, who was preceded by Kokila, the first-born, Mangala, and Pandu ) were more deferential to Father, than to Time. Though he took little notice of them, in his presence, Pandu and S didn’t engage in Tom Sawyer tactics at the breakfast table.
Not that they were incorrigible imps, or any kind of imps. It was just that they were mindful of the consequences of incurring the wrath of Father who was also Headmaster. The glint of his gimlet eye threatened great possibilities, and the boys – Pandu and S, thought it best to leave things well alone.
Which was not hard to do, really. The truth was that as long as they refrained/abstained from escapades that tainted the fair name of the family, or seemed to undermine the Headmaster’s authority, he was happy to leave them to their own devices.
“It was a good life”, S says now. There were movies, train rides, holidays in Bangalore, Poona and Bombay, and all the fun things that make childhood, well, fun. They did witness the transition to electricity, and piped water. Father was not really as forbidding as he looked, and there were times of enlivening conversation, great wit, and cheerful laughter, and everything else, woven into the clockwork regularity that reigned in the establishment. . As we’ll see , by and by.
There is this about him in the 1936 edition of the Who’s Who:
Ramabrahma, Mahadev, B.A., L.T., (Mad.), Asst. Educational Inspector, Bombay Presidency, Poona comes of a distinguished Brahmin family of Mysore. Born on 8th December 1884, he was educated at Maharaja’s College, Mysore, and Central College, Bangalore. After having his training at the Teachers’ College, Saidapet, Madras, he started life as a teacher in the Training College, Mysore, from June, 1912 to August, 1915, and entered Bombay Educational Department at Lecturer in Nature Study and School Gardening in Training College for men and women, Dharwar, where he served from September 1915 to October, 1923. In August, 1921, he went to England for Scout Training in the Gill-well Park, having been deputed by the Bombay Provincial Boy Scouts’ Council, and he was Instructor in charge, Scout Master’s Training Camp at Lonavla from January, 1922 to March, 1923. On return from the deputation, joined the Dharwar High School as Asst. Master (1923-27). As Asst. Criminal Tribes Settlement Officer at Poona and Dharwar from November, 1927 to June, 1928 he did good work. He was Asst. District Scout Commissioner in Dharwar during 1926-29. It was in February, 1929, that he was appointed as the Headmaster of the Sardar High School, Belgaum, and he held this post continuously till the middle of August, 1936. During these seven years and a half he was the Asst. District Scout Commissioner of Belgaum District and was intimately connected with the Scouting activities of the Belgaum town and the District. As Head Master and Superintendent of the Sardar High School Hostel, he was generally liked by the students. He was an enthusiastic worker in the cause of Social and Educational Reform and was connected with all institutions at Belgaum in one way or another. He was a member of the District Depressed Classes Committee, Belgaum.
He was transferred to Poona in August 1936, when he was appointed as Asst. Educational Inspector, Bombay Presidency. He officiated as the Educational Inspector, Central Division, from 16th November, 1936, to February, 1937, when Mr. W.B. Corieur (later corrected illegibly in pen), D.P.I. of the Bombay Presidency, was away from India on leave.
Address-Asst.Educational Inspector, B.P., Poona.
About the Who’s Who:
An old British tradition, Who’s Who is an annual British publication of biographies of “notable people”. Until 1897, it provided a list of the names of Members of Parliament, and all the Bishops. But since then, it has listed people alphabetically and provided fuller biographical details.Subjects include peers, MPs, judges very senior civil servants, and distinguished writers, actors, lawyers scientists, researchers, and artists. Some (such as those holding a Professorial Chair at Oxford and Cambridge) are included automatically by virtue of their office; those in less hierarchical occupations are included at the discretion of the editors. As long as they were in India, it included several Indian names too. According to The Wall Street Journal, an entry in Who’s Who “really puts the stamp of eminence on a modern British life”, and the Daily Mail has described it as “Britain’s most famous reference book”. I guess it was a bigger deal about a 100 years ago, when there was no internet, Facebook or Twitter, or 24/7 news channels, and news ambled along at a leisurely pace, and not at “break neck” speed!