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School wipes dust off treasure trove

A deed signed by the first president of the Indian National Congress, W.C. Bonnerjee, a copy of the 1854 Wood’s Despatch and photographs of eminent old boys Rabindranath Tagore, Sambhunath Pandit, playwright Girish Chandra Ghosh and actor Amritalal Basu will all make it to Oriental Seminary school archive that will be open to the public soon.

The 186-year-old heritage school at Chitpore is getting a room ready and whitewashed for the archive, which it hopes will help bring back lost glory. “Oriental Seminary was once a sought-after institution in north Calcutta. But with the onslaught of English-medium schools, the students are mostly locals,” said teacher-in-charge Dulal Mondal. “We hope the archive will make people realise the institution’s significance and they will come forward to help it grow.”

The Wood’s Despatch, a document sent by Charles Wood to Lord Dalhousie, the then governor-general of India, on the spread of western education in India, had references to Oriental Seminary. A copy of the document will enjoy pride of place at the archive along with Tagore’s references to the school, where he attended classes for a month, in his autobiography. Another prized exhibit will be a school souvenir dating back to 1929 to mark the school’s centenary year. The school was started in 1829 from another premises.

The inauguration of the archive is tentatively scheduled for mid-November and the school has already started reaching out to alumni through social networking.

“The main building of the school was inaugurated by Lord Carmichael, the then governor of Bengal, on November 20, 1914. This year it turns 100, so we would like to open the archive that day,” said C.P. Ghosal, a senior teacher of the school and the convener of the archive committee.

The school is also banking on MP development funds to digitise the archive and build an auditorium. “As of now, we are just getting the treasure trove ready for display in a room. There are so many annual reports of the school dating back to the 1850s and later. Each one is a rich source of information,” Ghosal said.

One such report says that the school authorities used to conduct regular health check-ups for students and even fixed a diet chart for them. There are also pictures to show that the school once had a gymnasium.

At present, however, the school cries for maintenance. A block on the top floor has had to be sealed off on safety grounds. Last year, a ceiling fan had come crashing down, injuring a Madhyamik examinee. Even the gallery and classrooms need a spruce-up.