Mahesh Vijapurkar

When attending the reunion of the 1967 batch of Mahboob College – it is and has been a school since its founding 153 years ago – a former student, who was later an official in the managing committee and is now a leading light of the alumni dropped the bomb: the school had only 327 students on its rolls.

It was like the sudden curding of a creamy milk because the information came amidst the celebration of the golden jubilee of my batch of school-leavers of 1967. Though it was known that Mahboob College Higher

Secondary School, its full and correct moniker, was no more as big as in our days, the specifics horrified the alumni.

That is equal to about the strength of a class, all sections included in my days there five decades ago. That was a steep fall from even the 600 students a decade ago. The happy part was the school is admitting girls, with over 100 studying there now. The girls were needed to be taken in so the boys didn’t have to stay back to attend to the female sibling.

The school’s catchment for students is from among only the poorer service class of the city, mostly from Secunderabad. Most, or virtually all students in the past too had been from the same city, within walking distance from their homes. That should not be surprising: In the past, the rich and the middleclass and the poor had their children there; truly egalitarian.

It is implied that the drop in the student strength would have been steeper had the girls not been admitted and pushed the school’s existence on paper alone. However, the future does not appear bright for the student strength may already have dropped below the critical mass. Lesser the students, lower the grants, and that can be dangerous.

If the management insists that former students who love the school, as they all do and wear their affection for it on their sleeves, have not admitted their children and grandchildren to the school was a cause, it is hard to digest. Declining academic standards is one major factor why a school loses favour. Restoring it is not easy, could even by a Sisyphus’s task.

Shortage of funds, and teachers, and the socio-economic background of first-generation learners could all add up to be the factor behind the current status of the school, but the inputs from the management on a consistent basis is required to keep the standards up. It is not clear if it had, because it may be distracted by the running several other post-school courses in colleges later set up.

When old boys of a school meet, they talk more of the school with pride than perhaps about themselves. I’d like to think it is more so of Mahboob College, Secunderabad. Yes, it is odd that a school is known as a college, but there are several special aspects to it: The kind and committed teachers, the egalitarian students’ rolls, among them.

It was an institution indeed, though with some oddities to it. Students were an irreverent lot, using mostly nicknames for teachers, and also unilaterally making uniforms optional. In the higher classes, some wore the khakhi, some did not. Five decades ago, an otherwise strict principal was helpless.

But it did well in academics and dominated the sports arenas in inter-school events.

Many illustrious sons of India had passed through its portals, though only Admiral Ram Dass Katari’s photograph and another police official adorn the walls of the hall. Hopefully despite the students’ socio-economic profiles, many towering personalities could well emerge, provided they benefit from the school’s academics. Not, however, if it is just another school.

As I was forced to mention at the golden jubilee of the batch, we all exult in its past, our association with it, but what does the future hold? Some batches have contributed to help the school, like the 1967’s gifted a digital learning system, and others had chipped in with their mite in the past in different ways. Reviving the school is the management’s task and it should not fail.