India: Lawrence School, Sanawar – where you strive until sunset
Last week I took a trip, a trip that had been a long time coming. I was finally opening the curtains on a slice of my childhood that my children had often heard about, but with a youthful (dis)interest, I had dismissed it as adult nostalgia. The girls and I went to Lawrence School, Sanawar.
Nestled amidst a canopy of pine and deodar trees atop a hill in the Kasauli Hills of Himachal Pradesh, where the winter sun drives its inhabitants away, is the country’s oldest coeducational boarding school , some even say of the world.
It’s also a place that transformed an awkward, anxious teenager who was too shy to even talk with loved ones into a confident teenager who would one day become a prime-time news anchor.
Three decades later, unknowingly made memories gushed like mist from the surrounding hills, still as fresh as the day I first walked through those towering gates, the same age as my eldest daughter turns today .
If you haven’t been a citizen of this Himalayan hill with its red roofs sloping like points in a forest, the 139 acres that soar up and down can be daunting, but nature has never looked so good. that here and the hills around are as alive today as they were then.
Founded by Sir Henry Lawrence and his wife Honoria in 1847 as a charitable institution, the school was originally established for the orphans of British soldiers, “an asylum from the debilitating effects of the tropical climate and the demoralizing influence of life of barracks”.
In 1920 it was renamed “Lawrence Royal Military School”, it is a military training focused on sending troops directly to the battlefield from the school campus.
Rich military tradition
The rich military tradition continues with a remarkable number of alumni in the armed forces, the bravery of Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal, the youngest recipient of the Param Vir Chakra remains legendary.
True to the school’s motto “Never Give In”, Khetarpal died in the 1971 Battle of Basantar during the Indo-Pakistani War, just years after fainting from Sanawar and was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest honor for bravery.
30 years later, Khetarpal’s father went to Pakistan, his host, an Armored Corps officer, reportedly admitted after a dinner party that he caused Arun Khetarpal’s death, adding that only two men were left standing , one had to leave.
Lawrence School, Sanawar has been a window into a rich history that has evolved from the British era to modern independent India. The school has been awarded the King’s Colors twice – the second time in 1922 by the King of Wales, which are still present each October at the Founders’ Celebrations.
Its centenary celebrations in 1947 were presided over by the then Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, who read a special message from King George VI. Soon after, control of the school was handed over to Indian authorities.
“Sanawar is not a school, it is an institution,” former Prime Minister IK Gujral once said. He couldn’t have been more specific. It continues to be one of the best boarding schools in the country with a legacy that is hard to emulate.
Ask any ‘Old Sanawarian’ (as those who pass out from school are called) including an abundance of notable alumni and they’ll tell you this is a place that sticks his promises.
There is the school campus and then there is Lawrence School, Sanawar. Perhaps nothing is as charming as the 149-year-old school chapel with its ornate stained glass windows.
Magic of the place
The war memorial, ‘Birdwood’, the old stone building housing classrooms now retouched with modern equipment, a print shop and a quaint post office – the first my children have seen – a reminder of the times where without the impersonal e-mail we wrote letters to our parents. A reminder also of times that did not flirt with innocence.
Yet none of this rivals a brotherhood the school builds, of students – past and present loyal to an imaginary oath of bonding simply because of where they come from. And this link opens all doors.
I often look at new age school buildings and wonder how many students will come back desperate once passed out? Or behind the books, how many learn that religion, caste or origin are just a way to push us away. No one spoke that language, it never mattered.
But that doesn’t take anything away from the ingredients of a boarding school. Rumors, ghosts, birthday bumps, lunch extras – it was all par for the course.
Rudyard Kipling wrote in Kim, ‘Send him to Sanawar and make him a man’ This may be politically incorrect in today’s ‘woke’ times, but the generation will appreciate how much the he school has always been gender neutral, with girls in fierce competition.
In 2013, 7 school teenagers summited Mount Everest, not to be left behind 7 school girls became the youngest hikers to conquer Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.
And so the glory continues. In exactly one month, the school will celebrate its 175th anniversary (dodransbicentennial).
The buildings are gleaming, the trees have become more beautiful, the hotels in Kasauli town have long been fully booked and the mist…it will come as always, reminding us of the magic of a place that is always a stone’s throw away from a homecoming. home.
PS: My children admitted that the place was charming.