Memoirs of Rishi Valley is a series of posts written by Sri S. V. Venkatachalam, known fondly to his students as Venks Sir. In his 20 years as a teacher at RV, he left an indelible mark on the valley, and he has a fond place in the collective memory of many students. As he turns 82 this year, it is his desire and our privilege to share with students old and new an RV that is long gone and yet lives on.
It was early May, 1954, and I was searching for a suitable teaching job after receiving my B. Ed. I had an aversion for seeking a teacher’s post in schools run by the Government, having heard a great deal of criticism about the way they functioned. I was directed by a friend to an advertisement in The Hindu about a post at Rishi Valley School, Chittoor, AP. The name Rishi Valley somehow struck a chord in my heart, perhaps because of the great respect I have for our Indian cultural heritage and my having deeply studied Sanskrit literature. I lost no time in mailing an application to the school for the post of a teacher of general science along with my curriculum vitae.
I received a letter on 14th May acknowledging the receipt of my application. The signatory’s name was F. G. Pearce. He had stated that he was away in North India on a holiday and that my application was received after all the advertised posts had already been filled. It is obvious that I was thoroughly disappointed.
It is obvious that I was thoroughly disappointed.
However, in the letter there was something which was consoling. It mentioned that my qualifications, both academic and extra-curricular were good and fitted the requirements of the school almost exactly and the school management wished to make further acquaintance with a view to consider the possibility of offering a post if a vacancy happened to occur. Mr. Pearce suggested that if I wished to visit the school, I could do so at my own expense after the reopening of the school on 16th June.
Two points mentioned in the letter drew my attention. One was the name ‘F. G. Pearce’. It struck me that this person must be the same as the author of two excellent text-books in History that we had for the high school classes in Bangalore: ‘Footprints on The Sands of Time’ and ‘The Struggle of Modern Man’. I felt delighted and wished to meet him at the earliest. The other information in the letter was: Mr. Pearce appreciated my experience in scouting and also was a ‘Wood Badge’ holder. He mentioned that he himself was the Chief Scout Commissioner in Gwalior and Ceylon. Now I eagerly wanted to meet this person!
I soon received another letter from Rishi Valley, calling me to appear for an interview on 17th June, with directions for reaching the school. The letter had more happy news for me: the post of a teacher for General Science was still vacant, since the person from Delhi who had been offered the post earlier was unable to report for work due to health problems! On that day, after a long and eventful travel by bus, I finally reached the campus — late. Driving along the rugged road I was taken to the main school building where some documentary films were being screened for the students, through the muffled light I could see a person walking briskly along the corridor. He approached me very cordially and asked me if I were Venkatachalam. I was simply bowled over by his friendliness and approachability. He was none other than the ‘CHIEF SCOUT COMMISSIONER’ – Mr. F. G. PEARCE!
Next morning, I was asked to meet the Head Master, Sri. B. Rajagopalan (BR). Sri BR wanted to know my academic background and wanted to have a look at my certificates. Though he appeared to be tough, he was really a kind person. Through his questioning, he was soon able to conclude that I had a passion to be a teacher and wished me well.
Later, I was asked to meet Mr. Pearce in his office (a room next to the Principal’s quarters). I told him all about my experience at the Teachers’ Training College and the training I had in the Scout Movement. He especially appreciated my securing the “Wood Badge” and the “Medal of Merit” that I had received for my services to the cause of Scouting in Bangalore.
Later in the day Mr. Pearce asked me to meet him. He offered me the post of a teacher in the school and asked me to get back to Bangalore, discuss the proposal with my parents and then write to the school accepting the offer. Mr. Pearce was keen on my helping him to start a scout unit in Rishi Valley. I assured him that I would be delighted to do so. I returned to Bangalore and on 22nd June I received the letter of appointment as an assistant master in RVS on probation for the academic year June 1954 to March 1955!
Teacher at Rishi Valley
I never imagined that I would land up in a residential school. I had only ever imagined being a teacher in a Bangalore City school, having to teach in classrooms bursting with students, without proper facilities or encouragement for arts and crafts and also games and sports. Working as a member of staff in Rishi Valley School was a great opportunity that came my way and to have a chance to be able to be involved in what I had always considered meaningful education.
I joined the teaching staff of Rishi Valley at the age of 23, and I was perhaps the youngest member. On the Sunday morning of 28th June, I was taking a stroll in the garden. Mr. Pearce , who was on his usual rounds, walked towards me and offered to take round the school and hostels. He asked me if I would mind his addressing me as Venks instead of as Venkatachalam, since he found the latter rather a mouthful. I replied that it would be perfectly all right. To this day all my students refer to me as Venks.
To this day all my students refer to me as Venks.
The Senior Cambridge class I was asked to handle was the very first batch of students to take the final examination in December 1954 in Bangalore and the Matriculation class was the first batch to take the school final examination in March 1955 in Tirupati. I was just beginning my teaching career and was expected to prepare them for this major event with no experience of handling subjects like Physics and Chemistry at that level. For the other subjects there were teachers who had sufficient teaching experience. But for me it was a challenging assignment. I could not afford to do a shoddy job, I had to work hard and deliver.
I had a shock in my very first teaching class. I was to teach General Science to the IX grade. When I was about to begin, one of the students got up and said, ‘Sir, none of us likes science.’
‘Sir, none of us likes science.’
This was an unexpected welcome! Though I admit that I was surprised, I was not one to be brow-beaten. I picked up courage and said, ‘For your information, I don’t like science myself. Don’t you think that instead of a lesson in General Science, we should all go out to the school estate, pluck some sour limes, prepare lime juice and have a party?’
‘Don’t you think that instead of a lesson in General Science, we should all go out to the school estate, pluck some sour limes, prepare lime juice and have a party?’
They were jubilant at my response and happily followed me to the school estate. After collecting a good number of limes, we moved to the science laboratory. Before leaving for the estate I had spoken to my lab assistant and told him to keep enough bottles washed and ready. We got the limes squeezed and filled the bottles. The lab assistant dropped a pinch of Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate) into each bottle and closed them with corks. When the assistant shook the bottles, the students could see the fizz in them. All of them enjoyed drinking lime juice. We got back to the classroom. I told them that this would be what I consider a lesson in science. They were surprised and asked, ‘How come?’ I explained to them the chemical reaction involved in the preparation of fizzy drinks. The class chorused that if this was science, they would like to learn it this way. I had passed my first test and set a firm foot into my teaching career!